AAPG Team Gives Scouts a Taste of Geology

Ron Hart
Ron Hart

One school of thought says today’s teenage boy lives in a multi-media world, and if we want to talk to him we have to go to that place.

On the other hand, the Boy Scouts of America believes today’s teenager does not spend enough time in nature.

So what is the most meaningful way to effectively merge these two philosophies?

“BSA is trying to put more science into its outdoor program,” according to Rachel Hintz, who sits on the BSA STEM committee. She goes on to say kids have to learn the same lessons in multiple settings for the lessons to be relevant, and she adds many home schoolers are looking to BSA and other youth organizations for science programming.

Every four years the Boy Scouts hold a jumbo-sized camporee called the “Jamboree,” and nearly 35,000 teens and adults attend from all parts of the United States.

And since the late 1990s, the AAPG Foundation has provided sponsorship and funding for a team of professional geologists to attend this Jamboree and provide the geology part of the nature study program through teaching the Geology Merit Badge.

This past summer marked the first time BSA held its quadrennial Jamboree in its new 10,000-acre facility near Beckley, W. Va., and they shifted the program to de-emphasize merit badges in favor of having more outdoor experiences.

Hence, it was decided early that geology was an obvious good fit within the new conservation and sustainability emphasis – and the AAPG team was encouraged to develop program aspects to “get the kids out of the tent and into the fresh air.”

Geology Field Trips – Virtual and Real

“Some Scouts may be looking at geology as a career option, where others are casually interested,” says Ron Hart, an AAPG/Datapages staffer as well as an AAPG member who for decades has volunteered his time to help organize the Jamboree effort.

“Our challenge is how to engage kids at both ends of the spectrum,” he added. “I think we were successful with our multi-level program.”

Fellow AAPG members Scott and Jane McColloch, both geologists with the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, developed the story for the entire team to use in explaining the geologic history of the Central Appalachians. Scott helped organize staff training in the few days prior to the Jamboree so all the team could have credible information and be consistent in their answers.

The McCollochs also led a guided geology hike for the Scouts with the highest level of interest. They taught the kids how to look for features, collect samples and fossils, take notes and mark their location with GPS units.

“These are the things a field geologist does,” Scott McColloch said, “and allowing the boys to hold the GPS, the compass and the hammer lets them have the full experience. Kids respond well when they can put their hands on the simple equipment.”

“We also tried to engage Scouts who did not have time to sign up for the hike,” Hart said. “We developed 17 points of interest on the property where a boy could see a feature and learn something about geology.

For example, BSA built a series of fishing and recreational lakes for the new camp property, “so we developed a story about how engineers use contours to plan the artificial lakes then seal the lake bottoms with bentonite because swelling clay can prevent leaks,” Hart said.

“We also developed stories that talked about stream deposition, oil and gas exploration in West Virginia, coal mining, the ice age in West Virginia, and even hydraulic fracturing,” he added.

“All these points of interest were marked with a green post, using a QR Code at the top, whereby a Scout could use his smart phone to resolve the Code to a website hosted by AAPG on behalf of the AAPG Foundation. In this way, a boy standing in line for a fun event, or walking across the camp property, is able to learn ways geology touches his everyday life, as seen through random acts of learning.

“A teenage boy is one of nature’s more curious creatures,” Hart said. “We wanted to capitalize on that with the QR Codes.”

There’s An App for That

The AAPG team members also located their points of interest on a GIS-enabled map of the property, using detailed GIS files provided by BSA and location information collected on the group during the planning meeting at the property. With support from both ESRI and NeoTreks Inc., a Colorado Springs-based company that writes mobile apps, the team was able to develop a “geocaching game” based on the geological points of interest.

Other program features included a rock and mineral museum alongside a busy road.

“Half the campers walked past our program tent,” Hart said. “We placed our younger staff members on the tables, because younger geologists are more likely to interact with the kids.”

AAPG member Greg Hammond was one of those; Hammond works as a wellsite geologist in Alaska and had stories to tell the Scouts about life on a rig.

“And we had two students on staff – Bill Doyle from the University of Oklahoma, and Alan McCreary from Concord University (W. Va.),” Hart added.

At the other end of the spectrum, AAPG member Charles Bartlett, of Abingdon, Va., went to his first Jamboree in 1947 and came to this summit to help educate this current generation about where energy comes from.

In all, there were 10 AAPG members on staff at the 2013 Jamboree. In addition to those mentioned earlier, the group included Bill Underwood of Bethany, Okla.; Gary Robinson of Aurora, Colo.; and Sherman Lundy of Cedar Falls, Iowa.

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