In 2007, the National Science Board (which is part of the leadership of the National Science Foundation) identified concerns about the way we educate our children in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Since that time, the Boy Scouts of America (along with many other youth-serving organizations) has worked to incorporate STEM into its programs.
The Cub Scout program has STEM activities in many of the adventures that the boys complete. The boys can be a paleontologist in the Wolf adventure, Digging in the Past. Or they can conduct investigations about air in the Air of the Wolf adventure.
Bear Cub Scouts learn about tasks that robots can perform and actually build their own robot in the Robotics adventure. Webelos and Arrow of Light scouts study geology in the Earth Rocks! adventure, and they learn about engineering in the Engineer adventure.
In addition to the emphasis built directly into the program, BSA developed STEM awards that can be earned by Cub Scouts. There are two levels–the Nova award and the Supernova award. All Cub Scout ranks except Lion and Tiger are eligible to earn these awards.
BSA’s goal with the awards was to “excite and expand a sense of wonder in our Scouts.” The thought was that exploring the basic STEM principles would help our boys discover how “fun and fascinating” STEM could be. This, in turn, would hopefully strengthen the STEM skills of our young people regardless of what career path they take.
Cub Scout Nova Awards
There are nine different NOVA awards. The Cub Scouts can choose which award they want to earn.
- Science Everywhere – This module helps Cub Scouts discover how science impacts our everyday life.
- Down and Dirty – This module is designed to help Scouts explore how earth science affects their lives.
- Nova WILD! – Cub Scouts learn about wildlife and the natural world.
- Out of This World – Scouts discover all about space exploration.
- Tech Talk – Cub Scouts learn how far-reaching technology is.
- Swing – Swing explores engineering and simple machines such as levers.
- 1-2-3 Go – Cub Scouts discover how and why math is such an integral part of our daily lives.
- Fearful Symmetry – Cubs explore how symmetry affects their lives every day.
- Uncovering the Past – This module will help Cub Scouts explore the wonder of archaeology.
Cub Scouts work with a counselor to complete the requirements for their chosen Nova award.
When the Cub Scout completes their first Nova award, they are recognized with the Nova award patch. It is considered a temporary patch and is worn on their right pocket. The patch comes with a loop so that your Cub Scout can hang it from his or her right pocket button.
For each subsequent award that they earn, the Cub Scouts receive a pi pin that can be attached to the Nova patch.
Cub Scout Supernova Awards
For a more intense study of STEM topics, Cub Scouts can work on the Supernova award for their rank.
The Supernova awards require that Cub Scouts work with a council-approved mentor.
You may earn the Supernova awards even if you haven’t earned any of the Nova awards, but it is recommended that you earn at least two of them before you start working on the Supernova awards.
For earning a Supernova award, the Cub Scout is given a medal. And they’re pretty cool! They may also be given a bronze bar that can be pinned above their left pocket.
Difference Between Nova and Supernova Awards
The Nova awards were designed to be fun. They show some of the basic principles of STEM, and they give the Cub Scouts a chance to experience science, technology, engineering, and math in fun and engaging ways. The goal is to encourage the Cub Scouts to continue exploring STEM.
The Supernova awards require more effort and a deeper understanding of STEM principles. The activities are more difficult and take longer to complete. The Cub Scouts who earn Supernova awards will have a greater understanding of STEM topics.
Cub Scouts working on the Nova awards work with a counselor, and those working on the Supernova awards work with a mentor.
Requirements to be Nova Counselors and Supernova Mentors
Both counselors and mentors must be registered adults aged 21 or older who have completed Youth Protection Training and their position-specific training.
Parents and leaders may be Nova counselors even if they have little or no STEM background. Here’s what BSA tells us the requirements are:
Counselors should be comfortable with high school math and science but not necessarily have a degree in or work in a STEM-related field or be an expert in the topic. It’s enough to have an interest in STEM and to be willing to look into the topics so that they can guide the youth. For instance, if you have ever gone fishing, dug a hole, or ridden a bike, you understand simple machines.
Because the Supernova awards are more in-depth, mentors must be knowledgeable about STEM by their vocation, hobby, or education. They must submit an application to and be approved by their local Council.
Training for Nova Counselors and Supernova Mentors
All counselors and mentors must complete Youth Protection Training. Personally, I think everyone should take Youth Protection Training, even parents who aren’t leaders. There’s no downside to having more adults youth protection-trained.
While it isn’t required, going through the STEM orientation course is a good idea.
The Nova counselor training and the Supernova mentor training can be found on this page.
After you’ve completed your training, contact your local council to let them know. They can tell you how to proceed to ensure that you’re officially a Nova counselor or a Supernova mentor.
How to Purchase Patches, Pins, and Medals
When a Cub Scout completes the requirements for the Nova awards, your pack advancement chairperson can submit the regular advancement report which is form 34403. Some of your packs may submit these electronically or use internet advancement to in lieu of the form. Follow the process that you use for rank advancement.
The Supernova medals require completion of the Supernova application. If you’re planning on presenting these awards at a specific meeting, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get all of the signatures.
In addition to your Cub Scout’s signature, you’ll need to get these four folks to sign the application as well.
- Pack Leader
- Supernova Mentor
- Council or District STEM/Nova Committee Member (or Advancement Committee Member if you don’t have a STEM committee
- District Executive
I love that our Cub Scouts have an opportunity to learn more about science, technology, engineering, and math with these awards. How many of your Scouts have earned one of them?
Yours in Scouting,
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