technology

Merit Badges…

mb_sashThis has been discussed before, but I received an email the other day from a Scouter in our area.  This Scouter does not know me very well, nor does this Scouter know how our Troop runs, but none the less, this Scouter sent a nice email suggesting that we do not encourage the merit badge program in our Troop BECAUSE our Troop is a “Backpacking Troop”.
Well, hmmm…  Let’s see… How do I respond to that?
There are what? 130 or so merit badges that I Scout can choose from right?  And the Scout must have at least 21 to earn his Eagle Award, right?  So there are lots of choices for the Scout to make when it comes to earning merit badges.  At some point the Scout must come to the unit leader.. that’s me… and get the blue card signed to start working the merit badge, which ever merit badge that may be.  When the Scout comes to me to get that blue card signed I sign it.
Now when it comes to encouraging.  I encourage the Scout to earn merit badges.  I have told the Scouts that while at Summer Camp, merit badges are not the reason to be there.  Merit badges are a product of Summer camp and a means to and an opportunity to earn, learn, and have fun while at camp.  So yeah, that may sound I like I don’t “encourage” the working of merit badges, but that’s really not the case at all.
I am a firm believer that advancement and merit badges are the Scouts responsibility to work.  They need our help that’s true and at times they need some poking and prodding to get going on badges and rank.  In that regard, we encourage and promote the merit badges that will get the Scout advanced.
The merit badge program is designed to do a couple of things.
1.  Introduce the Scout to many subject areas that will open his eyes to his world, skills, hobbies and activities, and career fields.
2.  Work the adult interaction method.
3.  Spark interest in the Scout while working toward a goal (advancement).
When the Scout, and leaders understand why we have merit badges, it is easier to understand that they are not the end all, be all of the Scouting program.
When I am told that I do not encourage merit badges because we are a “Backpacking Troop”  I look at the Scouter and ask if they know the methods of Scouting.  Backpacking, Front Country car camping, or Troop’s that never leave the confines of a cabin all work the methods of Scouting.  Advancement is one method and the Scout finds his pace and path to achieve his goals and work his way to Eagle.
We encourage the merit badge program but we do not spend valuable Troop time to work on them, with the exception of Camping, First Aid, and Cooking.  Those merit badges, for a troop that camps 11 times a year are all being worked over the course of the program year and are tracked at the unit level.
If the fact that we are not a merit badge mill is not a way of encouraging… well, than guilty as charged.
Now, I am going to be totally honest with you… many of our Scouts only work the merit badges that they need to advance.  That is not because we are a backpacking troop, nor is it because we do not encourage the merit badge program.  Simply put, our Scouts are having fun.  They spend time having fun at summer camp.  You will always find our Scouts extremely active at camp.  They love to compete and play games.  They spend lots of time at the water front and the shooting ranges.  If they don’t get the fingerprinting merit badge.. it’s no big deal.
We encourage every Scout to earn an Eagle required Merit Badge at summer camp.. don’t care which one… but at least one from the Eagle required list.  Most Scouts work the Environmental Science Merit Badge at summer camp.  That and First Aid seem to be the two most popular.
I don’t make a pitch for some of the merit badges that while for some Scouts are super interesting, knowing the boys of my troop are just ‘filler badges’.  Like the afore mentioned Finger printing.  Let’s face it.. that’s a 10 minute merit badge and the Scout really doesn’t learn much.  A great one for the sash, but not getting him that much closer to Eagle Scout and life skills.
I would much rather see them earn Canoeing, Sailing, Emergency Prep or Wilderness survival while at Summer camp or pretty much any other time of the year.  But that’s just me, I don’t get to force a Scout to earn a certain merit badge, nor do I get to forbid him from working one.  Finger printing, Dog care, Painting, Skating, and Reading, while all great subjects and have a purpose in teaching responsibility on some level and encouraging an interest, I can do without them in the context of Scouting.  I know that I will hear some opposing views on this and I suppose that’s why there are 100 + merit badges so there is something for everyone.  I don’t discourage any Scout from earning any merit badge that he wants to earn.  But when it comes to encouraging Scouts to earn merit badges, well, I just sign the blue card and let them go to work.
I don’t think we need to high-five every Scout that earns the Chess merit badge or the Backpacking merit badge for that matter.  They work it, they earn it, they are presented the badge and they get a handshake and a “job well done”.  We don’t have contests to see who can earn the most and we don’t look down on the Scout that earns the obligatory 21.
I am still not sure what being a “Backpacking Troop” has to do with anything.  This Scouter said that this was “The Reason” we do not encourage the merit badge program.
In closing.  The average number of merit badges that Scouts  have earned at the time they were awarded their Eagle award is 35.  Enough said.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Shaving the Weight

