ScoutingMay - June 2003

Partnerships for Learning

By Suzanne Wilson
Photographs By John R. Fulton Jr.

Merit badge clinics and Webelos Scout workshops presented at the St. Louis Science Center are two examples of the many BSA advancement resources available in the Gateway City.

Scouts working on the Geology merit badge study the effects of erosion by constructing landscapes and then flooding the basin with water.

This is serious business. Two groups of Boy Scouts working at the stream table at the St. Louis Science Center are creating landscapes they hope will survive the destruction of flowing water.

It's also engrossing fun. With small shovels, they move wet plastic "sand," sculpting valleys and mountains, and they add plastic rock formations for support.

"Where's the best place to put a house?" asks Elisabet Head, geologist and leader of the center's Ecology and Environment Gallery. The Scouts position buildings and trees.

When Head turns on the water, it slowly meanders from both ends of the table. Valleys fill and sand begins to move. "We had this perfectly planned," says Nathan Hillison, 12, from Troop 38 in Troy, Ill.

Later, when the Scouts return to the scene, houses at one end have toppled, and hills and trees have been washed away. At the other end, houses remain high on a mountain that held up to the power of water. Head calls it "10 years of erosion right before your eyes."

Hands-on lessons

This hands-on lesson is part of the Geology merit badge instruction offered by the St. Louis Science Center, one of many community resources that help with Scout advancement. With special equipment, exhibits, and expertise, these places provide outstanding learning experiences for Scouts. (See sidebar for more examples.)

This Saturday morning session has attracted Scouts, leaders, and parents from the Greater St. Louis Area Council and Trails West Council in Illinois. Most of the Scouts are familiar with the center's lively atmosphere and exhibits that invite kids to experiment, but today is all about geology.

Pack 250 Webelos Scouts Clint Brown, Alex Hunt, Stephan Wibbenmeyer, and assistant den leader Bonnie Schnurbusch examine gold-colored crystals growing on top of a large rock.

"I want to be an archaeologist," explains Colin Rohde, 11, from Troop 646 in St. Louis. "I want to learn what type of rocks I might go through."

The two-hour skill session, based on the Geology merit badge pamphlet (BSA No. 33284), is led by Elisabet Head. The Scouts have been to Missouri places she talks about in a classroom session: Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park, where they've seen the Black River plummeting over smooth volcanic rocks, and Elephant Rocks State Park, where they've walked among hulking, rounded granite boulders.

They open kits containing unmarked rocks and minerals and try to match them to cards that describe them. To solve this geological mystery, they test the specimens with small tools. Hematite, containing iron, attracts a magnet. Obsidian, which comes from a volcano, scratches glass.

Questions and answers

Geologist Elisabet Head asks boys questions about earthquakes, geysers, and volcanoes.

The center's philosophy is to teach by asking questions, and these Scouts are quick to tell Head what they know about earthquakes, geysers, and volcanoes. In the Ecology and Environment Gallery, they view a seismograph in action and displays of the Earth's interior, plate tectonics, an ocean that once covered Missouri, and much more.

Head explains everything, adding to their understanding of earth processes.

Beside a video of fiery volcanoes, she shows the Scouts the sole of the boot she's wearing. During her internship in volcanology at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, pieces of the tread broke away as she explored flow fields of solidified, spiky lava. On another pair of boots, she says, the tread melted when she walked on extremely hot, freshly hardened lava.

Jim Hoggatt of Troy, Ill., attending with his 12-year-old son Eric from Troop 226, says, "This is a good introduction to geology, and it's a great opportunity for them to get an exposure to an expert in the field who has had some experience."

It's also one-stop shopping, because Head is also a merit badge counselor. With all requirements completed, she signs each Scout's Geology merit badge certificate.

Scouts use a variety of tools and methods, including Mohs hardness scale and a magnet, to match a selection of unidentified rocks and minerals with their proper name card.

Besides today's sessions, which include a Scientist activity badge workshop for Webelos Scouts, the St. Louis Science Center offers the Astronomy merit badge (in two sessions plus an outdoor "star party") and the Geologist activity badge.

The center's mission is: "To stimulate interest and understanding of science and technology throughout the community."

For these Scouts, on this day, the mission was accomplished.

Contributing editor Suzanne Wilson lives in Joplin, Mo. In Scouting's January-February issue, she profiled five women who have found satisfying and successful careers in professional Scouting.

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