Remember STEM as you craft your unit’s Annual Program Plan

Richard Stone won’t rest until every Scout unit includes STEM elements in its regular monthly program.

But he doesn’t think you should have to wedge STEM in with a crowbar.

Instead, the education and training leader of the BSA’s National STEM/Nova Committee says, it’s easy to integrate STEM activities into the fun you’ve already got planned for your Scouts and Venturers.

And if you happen to earn some Nova awards along the way, even better!

Dr. Stone, who has two degrees in physics and earned his Ph.D. in materials science, shares more below.

Integrate STEM activities into your unit’s Annual Program Plan

Our guest blogger with the famous Pedro at the 2014 National Annual Meeting.
Our guest blogger with the famous Pedro at the 2014 National Annual Meeting.

A wise trainer once explained to me that an active troop doesn’t have to plan to work on Camping, Cooking and Hiking merit badges — earning those are a side effect of an active program.

What a great idea.

This is the time of year that most units develop their Annual Program Plan. Include activities that are fun, challenging and exciting. Support advancement, and maybe help Scouts earn awards.

Look for opportunities to integrate STEM and Nova activities into your Annual Program Plan.

In Cub Scouts

Last year at a Blue and Gold banquet, I watched a group of Webelos cross over to Boy Scouts. They all earned several activity pins like Scientist, Engineer and Geologist — and also the Science Everywhere! Nova award. The Webelos leader explained that after the boys earned their Arrow of Light advancements and some activity pins, the natural follow-on was to work on a related Nova award.

They had the time, and the Scouts were interested.

A counselor who is also very active in her pack extended the idea further. Many of the activities for belt loops or activity pins naturally extend into Nova award activities.

Why not group them together: do the belt loop activity and the Nova activity as a set?

When working on the Forester activity pin, take a field trip to look at local trees. Measure the height of a tree, and the Cub has earned part of the 1-2-3 Go! Nova award. You could easily work several related activities together in a month or two of meetings with the same theme.

In Boy Scouts

Integrating program activities works for Boy Scouts too. Many Scouts earn Canoeing, Motorboating, or Small-Boat Sailing merit badges at summer camp.

Why not expand on those to work on the Start Your Engines! technology Nova award?

If the troop participates in a STEM camporee and finds some of the activities fun, find a merit badge or Nova award that explores those topics.

The lesson I learned long ago for Camping, Cooking and Hiking also applies to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Great program is built with activities that lead to fun and advancement. Integrate related activities to enhance your program.

Other STEM blog posts

Include STEM activities in your pack or troop’s summer fun

How you can be a Nova counselor


  1. We just kicked off our Pack STEM Program with a water bottle rocket launch. The Scouts had a blast and we also picked up some potential new recruits by letting onlookers join in the fun.

  2. I am wondering when the NOVA awards are going to be updated for the 2015 implementation of the new Cub Scout Program. Right now it requires a significant number of belt loops… which of course won’t be available next year.

  3. Particularly at the Cub level, I think requiring Nova counselors to register under a different position code is an administrative hurdle that should be done away. Den leaders should be cross-registered automatically. If they don’t need a new form to teach the engineer activity badge, they shouldn’t need it for the tack-on Nova awards. Excessive paperwork keeps volunteers away from designing and “delivering” program.

  4. only the supernova mentor needs to be registered, and this registration is the same for all levels of scouting. it is an extra hurdle, but also necessary, in my view, to ensure that there are good mentors. this brings up the same challenges of recruiting and retaining merit badge counselors, though.

    it would be good to have a cross-reference list for den leaders and advancement chairs, etc. with awards, a cross-reference, and award requirements. this might be a good ticket item, UofS project, and/or addition to packmaster/troopmaster.

  5. To be a counselor, you don’t need to register. To be a mentor, you do. Running most of the program is done at a counselor level. Supernova awards require a mentor where the adult is registered. The mentors are required to have a better knowledge of STEM (i.e. work in a STEM related field, have a STEM related degree and/or extensive participation in STEM activities). This is similar to registering to do merit badges at the Boy Scout level.

    • False. Nova counselors must register like MB counselors:

      “A Nova Awards counselor must be age 21 or older and be registered under the Nova Awards counselor position code 58. This is a nonunit position and requires no fee.”