In my last Sunday Morning Coffee post I talked about a new segment I was going to start for this year.  That was to document the shaving of the weight from my pack in order to go lighter and more comfortable on the trail.
The segment is going to be called 52 ways of shaving weight.. or something like that.. I’m still looking for a snazzy name.  Much like the effort many online Scouters shared in the #100daystrong campaign.. anyway.. for now.. it’s 52 ways to shave weight…
Last week I ordered new stuff sacks from zpacks.  They are Cubin Fiber and super light.  The heavy of the 3 sacks I ordered weighs in at 5 grams that’s .2 ounces.  The lightest sack is 4 grams or .1 ounces.  The bag that my cook kit was in weighed 20 grams or .7 ounces.  That bag has been replaced by the 5 gram bag.  That is a net savings of 15 grams or .5 ounces.  That may not seem like a lot of weight.. but add that up over all of your gear, an ounce here and an ounce there and you have pounds.
This week I looked at my pack.
I weighed my pack.. totally empty.
It weighs in at 4 lbs.  I took every plastic stopper off of the pack and replaced them with a figure 8 knot.  Serves the same purpose (to keep the line from threading through the buckles).  The Pack is now at 3 lbs 15 ounces or 1798 grams.  I have been looking at the optional flap storage bag that clips to the pack.  While I like it for easy access, I tend to fill it with lots of small stuff.  Through this process of looking at how I pack and what I pack.. I may be able to shed that part of the pack all together.  That would add to the savings.  The lid/pocket weighs in at 257 grams or 9.1 ounces.  That would shave an additional 1541 grams off the pack.  That would bring that pack total to 3.3 lbs or 54.24 ounces.
What I am finding is that “Ultralight” backpacking is more of a philosophy of thought that it is about backpacking.  The philosophy dictates that you look at the process and the science if you will on what you take, how you take it, what you use it for, and yes… how much does it weigh.  This does not discount safety and comfort, on the contrary.. it forces one to look at how they can be just as safe and just as comfortable while backpacking with the net result being more comfortable, fresh, and pain-free when the pack comes off.
This process forces you to have a critical eye to make decisions on the gear you choose and pack.  It takes on that scientific feel as you weigh gear and make those decisions.
I found a good Excel spreadsheet online.  It is designed and built from a backpacker that frequents Backpackinglight.com.
It is a great way to build your kit, look critically at the weight of all your gear and make sound decisions.  I am finding it a great tool for meeting my goals in weight reduction and a fun way to track and measure my progress.
Here is a link to the gear list.  If this doesn’t work, drop me an email and I will send it to you.
So I am on track to shaving that gear weight.  See what you can do and let us know your progress… Also.. help me with a cooler name for the segment.  Leave your suggestions in the comments section.

Have a Great Scouting Day!

Protecting your online identity?

