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Merit Badge Workshops and Universities

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In many ways I agree whole heatedly with you.  In general, people sign their kids up....  As an easy way to knock out several merit badges and the kids sit and watch.  They can be good, but the responsibility leans on the director of the event to make sure to get the right instructors.

Some instructors are great and the classes are great, the problem is you have no ability to advise the scout about which counselor to take.  We all know some counselors that are amazing and others that just check off the merit badge.  Both merit badges are equal but the experience is not the same.  I have witnessed a scout get signed off for starting a fire for wilderness survival when he was unable to do it.    I asked the boy and he said he didn't do it , dad was upset that we didn't give him credit, and the next campout the scout worked with an older scout that taught him how to do it.

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1 hour ago, qwazse said:

Then don't send your scouts there. Threaten to resign your position if anybody on the committee promotes that MBU. Put it in writing. Copy your district commissioners and executives, your scout executives, and the course director.

If you have a scout who does not seem to have grasped the MB material that he should have, follow the procedure listed in the Guide to Advancement 7.0.4.7.

The problem isn't bogus MBUs. The problem is not enough scouters pushing back against them. 

 Sad thing is that you will have some folks complain, push for recognition , and eventually get their Scout the MB.

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I have worked hard to recruit in house MBs for all Eagle required badges (except swimming) so we try to keep them from taking those at MBUs. My biggest issue is that scouts will sign up and take the class then come back to me with a "blue card" to sign. No guidance, no choice of MB counselor all legit according to the rules. :(

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On 4/24/2019 at 9:37 PM, mashmaster said:

In many ways I agree whole heatedly with you.  In general, people sign their kids up....  As an easy way to knock out several merit badges and the kids sit and watch.  They can be good, but the responsibility leans on the director of the event to make sure to get the right instructors.

Some instructors are great and the classes are great, the problem is you have no ability to advise the scout about which counselor to take.  We all know some counselors that are amazing and others that just check off the merit badge.  Both merit badges are equal but the experience is not the same.  I have witnessed a scout get signed off for starting a fire for wilderness survival when he was unable to do it.    I asked the boy and he said he didn't do it , dad was upset that we didn't give him credit, and the next campout the scout worked with an older scout that taught him how to do it.

This is an issue in our troop.  We have a number of scouts that have been attending a monthly program where about 15 MBs are offered in morning & afternoon 3 hour sessions.  Every one of the MBs that scouts have taken at these sessions have resulted in a signed off blue card during the session - some of them in highly questionable circumstances.  Once the Scoutmaster found out about the cost for this program, and the issues with how they obtain & use counselors, he announced to the troop that he would no longer issue signed blue cards for anyone attending those programs.  There's been some pushback from the parents involved, but he's holding firm on it right now.  It's a bit of re-education on how MBs are supposed to be done - especially for the parents that are trying to drive their son's advancement. 

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On 4/25/2019 at 1:21 PM, TMSM said:

I have worked hard to recruit in house MBs for all Eagle required badges (except swimming) so we try to keep them from taking those at MBUs. My biggest issue is that scouts will sign up and take the class then come back to me with a "blue card" to sign. No guidance, no choice of MB counselor all legit according to the rules. :(

I like your approach.  The in-house MB workshop gives you a lot of opportunity to make the MB meaningful and legit follow the "no more, no less" principle. It also lets you play to the talents, experiences, and knowledge of the adults in your troop and help the boys work with different adults.

We have one guy in our troop who owns an auto repair shop. He does a full day class in Automotive Maintenance that is so much fun and so intensely hands-on. It's really more of a merit badge "experience" than it is a "class". 

Another parent is a veterinarian. She does a brilliant workshop that the kids love because they're invited to her animal clinic for the day as they watch her examine animals and perform the occasional spay or neutering. The boys LOVE it and come away with invaluable memories and knowledge that can NEVER be duplicated in a lame MBU.

I do the in-house workshop for Sustainability. It's a hard merit badge when it's done right and it does NOT lend itself to the cookie-cutter MBU approach because it requires several logs to be kept for up to 4 weeks. I do 2 sessions: an 8-hour long class that's hands on, videos, and group discussions, then 4-5 weeks later, another session that's pure discussion of the logs and results. Every scout is expected to have done all their energy, food, water, stuff consumption logs independently and to present their findings and tell their peers about their observations and conclusions.  I shudder when I hear of MBUs conducting Sustainability because I know to a 100% that the counselors are short-changing the kids *and* cutting corners on the "no more, no less" principle.

