Please NOTE that this page and future updates have been moved to our Advancement Section.
Merit badge counselors play a vital role in Scouting. You offer your time, knowledge, and other resources so that Scouts can explore over a hundred different topics of interest. That has always been a core part of Scouting and this hasn’t changed with social-distancing. If anything, your services are needed more than ever.
Social-distancing has challenged Scouting and made it difficult to conduct face-to-face merit badge classes. But Scouting had adapted and developed new ways of meeting online. Many were skeptical about online Scouting at first, but after several months of conducting meetings and classes online, it is clear that online meetings are a very acceptable method for meeting with and teaching Scouts. In fact, online meetings have a lot of unique benefits, such as allowing Scouts from across the US to connect with merit badge counselors with special skill sets, and allowing counselors to take groups on virtual visits to locations that would otherwise be inaccessible to Scouts.
If you are a merit badge counselor and are considering online teaching, you are not alone. There are many merit badge counselors in our council who have been running successful merit badge courses since the beginning of ‘social distancing’. We have experimented with several approaches and are happy to share what we have learned.
It is now clear that most merit badge courses can be taught, at least in part, online. And if you don’t feel that your subject can be delivered online, consider that courses such as Wilderness Survival, First Aid, and Hiking have been successfully completed online and courses such as Archery, Horseback Riding and Swimming have been completed as blended or partial courses.
Online courses are here to stay and anyone can deliver one.
Scouts still need your help. And we can help you … help them. The Mount Baker Council can handle registration and reach out to all the Scouts in our council and beyond. This makes that part of setting up a course painless and allows you to share your services with as many Scouts as you are comfortable teaching. We can also connect you with other counselors with a wealth of online experience.
Please considering sharing your expertise with our Scouts. Get in touch with us and we’ll connect you with the resources to help you succeed.
Online Merit Badge Formats
There is more than one way to deliver a merit badge course. Common online Merit Badge Formats include:
- Virtual Meeting Format
- Virtual Meeting Slideshow Presentations
- Live Demos and Virtual Visits
- Google Classroom
- Prerecorded Videos
Virtual Meeting Format (Zoom Meetings)
Most of our Scouts are familiar with virtual meeting platforms such as Zoom. This is a popular platform used by schools, for unit meetings and is by far the most popular platform used for online merit badges. If you are not familiar with Zoom, we can help connect you with someone who can assist you in setting up a meeting.
Zoom and similar platforms allow you to meet with small and large groups alike. Running a class and participating in discussions is easy. Hands-on tasks can be a little more challenging, but can be done with a little planning and creativity.
Virtual Meeting Slideshow Presentations
For those of you with PowerPoint skills, virtual meetings are a cinch. Programs such as Zoom are designed to work well with PowerPoint, PDFs and similar programs. Classes can be entirely set up in a slideshow format or blended with other formats such as discussions, breakout rooms, videos, etc.
Here are a few slideshows designed to work with virtual courses:
- First Aid Merit Badge
- Personal Management Merit Badge
- Personal Fitness Merit Badge
- Wilderness Survival Merit Badge
- Medicine Merit Badge
- Genealogy Merit Badge
Other slideshows are available online and the best ones are likely the ones you make on your own.
Live Demos and Virtual Visits
For classes that need live demos, counselors can run live demos from their cellphone or laptop. This allows you to tackle hands-on skills, such as fire starting or pioneering skills. This can be done on Zoom, YouTube, Facebook and other platforms.
If you have access to a medical office, library, power plant, farm, etc. you can easily bring 50 Scouts with you on a virtual tour. This is invaluable as you can share a live experience with Scouts that would otherwise not be able to attend.
Google Classroom allows you to set up and organize merit badge coursework online. Scouts can complete and turn in requirements at their own pace. This allows you to easily connect with Scouts without having to set up a virtual meeting, or can be done in conjunction with virtual classes. Many Scouts prefer this method of merit badge work.
For merit badge counselors, Google Classroom allows you to easily organize and keep track of coursework for any number of Scouts.
A few merit badge counselors have recorded videos of their classwork. Videos have been published on YouTube, Facebook and on Council websites.
These videos can be used in a number of ways to fulfill or guide completion of merit badge requirements.
- They can be posted on council websites to be used by scouts from around the US 24 hours a day.
- Videos can be played in online and face-to-face classes.
- Viewing of videos can be assigned as homework for merit badge coursework.
- Videos can be used by the creator of the video, or by hundreds merit badge counselors around the US.