Awhile back there was some discussion on separating your Scouting life with your “Normal” life.  I argued that given the Scout oath and law there is no real way that (at least I) could separate the two.  As we have negotiated our way through this online maze and many of us have developed an online presence protecting that identity is important.  I am not talking about protecting bank accounts.. I am talking about protecting character.
It dawned on my today as I was checking my twitter account (@smjerry) and noticed some of the people who follow me.  Now I am not going to go into a list of who’s who, I think that would be tacky.. not only that, but you can see it for yourself if you know how to use twitter.  Based on twitter, I figured the same is true for Facebook and the blog.  Now I know that the blog does pretty well.  73,960 views for the 857 posts.  I have said it before that I am not a numbers guy.. but all of that is to say that people are reading what I write, watching the video’s I post on YouTube and checking in via twitter and Facebook.  Sometimes I wonder why, but then I check my twitter account and note that I follow a bunch of folks and care about what they have to say.  I read many blogs and spend a fair amount of time learning from other backpackers on YouTube.
So I feel it is important to watch what I say, post, type, and respond to.  At the end of the day this all becomes a record of my character.  Again, there is no separation between the various parts of my life.
Before I get slammed with emails… let me assure you I am not bucking for Sainthood.  I am just a man, but I am a man that believes in the Oath and Law.  As much as I believe in the Golden Rule and all of the other positive moral codes that have I have been introduced to in my life.  What I know for sure is that people do watch what you do and what you say and on the internet, given an anonymous identity when responding, or at least the fact that face to face contact is limited, people will say and write things that will hurt you if you are not careful.
I received an email recently from a guy that asked why I did not post one of his comments.  Well, the bottom line is this.. what he had to say did not add to the conversation.  Politely saying.. it did not fit on my blog.  I appreciate the guy taking the time to shoot an email my way, but I get to pick and choose how my character is going to be advertised.
You see, I control my character.  I am the only person that can give it away or lose it.  The things that I do, say, type, and post, tell my story and I need to protect my character, especially on the internet.
If anything all of this “exposure” has forced me to be more aware of how the Scout Oath and Law fit in my life.  It is not that I am better than anyone, or looking for special treatment.  I am just aware that my character is not for sale and I surely am not going to risk it on someone who has less control of their values and character.
I would rather have my bank account robbed than my character.  I can always earn, I can not repair damage done on the internet.
Protect your online identity.
Have a Great Scouting Day!

Tenderfoot and Porn

So if you are reading this.. you are either on the blog or got it via email and you are looking at this post electronically.. it was brought to you from the wonderful world of the internet.  The world-wide web.  I think we can all agree, especially those of us that grew up in an age when the words internet and blog did not exist and the web was something that a spider made, that the internet is a wonderful thing.  Those of us that use the internet as a tool for communicating, learning, sharing, and staying in touch find a lot of value in this great invention.  But like everything, people.. yes people have a tendency to mess things up.
The internet is a great thing, people who manipulate it and find ways to make it harmful, is another story.  It is shame that in this world of great technology we have to be watchful of what is on the net.
I suppose it is much like the stories we hear from our parents about how they never locked their doors in their neighborhood or that they could leave the keys in their cars.  Then times changed and on went the locks and security of belongings took center stage.
I read a study today about pornography on the internet.  It made me sad to hear that the average age of boys that find pornography either by mistake or using a deliberate search for it is 11 years old.  11 years old!!!!  This hit home as we are in the process of working with our new Scouts on their trail to first class.  Internet safety is now just as important as Safe Swim Defense or Youth Protection.  Our youngest Scouts are 11 years old and fall right into the age of the boys in this study.  We talk about bully’s with them, we talk about “Stranger Danger” and the 3 R’s of Youth Protection, but how much do we talk about the “bad parts” of the internet.
We use the internet for everything.  Our Troop has a website, we do a lot of communicating via email and the Facebook site of the Troop and the internet offers great scouting resources.  All of which we want our Scouts to have full access to.  But what about when wondering, inquisitive eyes start searching?  How do we tackle that subject?
Now, there are “Net Nannies” out there and restrictions that you can place on the computer users, but more and more pornography and other questionable sites just seem to pop up.  The sick and twisted individuals that prey on internet users are trying to, as much as we are trying to spread the good word about Scouting, spread their destructive and harmful garbage.  We need to be up front with our Scouts and know that this smut is just a click or two away from this blog and other great sites.  We need to educate them on why these sites are bad.  We need to bring it all back to the Scout Oath and Law.
Is the site I am looking at in keeping with the values and moral code set forth in the Oath and Law?  Would it be something that I would sit with my Mom and Dad and look at?  Education and expectation is critical when introducing this subject to your Scouts.
The internet is a great thing.  I love it and would find it hard to live without now.  There are thousands and thousands of great sites out there.. and then there is lots of garbage too.
Protect your Scouts, Educate your Scouts, and be aware that Tommy Tenderfoot is the average age of a boy in America searching for porn.  Be prepared!
Have a Great Scouting Day!