Give the kids a GREAT merit badge "experience" instead of an inadequate class that bores them to tears and you'll have a stronger unit to show for it.

Doing exactly what you suggest is, I think, one of the big reasons my son's troop has grown to more than 70 scouts while neighboring units in the district have seen their scouts quit in frustration.  Our in-house counselors don't *require* more than the requirements, but we sure do OFFER it!

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I have no issue with teaching in a group setting of MBU's and like activities. After all, we teach in group settings when we are in the woods. 

It is the signing-off on requirements that I take issue with. 

In fact I think "a Scout Learns" better in a group; watching others, trying, competing and teaching others. But "a Scout is Tested" as an individual, which gives them confidence, pride and sense of accomplishment. 

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4 minutes ago, HelpfulTracks said:

I have no issue with teaching in a group setting of MBU's and like activities. After all, we teach in group settings when we are in the woods. 

It is the signing-off on requirements that I take issue with. 

In fact I think "a Scout Learns" better in a group; watching others, trying, competing and teaching others. But "a Scout is Tested" as an individual, which gives them confidence, pride and sense of accomplishment. 

Group setting isn't necessarily the problem. It's how the MBUs are operated in practice...

* testing is often not done at all

* time is inadequate for most subjects

* some MBUs "double up" multiple badges into a single session that can not even adequately cover ONE of the badges

* parents pressure organizers and counselors to issue "completes" not "partials"

* counselors are supposed to cover ALL requirements ("no more, no less"), but in practice, are pressured to do less

* hands-on requirements or time-intensive requirements are avoided, 

* MBU classes are boring (indoors instead of outdoors, instructor-led not boy-led, etc., etc.)

There are indeed scouts who learn well in groups. There are also scouts who learn better when they can touch and do (aka, "tactile learners"), and there are some scouts who learn best when they can explore tangents and research things on their own. The MBU approach short-changes many scouts.

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4 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

Group setting isn't necessarily the problem. It's how the MBUs are operated in practice...

* testing is often not done at all

* time is inadequate for most subjects

* some MBUs "double up" multiple badges into a single session that can not even adequately cover ONE of the badges

* parents pressure organizers and counselors to issue "completes" not "partials"

* counselors are supposed to cover ALL requirements ("no more, no less"), but in practice, are pressured to do less

* hands-on requirements or time-intensive requirements are avoided, 

* MBU classes are boring (indoors instead of outdoors, instructor-led not boy-led, etc., etc.)

There are indeed scouts who learn well in groups. There are also scouts who learn better when they can touch and do (aka, "tactile learners"), and there are some scouts who learn best when they can explore tangents and research things on their own. The MBU approach short-changes many scouts.

Then I blame the MB counselors. I have taught at these events and I do it by book (Guide to Advancement)

  • The Scouts are tested - individually. The morning is for learning, the afternoon is for testing
  • I cover the requirements I have time to cover, those not covered are not signed off on. 
  • Parents do not sign the blue card, I do - and I have gladly explained that to those who care to discuss it with me. I have never been pressured into signing requirements not done, and I will not be
  • I have NEVER said I would cover all requirements in a session, in fact I state that I will not
  • There is time to cover hands on requirements, depending on the MB and the requirement, in fact I make sure my class registration reads that any research/reading/writing that needs to be done is done before hand and brought to the event, if they don't do that then they won't get that requirement signed off. That leaves more time for those requirements that are best taught hands on.
  • I recently taught Enviro Science at a MB College. I brought the materials needed for the experiments, enough for each Scout registered plus a few. We also went outside and explored finding examples of environmental impact, erosion and pollution. They were off taking photos, collecting samples and getting in the dirt. Bringing back materials to show and discuss with me. We discussed in detail, with models, how to create a study zone,so they could go home and complete that requirement.  I brought an ant farm as an example. Another young man brought a cell phone video of he and his grandfather splitting a hive, he air dropped it to me and I showed the class. They were in awe. 

MB Classes are boring if we make them boring. If we make them fun, then they are fun.

