Teaching And Learning
By Suzanne Wilson
An annual boy-run event helps Webelos Scouts earn activity badges, Boy Scouts develop presentation skills, and the troop recruit new members.
Life Scout Doug Burnett touches a match to a folded piece of paper and drops it into a large glass bottle. He then balances a peeled hardboiled egg in the bottle's opening. As Webelos Scouts watch, the egg wobbles and then appears to be sucked into the bottle. Splat!
"Do it again!"
These Webelos Scouts have just seen a demonstration of atmospheric pressure that will help them earn their Scientist activity badge, and they've seen it in a special setting. This is Webelos Pin College, presented by Troop 495 of Kansas City, Mo., on a Saturday in November.
Throughout the day, classes take place in Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, the troop's chartered organization.
Life Scout Daniel Vaughn leads his potential Foresters by asking questions. "What are some trees you know about in our area?" Right away, they get to show off their knowledge by naming species after species.
In Communicator class, Boy Scouts coach Webelos Scouts in creating picture-writing messages. Daniel Hanson, 9, draws an eye, a person walking, the numeral 2, the letter A, a stocking, a rabbit, a curved arrow pointing backward, and a crescent moon. He decodes it: "I went to a sock hop last night."
In every class, Boy Scouts are in charge. There are adult leaders in the room, in the background, but this is a boy-run event, and it's clear that Troop 495 is determined to meet its leaders' goal as "the best boy-run troop in the North Star District."
A new idea
While attending a Boy Scout merit badge college with his son, Nick, Scoutmaster Steve Roberts, then an assistant Scoutmaster, was inspired to organize an activity badge college for first- and second-year Webelos Scouts.
Only a handful of Webelos Scouts attended the inaugural in 1999, but attendance grew steadily. Now, to keep the event manageable, the troop has to limit registration to 100 Webelos Scouts.
One motivation for Troop 495's involvement was the need to attract boys to the troop, which didn't have an associated or "feeder" Cub Scout pack. And the results were successful in that area; the activity badge college brought in three patrols,including Mike McClannahan's den and McClannahan himself as an assistant Scoutmaster.
"I was impressed watching the boys teach at the college," he says. Then his den attended a Troop 495 camp-out, at which adult leaders told him: "The boys are running the show." A boy-run troop is what McClannahan wanted for his Webelos Scouts, and they chose 495.
Today, Troop 495 has a feeder Cub Scout pack, and the focus of the college is more on moving Webelos Scouts toward earning the Arrow of Light Award and giving Boy Scouts experience in planning and teaching.
For boys, by boys
Citizen, Communicator, and Craftsman activity badges are always offered. Other classes for the November event included Artist, Engineer, Forester, Scientist, and Showman.
Classes took one or two hours, and Webelos Scouts were preregistered to work on either three or four badges. Boy Scout teachers signed sheets for the requirements passed in class; these went to den leaders, who then signed the completed requirements in the boys' books.
Life Scout Scott Florence, 14, coordinated the event, working with senior patrol leader and Eagle Scout Mike Ito, 16. "Our goal is for the Scouts to do everything," says Mike.
First, Scott asked Scouts to "sign up for what you're good at." They studied the requirements and, where there were choices, decided which ones to present. Scott checked with each teaching team to learn what they'd planned.
"An activity badge college makes them better presenters and ready for other things in life," he says. "Everyone has fun teaching a couple of classes."
The coordinator's job is passed along to a different Scout each time. "If you're running this thing, you have to do some work," says Life Scout Mark Siegel, 14, a past coordinator. "You don't let it go and see what happens."
Troop 495's adult leaders form the support team that helps Scouts gather the glass bottles, the eggs, the art supplies, the hammers and saws, the food for lunch, and everything else. Adults also handle registration, collect fees, and map out the Webelos Scouts' schedules.
Endorsed by Webelos Scouts
Halfway through the day, Webelos Scouts Eli White and Julian King voice their enthusiasm for the activity badge event. Eli, who's been to Engineer class, says, "I liked it when they had a catapult."
"Scientist was really fun," adds Julian. "We got to see a boiled egg splatter into pieces."
Parents approve, too.
Joe Doetzl, committee chairman of pack 261, has been to Webelos Pin College before with his son Matthew, 10.
"I think it's fantastic. It's good for young boys to see older boys leading things. It's amazing how they run a meeting with this many younger Scouts here."
Near the end of the day in the church's social hall, groups of Webelos Scouts in the Showman class are writing plays and making simple puppets. Then comes their moment on stage with "Bugs and Daffy Start a Food Fight," "The Return of Humpty-Dumpty," and "The Futuristic Medieval Play." There's action and (a lot of) conflict. There's flying fake food, a castle on wheels, and energetic ensembles of puppeteers.
A thin partition away, another group is just as focused on creating art, and a few steps beyond them, craftsmen are hammering, sawing, and drilling pieces of wood. It's a busy, noisy room, but no one is distracted. Webelos Scouts concentrate on their projects and their Boy Scout teachers.
An activity badge college as a boy-run event makes sense. When it comes right down to teaching activity badges, who would be better than Boy Scouts to come up with the most entertaining ways to present requirements?
"We chose the ones that would get them most excited," says First Class Scout Josh Lilley, 12, a Scientist class teacher. "We tried to make them happy, to make it fun."
Contributing editor Suzanne Wilson also wrote the article about the Mackinac Island Scout Service Camp in this issue.
Copyright © 2005 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.