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December 26, 2012

Kids and Tinkering Go Together with Hacker Scouts

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

Kids and scouting have routinely gone together very well. Young people learning how to make fire or go camping has been a part of the American ideal for some time now, and there's not much in the way of sign that that may slow down soon. The idea of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts isn't lost on the Hacker Scouts, a group focused on providing the same kinds of education, but more specifically related to machinery, electronics and science.

One such chapter of the Hacker Scouts can be found in Oakland, California, where twice a month, commonly on Sundays, the Hacker Scouts descend on a hacker space known as Ace Monster Toys, where kids and their parents—about 50 kids, all told—get together and build things. The range of things varies wildly, from small robots made out of popsicle sticks known as “judobots,” to LED bracelets made with conductive thread to batteries made out of lemons.

While the Hacker Scouts don't have uniforms or the like, they will, fairly soon, be able to get their hands on a kind of merit badge offered from DIY electronics firm Adafruit Industries, in a variety of science-themed fields like learning to solder, building a quadricopter, or even dumpster diving. One such Hacker Scout, 11-year-old Grace McFadden, earned a “salvager badge” from, a website with a distinctly do-it-yourself bent. McFadden turned juice cartons into the soles of felt slippers to earn her badge.

So far, 32,000 kids have signed up with and are in the hunt for badges for their own projects. Chief creative officer Isaiah Saxon says plans to branch out with the Hacker Scout concept, offering up essentially a Scouting handbook for mobile devices. Hacker Scouts aren't alone in the field, either, with “Geek Scouts” springing up in—not surprisingly—Seattle, and Milwaukee and Charleston, South Carolina, forming chapters of the “Maker Scouts,” all with essentially the same concept, just a slightly different name.

The idea of using a kind of “scouts” concept to get kids interested in the sciences can't be lost on the various educational concerns out there, who have been trying to push the theme for some time now. It's a great idea; kids learn rapidly, so exposing them to a variety of topics early on is likely to give them the best chance of not only finding the thing that most interests them, but also being able to master that particular field as they get older. Getting more kids involved in math and science improves the likelihood that we'll be able to continue to innovate in such areas, and provide the users of the future with the Facebooks and the Makerbots of tomorrow.

While Hacker Scouts alone may not be enough to get us to Mars and beyond, it will likely be at least a start and create some scientific masterminds that formerly weren't there. Many hands make light work, no matter what industry is being discussed, and the more hands involved in math and science, the lighter the work of future innovation becomes.

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Edited by Rachel Ramsey

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