The playback quality of recorded videos are generally far superior when downloaded or viewed on the web than the video feeds from platforms such as Zoom.
Are Scouts Interested in Online Merit Badges?
Scouts from all over the US have signed up for our courses. Some course have filled up by the first business day after posting.
It is clear that there is a great need for this service and it is wonderful way to connect willing Merit Badge Counselors with needy Scouts. With enough notification, we can generally fill up your class with as many Scouts as you are willing to teach.
Some Requirements Not Suitable for Online Completion?
Sure, there are a few requirements that can’t be reasonably completed on a virtual meeting platform, such as the requirements of swimming or shooting. That’s OK, because you can cover online suitable requirements for any given merit badge and assign the rest as homework or issue a partially completed Blue Card. For the most part, experienced Scouts are used to being assigned homework and will be grateful for what was covered by the counselor. After your course, Scouts are that many steps closer to completing their merit badge and potentially their next rank.
Some Merit Badges and Requirements ARE Better Suited for Online Teaching
Depending on what Merit Badge you are instructing, you may find that it is much easy to teach in an online format than a live-in-person format.
- Merit Badge Counselors can schedule a class when they want to schedule class. This by itself enables a great many Merit Badge Counselors to teach who otherwise would not be able offer their services.
- Some classes are just better delivered in a Multimedia Presentation format. Many troop meeting locations just aren’t set up for this, but your Zoom account is.
- You can reach many scouts across the US. This is important for Merit Badges that don’t have a lot of Counselor support, and of course for Scouts in remote locations.
- You can take Scouts to areas you have special access to but that are prohibited to in-person visitors.
- You have access to all your tools and resources from where you are at.
- Scouts have access to what they have at home (their project, their computer, pet, family, own cookware, etc.).
- You have internet where you are at, whereas the regular Scout meeting place may not. This allows you to access so many electronic resources.
- Some Merit Badge Counselors and even Scouts interact better online than in person.
- Some Merit Badge Counselors just aren’t able to travel for a number of reasons (work schedule, traffic, mobility concerns, location).
There are many Merit Badge Counselors who honestly prefer virtual meetings over in-person ones.
Secrets for Running a Great Online Merit Badge Course
We have learned a lot of tricks to make our courses better. Some of it was learned through trial and error while others were learned from other Scouters. We’re happy to share what we have learned.
What to Cover and what Not to Cover
That’s entirely up to you. You don’t need to cover every requirement for a given merit badge to provide a valuable service to Scouts. Look through the requirements and determine what you are willing or able to cover given your resources and time restrictions. If you would like to cover more, but aren’t sure how to, reach out to other counselors. We have shared ideas and come up with so pretty good solutions in the past.
If you can’t cover some material, just let the Scouts know this. Most are used to having to do “homework” and complete requirements that weren’t covered in class. You can also issues partially completed Blue Cards so that Scouts can complete remaining requirements at a later date with a different counselor.
Should I run a single class or break it up?
This depends on what merit badge you wish to deliver, the amount of content you want to cover and your own schedule. There are several popular scheduling formats used by counselors across the US, so you have options.
Single Session Format. If you have a merit badge with simple requirements, you may be able to fit it into a single class up to 2-hours long. A 2-hour format is used by the Alamo Area Council and works reasonable well. Many courses will fit into this time span and you can always end class early. It is important to know that the attention span of Scouts diminishes after about 45 minutes, so it is important that you watch your time and give your Scouts a break. It is possible to run a longer class, but this is not recommended.
Course with Multiple Classes Format. Some Merit Badges have a LOT of requirements or have requirements that require a lot of time to cover. We have seen courses broken down into 2-6 classes. You will need to determine the right balance for you and your Scouts.
- 1-hour classes are great if your main goal is to have an optimally engaged audience. Running shorter classes has its drawbacks. Shorter likely means you will need more classes. If you have too many classes, you may find that your Scouts, adult help and/or you will more likely have a scheduling conflict.
- 1.5-hour classes allows you to run two 45-minute sessions with a break in the middle. This is a reasonable compromise for larger courses that require multiple session.
- 2-hour classes are used by some councils. This format works and you can fit a lot of material into 2 hours. That said, 2-hours is a long time for most Scouts. If you are not sure how long it will take to cover you material, you can schedule 2-hour sessions and you can always end your class early. Ending early is usually a considered a positive event while running over isn’t.
- Longer than 2-hours? Some councils run multiple sessions back-to-back spanning several hours. It is possible to do this but is not generally recommended. To make something like this work, consider adding a little variety in your lesions to keep it interesting, such as mixing up instructors, or doing live demos or games to keep Scouts engaged.