 

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1 hour ago, HelpfulTracks said:

Then I blame the MB counselors. I have taught at these events and I do it by book (Guide to Advancement)

  • The Scouts are tested - individually. The morning is for learning, the afternoon is for testing
  • I cover the requirements I have time to cover, those not covered are not signed off on. 
  • Parents do not sign the blue card, I do - and I have gladly explained that to those who care to discuss it with me. I have never been pressured into signing requirements not done, and I will not be
  • I have NEVER said I would cover all requirements in a session, in fact I state that I will not
  • There is time to cover hands on requirements, depending on the MB and the requirement, in fact I make sure my class registration reads that any research/reading/writing that needs to be done is done before hand and brought to the event, if they don't do that then they won't get that requirement signed off. That leaves more time for those requirements that are best taught hands on.
  • I recently taught Enviro Science at a MB College. I brought the materials needed for the experiments, enough for each Scout registered plus a few. We also went outside and explored finding examples of environmental impact, erosion and pollution. They were off taking photos, collecting samples and getting in the dirt. Bringing back materials to show and discuss with me. We discussed in detail, with models, how to create a study zone,so they could go home and complete that requirement.  I brought an ant farm as an example. Another young man brought a cell phone video of he and his grandfather splitting a hive, he air dropped it to me and I showed the class. They were in awe. 

MB Classes are boring if we make them boring. If we make them fun, then they are fun.

 

I want you teaching the MB counselors at summer camps!

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I could talk about this topic all day if given the chance.  Lots of negative opinions about this type of activity from scouters, doesn't matter if it is in this forum or many other places.  My son has been to a lot of these all over the state because he has a desire to do so and I see it as a learning opportunity.  Learning not only the MB but also how people, scouting and regions of our state are different.  We've had nothing but great experiences. 

Every complaint I've read about these events, I have also witnessed at summer camps and even in our own troop.  Adults will either take the MB requirements seriously or they will cut corners.  The event isn't the problem, it's the type of personalities that deem it ok to cut corners and people like that are everywhere.  I feel that most summer camp MBs are a joke from what I've witnessed and been told.

Every MB event that we've been to has clearly defined the pre-reqs as well as what will be covered.  My son has talked to counselors that were experts in their fields and very passionate about what they were doing and has been inspired by some of them.  He's had opportunities to learn in environments that summer camp could never hope to equal.

MB events are somewhat convenient compared to the scout calling a random MBC.  I don't see this as any different from summer camp supplying counselors or troops that have registered in-house MBCs for everything.  My son has contacted random MBCs that say they would help but then never respond to his messages and he's had trouble finding counselors in our area for some badges.  Our counsel has started planning and hosting more of these events at our local camps.

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I complain a lot about bad practices at MBUs, so when I find one that's doing RIGHT by the scouts, it's only fair to send some kudos their way.

There's 27 districts in the Sam Houston Area Council and several have their own MBUs. Some are poorly planned and operated, some are very well planned and operated. One of the BEST is done by Orion District. 

What I like about their MBU is that they ASK merit badge counselors how much time they need for their badge, and that's how much time they are alotted. Some classes might be 2 hours, some 3, some 4, some 5 or more....it depends on the content and the counselor (as it should). 

I imagine it can be a bit tricky for some scouts to schedule their time, but at least the time they spend will be time well spent...

Here's what that district's schedule looks like...
http://orion.shac.org/Data/Sites/24/media/merit-badge-university/mbu-2019.pdf

Any thoughts on that approach???

 

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21 hours ago, mrkstvns said:

What I like about their MBU is that they ASK merit badge counselors how much time they need for their badge, and that's how much time they are alotted. Some classes might be 2 hours, some 3, some 4, some 5 or more....it depends on the content and the counselor (as it should). 

d operated, some are very well planned and operated. One of the BEST is done by Orion District. 

I imagine it can be a bit tricky for some scouts to schedule their time, but at least the time they spend will be time well spent...

Here's what that district's schedule looks like...
http://orion.shac.org/Data/Sites/24/media/merit-badge-university/mbu-2019.pdf

Any thoughts on that approach???

 

That's how some do it in our area.  The counselors also determine how many scouts they are willing to instruct and what pre-reqs need done prior to the class.

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Waaay back when. I was a Scout.  The Troop was very active, and concerned mostly with outdoor adventure.  Our Necker had a big patch on it that read "Always On The Go". The older Scouts went to Philmont every year with tarp tents that they made themselves ! The Patrols were mixed age, encouraged to go on hikes  and do things as a Patrol. The Troop went campouting once a month regardless of expected weather.  That was my introduction to Scouting.  I made a plastic tarp tent, and learned from the older Scouts and Scout adults and The Handbook For Boys   how to keep body and soul together on hikes and campouts.  The Troop even held their own Summer Camp several years on a private property, built a log cabin three sided shelter for the Quartermaster….  