New Tour and Activity Plan to Be Unveiled

From our Friends at the BSA Internal Communications via Scout Wire:
Dateline February 29, 2012

The new online tour and activity plan has been developed and will soon be ready for use.

When compared to the former tour permit process, the new plan will no longer require signatures or approvals. Rather, as the plan is completed online, the required prerequisites for that type of trip or activity will be displayed.

For any prerequisites that have not been met (for example, not having someone on a trip who has Hazardous Weather training where this training is required), and before being allowed to submit the form, the person completing the form will have to certify that all prerequisites will be met prior to conducting the trip or activity. Once submitted, an email notification will be sent to your council, chartered organization, committee chair, unit leader, and emergency contact to let them know that a plan has been submitted. Receivers of this notification can log in to MyScouting and review the plan.

Other tour and activity plan enhancements include the following:

  • Because email notifications will be sent once a plan has been submitted, it is important to maintain current leadership information in the system.
  • Links are provided to current program-required training and education.
  • System prompts and warnings are included.
  • You will be able to review and fix any deficiencies flagged by the system prior to submitting the plan.
  • You can store, retrieve, copy, and reuse completed tour and activity plans.
  • Files such as trekking plans and flight plans may be uploaded.
  • Unit volunteers who currently have access to the tour and activity plan will be able to view and update all plans submitted for their unit up to the day before the scheduled tour date.
  • There will be leader certification of the plan prior to submission.

For those who do not have Internet access or simply prefer paper over an electronic version, a PDF version can be found on the tour and activity plan FAQ page.

Tour and Activity Plan Demo

Before implementation to unit volunteers, we are providing a demo to familiarize you and your employees with this new tool. The demo will be accessible to councils on MyBSA until April 30. You will have the ability to create, edit, copy, or print a plan, but not submit one. On May 1, the new tour and activity plan will be activated for authorized unit volunteers to access in MyScouting. We encourage your employees to show the demo to key volunteers, but due to the need to protect the personal information of the membership, this must be done via MyBSA.

The demo may be accessed online. When the MyBSA login screen appears, enter your current MyBSA user name and password. It will take you to the tour and activity plan home page, where you can begin and create a new plan.

A training video has been developed that guides you through the application process and can also be shared with your unit volunteers.