      Supernova *mentors* must also register separately:
      “A Supernova Awards mentor must be age 21 or older, be a subject matter expert in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) field, and be registered under the Supernova Awards mentor position code 52. This is a nonunit position and requires no fee.”

      To be a Nova counselor, you need to fill out a separate adult application to be processed under code 58. We don’t require this for Webelos activity badges (mercifully) and shouldn’t for Nova counselors either. I understand that supernova is different and have no problem vetting those mentors differently. But to say that only mentors need to register is just flatly incorrect.

      • Actually. True. If you look at your link and read the question directly below where it says you need to register it also says:

        Q: Can a Nova Awards counselor be the Scout’s parent?
        A: Yes, but the parent should make the unit leader aware the Scout is working on the award.

        Additionally, when discussing NOVA with my council and with program content, they stated that it’s not a position that required registration. This is reinforced by the booklets that are sold in the Scout Shops that show the requirements for Cub, Boy and Venturing Scouts. However, if working with multiple youth, they require that you observe the YPT BSA requirements. That being said, you can absolutely apply – or not.

        The mentoring position has to be a council approved mentor. <– the application process for this has changed between the first introduction of the program and now and requires that the application is re-submitted annually.

        Of course, all this might change when the new NOVA requirements are released after the changes to the Cub Scout program in 2015.

        • The language I cited is mandatory: “a nova counselor *must* … be registered”
          The language you cite is permissive: A counselor *can* be the parent.

          Read together, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to register. It means that a parent can be the counselor, provided s/he registers.

          Which nova requirements suggest that the counselor needn’t register?

          The policy requiring registration may not be enforced by your council for whatever reason but that doesn’t change the clear written policy requiring registration.

          Whether the policy is enforced here, there, or anywhere, is tangential to my point. There’s no reason to require registration and even in places where the rule is ignored, it still serves as an impediment to getting qualified people involved and getting the program more widely distributed because all the potential volunteer sees when s/he looks into the program is the rule that you need to register to counsel it. It’s silly to make nova the one subject area in cub scouting that requires special registration.

  6. Good article. Keep the ideas and STEM activities coming. Would like a resource that lists what all is needed and how we do it.

  7. Our pack decided to use STEM/NOVA for our pack meetings and camp outs this year. The problem we’ve run into is the Tiger Cubs. STEM/NOVA starts at the Wolf year. Sure, they can earn the belt loops, but that seems unfair when the other scouts are earning the belt loops and a shiny new patch!

  8. STEM has been integrated into our pack calendar for August 2012. Most scouts are working on their respective Supernova Award. The Tiger Cubs get special recognition for their involvement since they cannot earn Nova awards. It takes the efforts and cooperation of the school administrators, teachers, scout leaders, special guests, organizations, and parents to make it work. It is a community partnership.

    By the way, the den chiefs are working the Nova Awards too. They will work on their Supernova Awards after they complete their Eagle requirements during the school year. We have not forgotten the siblings of these scouts. There are special events sponsored by our charter organization for them. Their sisters, some are Girl Scouts, are hoping to become Venturers.

  9. The assistance and support that we have received over the years extend beyond our local council. The information on the blogs and from staff has enriched our program and empowered us. To everyone, I say thank you.

    • Well said Kevin!
      Let me add my Thanks.
      THANK YOU everyone for all you do in the name of ScOUTING, especially Bryan keeping us updated with his Blog that empowers many of us!!

  10. So let me get this straight. Folks want Cub Scout Pack to incorporate STEM and NOVA Awards into their program, but not all Cubs can get the awards?

    Hopefully this will change June 1, 2015

  11. Hi Nahila, the change may occur when the new Nova requirements are released in January 2015. See BSA2015-2016 Cub Scout Program FAQs July 7 2014 update. It will be communicated on the blog and other media channels.

  12. We had exciting Chemisty Everywhere program. I wrote to the America Chemical Society. They gave me some ideas. Prerequisite reading was done before meeting. Belt loops earned. It was a 2 1/2 hour pack meeting filled with fun, safe chemistry experiments. Scouts, and parents love it. Our Tigers participated.Wolf through Webelos Scouts worked Nova and Supernova requirements. All new eligible scouts earned a Science Everywhere Nova Award and will receive the award at our blue and gold. I have a special chemistry patch for the Tiger Cubs.

Join the conversation