When in the Day to Schedule your Course? Well, that depends on what is available for you and if school is in session. We have seen classes start as early as 6am and others run as late as 10pm. Plus since online courses can be taken by Scouts in 4 or more times zones, you may be surprised to see how many Scouts are excited about taking a course at a given time of day. Basically, morning, afternoon and evening classes all work for different Scouts.
We have seen reoccurring classes that meet at the same time and same day of week (Example – Every Monday at 6-7:30pm). Some programs schedule their class at the same time for 4-5 days in a single week (9-10am M, T, W, T). Both of these models work for different Scouts and Scouters.
When you publish the time for your classes, make sure you make it clear what time zone you are in.
You may find this is a problem, especially if you are playing videos on Zoom. A virtual meeting delivers a lot of information through your internet connection, and your internet connection or those of your Scouts may not be able to handle it. If you see video feeds freeze up or Scouts that need to be repeatedly readmitted, something is wrong. Here are a few tricks and lessons learned to help out.
Optimize your connection. If possible, turn off all other devices that are using the internet.
- Have the family take a break from Netflix, YouTube and video games until you are done with your meeting.
- Use a LAN connection when possible. LAN is better than WIFI. WIFI is better than cellular.
- Restart your computer prior to your meeting and shut down all programs that you don’t need for your meeting.
Reduce your load on our meeting platform. This is especially important if you have a large class of 25 or more users. Consider the following:
- Mute everyone. You should do this anyways to reduce background noise.
- Have everyone turn off their video. This has its drawbacks, but will reduce how many Scouts get dropped during a meeting.
- Avoid streaming videos if possible. It is better to play a video from your hard-drive than to stream it off of YouTube or another online service.
- Turn off your own audio when not needed. If you play a video, turn off your own audio. Even if you are not talking, audio takes up bandwidth.
- Turn off Chat. Especially for larger groups, chat can have a negative impact on bandwidth.
Per the BSA rules, you need to have two adults when meeting with Scouts. That means 2 adults in a virtual meeting and 2 adults in each breakout room, with at least 1 each with YPT.
- Get that ideal host if possible – a wing-man with videoconferencing experience that can run the technical side of the meeting, let in attendees, take attendance, remove others if needed, mute people and answer chat. Having an experienced CoHost can make your meeting a snap, especially if you are new to videoconferencing.
- Get someone from your unit – someone in your unit will likely be willing to sit in on a class if it helps Scouts. You just have to ask.
- Get a parent volunteer – If you send out an email prior to each of your meetings, you will likely find multiple adults willing to sit in and help.
This is unfortunately important. Here are a few basic rules:
- Secure your meeting with a password. This is the single most important measure you should take.
- Enable a waiting room. This allows you to screen who comes in.
- Limit who gets the meeting codes. Send meeting code and password only to participants who have signed up. Ask them not to share it.
- DON’T publish your meeting codes and passwords on the internet! Don’t post meeting codes on a website, Facebook or a calendar that can be accessed by anyone on the web.
- Disable Screenshare and whiteboard. There is a potential for bad things to happen with these. The host and co-hosts can use this, but you should disable others from using this feature.
Like with any meeting, setting the rules early on can make your meeting run so much more smoothly.
- Mute everyone. Scouts can unmute themselves when they need to share something, but should otherwise stay muted. Otherwise you will hear dogs barking, parents talking (or yelling) and babies crying in the background.
- Wear a Scout uniform. In the age of video classrooms, some Scouts are accustomed to showing up to school video classes in their pajamas. Scouts should be encouraged to wear a uniform. Hosts and Co-Hosts should also wear a uniform, or appropriate clothing (lab jacket, logo shirt, safety gear), if possible as uniforms let everyone know that this is an official Scouting event and should be taken seriously.
- Videos on. Scouts should turn on their video feeds. This helps them and other engage in the class. The exception is when you are experiencing or expecting internet lag and need to preserve bandwidth. In larger classes, you may wish to have Scouts turn off their videos to save bandwidth.
- Turn off Screenshare and whiteboard. It’s just too tempting for Scouts to draw on your screen or share something random. It will save a lot of grief if you just prevent this problem in the first place.
- No Chatbombing. Scouts know what that is and won’t do it if you tell them not to. Or consider just turning chat off.
Issuing confirmation for completion or partial completion for merit badges is huge. There are a number of ways that Merit Badge Counselors and troops are tackling this.
