A STEM holiday gift guide

Finding the perfect gift for your brainy, science-loving Scout or Venturer isn’t easy.

Fortunately, there’s help. Richard Stone, the education and training leader of the STEM/Nova Committee who has contributed to other STEM posts on my blog, got together with some Scouting friends to come up with our STEM holiday gift guide: nine items for Scouts into STEM.

For each item, there may be alternatives that better fit the interests of your Scout or Venturer. So consider this a starting point.

Oh, and the fine print: These gift ideas are the opinions of several volunteers and do not necessarily represent the position of the Boy Scouts of America or any of their commercial partners. Always follow the Guide to Safe Scouting when conducting STEM activities.

STEM holiday gift guide

Fishing-RodFishing gear

Why it’s a great gift: Scouts and Venturers love fishing. It’s a great opportunity for outdoor activities with friends.

How it’s STEM-related: A successful fisherman will understand the ecosystem the fish live in, the weather and microclimates, and the different behaviors of the fish. They’ll use the technology of the pole, line and reel to bring in the fish. They’ll experience conservation ideas when they catch and release or keep the fish for the frying pan.

Where to buy: Most outdoor stores and your local Scout Shop

Tool-SetA tool set

Why it’s a great gift: Scouts and Venturers can use screwdrivers, pliers or an adjustable wrench for routine bike maintenance, working on Home Repair merit badge or tinkering around the house.

How it’s STEM-related: Taking apart (and, I hope, putting back together) that old VCR or toaster oven to see how they work is hands-on learning. Adult supervision preferred.

Where to buy: Hardware stores

BinocularsBinoculars

Why it’s a great gift: Binoculars are great for studying birds across the street, squirrels up the tree, deer across the field or the moon across space.

What to consider: Smaller binoculars are more portable and have less handheld wobble. Larger ones have more magnification and collect more light, so they’re good for looking at planets and constellations but require stabilization.

How it’s STEM-related: A chance to study wildlife and do some basic stargazing? Sounds like STEM to me.

Alternatives: Monocular, telescope, spotting scope, telephoto lens on a good camera

Where to buy: Outdoor stores, camera shops, Scout Shops

Field-MicroscopeField microscope

What it is: These are about the size of two Starburst candy tubes with a lens at each end, and they’re great for looking at how insects move, the structure of leaves and flowers, and the shape of sand and snow crystals. Some have USB cameras so Scouts and Venturers can record what they see on a computer.

Why it’s a great gift: It helps curious minds explore their world.

How it’s STEM-related: Using science and technology to get a closer look at nature.

Alternatives: Magnifying glass, bug catcher, macro lens on a good camera

Where to buy: Many outdoor stores or specialty gift stores

Lego-MindstormsLego Technic, Lego Mindstorms, Vex

What it is: Building upon the Legos Scouters grew up with, lines like Lego Technic add gears, pulleys, springs and motors to make moving vehicles and machines. Lego Mindstorms adds sensors, servos, remote controls and a programmable processor to make robots. Vex is snap-together robotics kit that is more oriented toward robotics projects and competitions.

Why it’s a great gift: Scouts and Venturers get to build something awesome, test it out and perfect it.

How it’s STEM-related: It uses technology heavily and ties into the Robotics merit badge.

Prices: From $20 for simple kits to $350 and up for more complex robotics sets.

Where to buy: Toy stores or online

ScratchScratch

What it is: Scratch was developed by education experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for Cub Scout- and Boy Scout-aged youth.

Why it’s a great gift: Technically it’s not a gift, because the website is free and there’s nothing tangible involved. But your Scout or Venturer will thank you for introducing the site to them. They’ll have fun creating animations and games, making music, controlling robots, simulating biological systems and doing pretty much anything they can think of.

How it’s STEM-related: They’ll learn to code by stacking blocks of different actions.

Price: Free.

Where to get it: Go to scratch.mit.edu.

PythonPython coding book

What it is: Python is the coding (programming) language many Scouts or Venturers first encounter in school.

Why it’s a great gift: Why not have fun while learning? A book on Python for kids and teens will use games and fun projects as examples. Work through a few of the chapters with your Scout or Venturer, then encourage them to think up their own game or project and code it.

How it’s STEM-related: Computer programming is a hot field right now, and this knowledge could help them find a job.

Price: Around $20 for a Python book, such as Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming. The software is free and likely already on your laptop or desktop computer.

Where to buy: Local bookstores or online

ArduinoArduino

What it is: A small electronics board containing a programmable microcontroller and many input and output connections.

Why it’s a great gift: Your Scout or Venturer will love connecting sensors, displays, motor controllers, etc. to the input and output ports. They can use expansion boards that provide specific functions like Internet access or robotics functions. And they can write software to read data from the sensors, process that data and act on that data by possibly changing the direction of the robot motion or sending data to the host computer.

What to get: You need the board and a getting-started book. You will likely want to get the starter kit, which includes a lot of electronic components for projects.

How it’s STEM-related: Technology + hands-on fun = a great STEM learning experience.

Price:The software is free. Everything else is $25 and up. The Arduino Starter Kit is around $100.

Where to buy: Electronics hobby stores and online retailers. Learn more and get the software at arduino.cc.

Raspberry-PiRaspberry Pi

What it is: Developed by educators in the UK, Raspberry Pi is a low-cost, credit-card-sized computer built for education and experimentation.

Why it’s a great gift: This simple computer has about the same power as your cellphone and offers a Linux operating environment. It contains multiple software packages, including games, Python, Scratch, Arduino programming and is very expandable. It also has some input and output ports to allow you to connect sensors and actuators for robotics projects.

How it’s STEM-related: Computers, programming, safe digital experimentation and fun. What more could you want?

Price: $25 and up, not including certain peripherals required.

Where to buy: Electronics hobby stores or online

A final note from Dr. Stone

“These are nine ideas for gifts that may be useful in STEM and Scouting, but there is really just one idea: It’s not the object that counts. The real gift is how you use it to have fun and learn.

“Happy Holidays from the BSA STEM/Nova Committee. Think STEM.”

About Bryan Wendell 2800 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is senior editor of Boys’ Life, Scouting and Eagles’ Call magazines.