The difference was, on hindsight, the fathers many of whom were war veterans of Korea and WW2 even. They wanted their kids to be self sufficient.  Even the Scouts from more urban areas I met were more into (onto?)  outdoor going places doing things.  "Things have changed".  

Then a new kid joined the  Troop.  He announced (!) that he would be an Eagle Scout in less than 3 years, he had "done the math" (back then, you were required to BE in a rank for a certain time before advancing). WELL...  us older Scouts (by then I was an "older Scout")  suddenly realized, THAT might mean this new kid could be the first Eagle in the Troop! (Troop at that point was only 8 years old ! )  So we talked and conspired. How do you earn Merit Badges?  Counselor?  We had only earned such things at Summer Camp.  Okay, the Council had the Merit Badge Counselor list.  Phone calls. Parents taking Scouts to visit men we didn't know.  I visited a retired NACA engineer, he was one of only two Aviation MBCs,  in Virginia to  earn the Aviation MB.  So.   The "new kid"  came to be a pretty good Scout, but he was, ultimately, the THIRD Eagle Scout in our Troop.  

Point being, that , back then,  A Scout had to WANT the Merit Badge.  There were no "Merit Badge Days", no MBColleges.  The MBCounselors were few and far between.  If " A Scout Is Trustworthy", and the requirements for the MB are held to the standard, I have no problem with that.   The previous story about the Leather Working MB is, I fear, typical.   

In like manner, the MBCounselor has to WANT the Scout to meet the requirements.  It is, I think, a good thing that Life Saving MB cannot be done at the usual MBCollege. 

The idea of "Participation"  awards are typical.  Many kids nowadays (and their parents ?) expect to "show up and get the patch".  Once, when I staffed the Cub Scout Day Camp Scout Skills pavilion, the Camp Director said, "and of course the Cubs will learn these eight knots and pass their rank...."  I replied certainly not. In a 50minute session,  they will be lucky to learn rope safety, handling and MAYBE 4 knots, learn them and be able to tie them when needed!   The CSDC Director was AGHAST !  Not pass all the requirements?  I said "it depends"....  and we left it at that.   When she passed me the "activities done and requirements passed " sheet at the end of camp, I again had to say, no, they did NOT learn these knots, don't say they did. "but the parents expect... ? "  Doesn't matter, here is what actually happened....    The activity sheet was corrected at least for my station.  That year. 

To be a part of the system, one must insist that the standards be met.   There's that bothersome idea again, is a First Class Scout from fifty years ago the same as a First Class Scout of today?  Yes and no.    My First Class badge included Morse Code , Scoutson (Eagle 2010) and I discussed this.   Other things have changed.   But part of Scouting has to be the ability to "be prepared"  to do things the OLD way when the MODERN way doesn't work.   Gas stoves?  Wood fires?   Wig Wag ? Dead battery cell phone?  Walk  or ride?  Sew on patches?  Glue on Velcro?  Soap and water?  Alcohol sanitizer?  Sunscreen?  Long sleeve shirts?   "it depends".....

See you on the trail. 

 

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30 minutes ago, SSScout said:

In like manner, the MBCounselor has to WANT the Scout to meet the requirements.  It is, I think, a good thing that Life Saving MB cannot be done at the usual MBCollege. 

I also like that some merit badges cannot easily be done at summer camp.  Sadly, too many of the "counselors" that run the merit badge classes at council summer camps think that "WANTing the Scout to meet requirements" justifies them signing off things that were never done (or even attempted).  This happens routinely with all those classroom-type badges that don't really belong in an outdoor program in the first place:  why should Art or Communication or Family Life be offered at summer camp?  Particularly when the most RELEVANT requirements of those badges can't possibly be done....yet inept council program staff keep searching for ways they can get around requirements or just generally cheapen the badges to the point that they've really become "participation emblems" instead of "merit badges".

I'm a strong proponent of having summer camp focus on OUTDOOR merit badges and letting the individual scouts, troops, or district MB College folks worry about the stuff that is BEST done at home, indoors, or in the local community. If you want to build up the summer camp program, add more non-MB OUTDOOR activities, not really bad MB classes that deliver an inferior experience.

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