Preaching to the Choir

During this last years recharter we had an extremely disappointing turn in of the Journey to Excellence form.  As a District committee we chalked this up to a couple of things.. perhaps it was that many people were not aware of the change in program.  Maybe some Scouters did not receive proper or inadequate training on the subject.  It could have been that the program was not communicated effectively.  Another reason may have been that some Scouters just don’t care enough to fill it out.  Then again, it may have just been that there are units out there that really are not delivering the promise and would not fill out the form for any reason.
I will go on record and say that the answer is All of the Above. (In my opinion).
So rather than simply complain about it.. I figured that the right thing to do, because I love Scouting and believe in the program, would be to tackle the issues and start with training.
So I volunteered to teach about the JTE program and give out all the tools that would make a unit successful in at least getting the 2012 form in with their charter in November.
So back in January, I announced that we would hold a JTE session at the February Round table.  I made arrangements with the Round Table commissioner and we decided that this would be a great class.  We could have all levels of Scouting attend and present the information in a clear and easy to use format.
I made copies of all of the materials and even used my own Troop as an example.  I made copies of our spreadsheet JTE tracker and our goals for this year.  A sample budget was included as well as the Pack, Troop, and Crew requirements for 2012.
Last night at Round table, the room was set and I prepared to teach this subject of which I have developed a passion for.  7 people showed up for the training.  7.  2 of them were Assistant Scoutmasters from my Troop, 1 was a Scoutmaster of a high performance troop that is using the JTE tools and is delivering the promise of Scouting.  2 were Cub Scout leaders that I assume got a lot out of the class.  They had great questions and seemed to be very interested in getting this ball rolling within their Packs.  1 was an Assistant Scoutmaster of another Troop that is always in the hunt for Troop of the Year, and finally a committee member from on of the LDS units in our District.  She had never heard of JTE and took lots of notes.  She informed me that she thought that this was all done at the Stake level.. but wanted to know more so she could get the program started with the Troops she worked with.
7 Scouters.
85 units did not bother to fill out and turn in the form during the last recharter process. 
So essentially last night I preached to the choir… again.
As I drove home from Round table last night my mind was filled with disappointment which of course drove me to thinking about the other areas in which we fall short in our District, Council, and of course the BSA.
Mostly I think it comes down to training.  We do a fantastic job of getting people to help.  Just look at the numbers.
1.1 Million volunteers currently serve the youth of Scouting.  1.1 Million.  Now I am no fool, and I know that in any population you will never get 100 % of the folks to do anything, but we need to try right?
So we have lots of Scouts that deserve the best, and we have lots of volunteers that have at some level made a commitment to give their best, and yet we don’t.
Lets assume that my District (which I consider a real great district) is representative of most if not all districts in the BSA.  First, lets throw out some numbers again… bear with me here.  Remember that I said 85 units in my district did not bother to turn in the JTE form.  My district has 129 units in it.
In 2010 the BSA reported that there were 47,259 Cub Scout Packs, 40,099 Boy Scout Troops, 8,539 Varsity teams, and 18,856 Venture Crews.  That would be a total (in 2010) of 114,753 units in the BSA.
So assuming everything is equal, 40,000 units within the BSA did not turn the JTE form this last year.  Now I do not know this to be true.. I am just looking for a solution.  IF that big a population within an organization that makes it its business to deliver the promise of Scouting to the 2 million (plus) Scouts that come to us allows this to happen.. then I think it is worth a review.  Not a change in the Journey to Excellence program.  It is rock solid.. after all its all about making every unit the best.  It follows the methods and places its focus on what is important.. serving Youth!.  No, it does not need to change.  What needs to change is how we present, train, and work with units to ensure that the program (both the Scouting program and the JTE) are being followed.  Units that are in need of help need to get it.
I think this is where the commissioner service comes in… and there again.. we are preaching to the choir… assuming again that your district is like mine.. where are all the commissioners?  We are in need of good commissioners that are dedicated to making every unit a great one.
There are many ways that we need to attack this.  I think that we have a huge disconnect here and it will not get better as long as we keep preaching to the choir.  The choir is fine and is singing loud and clear.  It is the folks that don’t want to sing that we need to reach.  It is the people we never see, it is the countless applications that come through the council that never get a hand shake or a visit.  It is the volunteers that are not reached by hands on training or a friendly invite to Round table.
As much as I am a big fan of computer based training.. I think we may have lost some of the contact by going away from class room training.  We need to connect with the 1.1 million volunteers, or what ever that number is in your District and not only fix this JTE problem, but get more leaders trained, active, and taking on rolls that complement their skills, attitudes, and level of committment within the District.  We need commissioners that actually pay visits to their units.  Commissioners that do not wear multiple hats in Scouting.  Commissioners that can take the time to work with and mentor unit leaders.
We need to get a bigger choir!  I’ll have more to say on this later… I am curious to hear what you have to say about all this… leave a comment!
Have a Great Scouting Day!