- PDF Blue Cards -There are eCard options available for Merit Badge Counselors that can be filled out and snail-mailed or emailed out to Scouts. The trick is signing them. They can be electronically signed, scanned or photographed and then emailed.
Pro-tip – If you are the paranoid type, you can use a BSA-signature instead of your bank-signature.
- ScoutBook – Merit Badge Counselors can sign off on Merit Badges in ScoutBook. Please note that some councils are short staffed and have not updated their lists of Merit Badge Counselors in Scoutbook. If this is the case, you won’t be able to connect to Scouts in Scoutbook. Also note that you may not be able to sign off on scouts who may still have Cub Scout connects in ScoutBook.
- Old School Paper – Some Merit Badge Counselors are still filling out the official blue cards and mailing them out to scouts.
- Council Run – Some councils are inputting completions sent in by Merit Badge Counselors. If you have this resource, you are in luck.
- Council eSystem – Several councils have set up their own eCard system and send out the cards or links after completion.
- Scoutmaster Agreements – Some Troops are allowing for email confirmation from Merit Badge Counselors.
You’ll need to figure out what works best for you.
If you are interested in running an online merit badge course, let us know. We can help advertise your course, set up registration, get you electronic Blue Cards and/or connect you with counselors who have experience running online programs with Scouts.
If you are a Merit Badge Councelor and interested in hosting a online meeting contact Neal Kazmi at firstname.lastname@example.org
Scouting from Home
At the time of writing this article, the Washington state shelter-in-place order has been in place for a full month. A MONTH! Not to mention the preceding weeks where we had gathering restrictions that prohibited many of our events. It’s safe to say that we’ve all been impacted by this situation and my prayers and hopes are that we all remain safe, healthy, and we find ways to support each other.
In the world of Scouting, all our routines are gone. We’ve missed out on Scout meetings. Outings and hikes have been canceled. Gatherings have been postponed. This was especially difficult and stressful at the start of the shelter in place order. Until recently…
Over the past couple weeks, I’ve seen many of our regular Scouting activities come back to life and we’re establishing new Scouting routines with the help of digital resources. Troops are meeting on Zoom and other video conferencing systems. Many dens are back working on advancement. We’ve been holding board meetings through teleconferencing. We even had our first ever digital campout (I hope you all attended). This recent transition has been an exciting and rewarding experience and I’m inspired by all the great work.
I cannot stress enough the importance of this work. By finding ways to continue Scouting online, we give our youth (and ourselves) the opportunity to see each other – to share smiles, laughter, memories and celebrate togetherness. We also provide important learning opportunities that are fun and interesting; whether through merit badges, rank advancement, or online tours of museums or national parks. Our work to keep Scouting on gives us an uplifting break from watching the news and helps us focus on some of the things we absolutely love to do.
If your unit hasn’t meet recently, I highly encourage you to do so. And don’t over think the agenda for meeting online – a meeting to just let everyone say hello is impactful. The Scouting at Home committee has been meeting regularly and sharing ideas through Facebook and email, or check out the resources available on www.MountBakerBSA.org. If you want to brainstorm additional ideas for your unit to meet online, reach out to your unit commissioner or District Executive.
The mission of the BSA is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law. Every Scout meeting I know about begins or ends with reciting the Scout Oath and Law, and by doing so reminding all of us as to why we Scout. Those values don’t stop because we can’t meet and we don’t want to stop meeting because we can’t meet in person. Our work is too important for our youth and their development. Our work is too important for the health of our communities now and in the future. Our work is too important for us and the intrinsic reward we receive when helping others and doing a good turn. Reach out if you need help and #KeepCalmScoutOn.
By Denise Lesniak
SR VP Membership
Spring Recruiting a New Challenge!
Spring has roared in like a lion, as we patiently wait at home, inside, distant from family and friends for the peaceful lamb. The challenges of keeping your pack or troop active are very real; but there are so many resources out there-virtually! “Scouting at Home” is the new theme. Have you checked out Mount Baker Council’s Virtual Campsite? It is loaded with just about everything needed for Cub Scouts, Scouts BSA and Parents and Leaders.
How do you recruit new Cub Scouts this spring? Start by taking a step back and pulling out your membership plan and goals. The ones your unit developed at the beginning of the year. This is a great time to meet (virtually) with your leadership to review your membership plan, see where you are and how you want to move forward. You may have to alter some of the school events that are traditionally used for spring recruiting. Check with your school district and see if there may be opportunities to send digital flyers to new kindergartners as part of a welcome packet. You may want to brainstorm with your committee some new ideas for recruiting events for the summer. Don’t forget to sign up your scouts for summer camp and encourage them to invite a friend to register and go to camp, too. Summer camp is a great tool for recruiting, too!