JTE revisited


As with many of us we wear multiple hats in Scouting.  First and foremost we wear the Dad (or Mom) hat, then the hat appropriate to our unit, like Scoutmaster or Committee Chair.  Then there often times is some District level hat, whether that is part of the District Training team, a District event, or serving on the District committee.  Some are active within their Order of Arrow Chapters or Lodges, and so another hat is hung there.  And for some, and the numbers narrow here, the Council comes a callin’ and more hats are added to the hat rack of Scouting.  This is all well and good as long as the person wearing all of those hats can A.   balance and manage the time,  B.  give full attention to all the positions that he or she has volunteered for, and finally C.  Remember that this is Scouting and it is still a game with a purpose.
All of that to say… I am putting on my District hat right now for this post.
Thursday night at our District committee meeting I was asked to take on an additional responsibility, that of the District Committee Chair while we are looking to replace our retiring District Committee chairman.  I currently serve as the District Program Chairman, so this was not to far a stretch and so I accepted the interim role.
That is neither here nor there when it comes to the subject of this post, other than to say that in the role of both the District Committee Chairman and the Program Chairman one of the reports that our District Commissioner gave disturbed me to no end and I am looking for solutions.
That report was on the Journey to Excellence status of units within our District.  I’ll jump right in.
In November our Council wraps up it’s rechartering process.  This way all units are good to go heading into the new year.  If done right by the units, this is a nice way to end the year and start their Scouting calendar year off clean.  Maybe it’s because I do not know anything else, but this works well for me.
In November we also close out our now Journey to Excellence (Former Honor unit, Quality unit, Centennial Quality unit) report.  Now of all the programs listed in Parenthesis.. I like Journey to Excellence a lot.  It is a fair way to rank and rate your unit.  It is a good measure of how your program is delivering the promise of Scouting.  In the Thunderbird District we have 129 units that rechartered this November.. well 124 actually turned them in on time.. we are still waiting on 6 of them… which will add to my point here real quick.  Out of the 129 units only 35% of them turned in the paper work for their Journey to Excellence.   That’s only 45 units (Packs, Troops, and Crews).  45!
So the question has to be WHY?  The score card is easy to use, the goals are fair and offer a sliding scale from Bronze to Gold so that units have a way of stepping up their programs with rewards for small and large success’s.  But why would only 45 out of 129 units report how they are offereing up the program?
Is it a lack of knowledge?  A lack of training?  A lack of buy in?  Or does this tell us that the 84 units that did not report are not providing quality programs and do not want to tell that to the District and Council?  I sincerely hope that this is not the case.  I know that there are great Scouters out there in our District and I see the units around doing activities, service projects, and outings.  So why not report.
My thoughts went back to the Good turn for America program.  Our District struggled in getting units to report there also.  We asked a volunteer to chase down units and assist with their reporting.. read.. do it for them.  And amazingly, or not, the numbers went sky rocketing.  Now I am not suggesting that this is all about numbers.  I certainly am not, what I am hoping is that the Promise of Scouting is being delivered in the 84 units that have made the choice not to fill out the form.
In talking with one Scouter, I came to the conclusion that he just did not know how the process worked.  So a lack of training on his part led him to not being able to go through this with his unit.  I call BS on this to a certain degree.  The program is not that tough to just figure out.  He asked about tools that could be used to help with the process.  I told him to go to Scouting.org and look up the Journey to Excellence.  There he would find an easy way to set the goals of the unit, track the progress of the unit, and print the final report.  Along with definitions, Frequently Asked questions, and support.  I also reminded him that the number one function of the District is to support units and he could always call us.
Here is what I like about the JTE program.  If you use the tracker, and I mean break it out monthly and see how you are, as a unit progressing through your program based on your goals.  You will achieve success.  The tracker allows the unit to see potential problems or short falls before they happen.  It allows Troop committees to make adjustments, it is a nice tool for the Patrol Leaders Council to stay on track with their program.  After all the main emphasis of the JTE is in program and participation.  Most of us have a competitive gene in us.  Our Scouts certainly do.  So the Journey to Excellence plays on this part of the game.   There are incentives within the unit to continuously improve.  Better Performance means better Scouting for youth!  Better Performance can earn a higher level of Recognition, and Key requirements are tracked and improvement can be quickly identified so they can see where they are on the field.  It’s kind of like being in a 3rd and long and waiting to punt or 3rd and short and know you can score!
I also like that each year the requirements will change.  Each year,  the requirements will be reconsidered to reflect the improved performance by units.  This is why it is important that ALL units report.  Right now in my District 45 units will set the performance measurement for the rest of the District.  New standards for 2012 are already out.  You can see the Troop score card here.   
So I am looking for solutions to this problem.  If you have any ideas, please leave a comment or drop an email.
Share your Journey to Excellence success’s also in the comments section of this post.
Like I said.  I know that there are good Scouters out there doing the right thing.  But the Journey to Excellence program will help make Scouting better.  Better for the main thing… Scouts.
Have a Great Scouting Day!