Start thinking about your fall join night. Put together a checklist of things that will need to be completed and share those with your committee. Plan to attend one session of Mount Baker Council’s Spring and Fall Recruiting Webinars scheduled for May 13 at 7:30pm and 16 at 9:00am. Here you will find the latest information on how to host a successful join night as well as information about the August Roundtable Kick Start.
So, what can you do right now to help your unit with membership? Follow up on all leads on My.Scouting. There are families looking for activities for their kids and “Scouting at Home” and your unit activities are a perfect fit. Put a yard sign up, if you have one available. Add a scout neckerchief to the stuffed bear you put in your window.
Make sure your unit is still engaged during this time. It’s important to retain your current scouts and see that they are making rank. If you have newer scout families, make sure they know where to find activities and how to have achievements logged and verified. Have your scouts invite a friend to a virtual den meeting-we are all looking for ways to connect with others.
Be Safe and Scout On!
Set Your 2020 Vision on
Now that you have completed your position-specific training for your Scouting role, it’s time to take your knowledge to the next level. Wood Badge is a 6-day advanced leadership training course. Held over 2 separate weekends in September and October, Wood Badge offers leadership skills training that benefits your unit and all of Scouting, increases personal confidence, and forms an enhanced social and professional network.
Private corporations pay thousands for the Wood Badge course content to be presented at a business conference. Scouters pay a fraction of the corporate price for 6 days of food, fellowship, camping, and a ton of fun. Unleash your inner child as you form patrols, build rockets, sing songs, play games, and enjoy late-summer weekends at Fire Mountain.
Early Bird Registration opened March 1 online through the Council Calendar. The Early Bird discounted Fee of $250 will be offered through May 31st. The regular pricing of $275 begins June 1st. The course is limited to only 48 participants. Course dates are Sept 25-27 and Oct 23-25. Participants must attend both weekends.
For more information contact Course Director Colleen Weeks at 503-577-7602 or email@example.com OR Dan’l Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we have been hearing, “We are all in this together”, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic situation. As Scouting Alumni, we are in this together along with our Scouting families, no matter what our personal alumnus vintage might be, ranging from Neanderthal to Millennial.
The lives of our currently registered Scouting families have been significantly disrupted, if not completely turned upside down. This situation affects not only our youth, but the adults in their lives as well. Be sure to peruse the Council web site to see how we are keeping our Scouting families engaged with Scouting in order to provide them with important stability amid the frequent changes and uncertainties going on around them. www.mountbakerbsa.org/scouton There you will find terms such as “virtual campsite”, “virtual Scout meetings”, Facebook Live, and other new world terms, all methods which are being used to keep families Scouting while safely sequestered at home pending release per public health recommendations.
Even for those of us in the Neanderthal alumnus vintage, there is no need to feel intimidated by the digital techy terminology. Remember, Scouting provides a safe environment for learning new skills so go ahead and enjoy the website. Better yet, volunteer some of your time to help our families to “Scout On” through the pandemic and beyond. It might be now, or even after we emerge from this “social distancing” constraint that a unit could use an extra set of hands or simply the participation of an alumnus with Scouting experience and wisdom to help the unit “Scout On” toward normalcy.
Contact me and we can figure it out. Remember, we are in this together.
Yours in Scouting service,
The Mount Baker Council is offering a special commemorative award to remember this unique time in Scouting and the world.
All youth and adults will have the ability to earn this patch which will be sold exclusively through the Mount Baker Council Trading Post.
To earn the patch complete the activities in the Council provided matrix by June 30, 2020.
Download the requirements
Dear Friends and Family of Scouting,
We hope you and your family are healthy.
We are writing to you as the Mount Baker Council urgently needs your help.
Scouting has never been more important to our youth and communities. We are committed to the mission . . . actively planning service projects and our character-building youth programs.
But, we need your help!
Like you, we have been deeply affected by the Coronavirus.
We temporarily closed our stores, asked our employees to work from home, and advised our members, volunteers and staff to heed all public safety recommendations.
Our traditional fund-raising activities, including our Community Fund Raising events and our annual Family Friends of Scouting (FOS) campaigns have always been held in groups and provided the opportunity for personal connections. As we do our part to participate in social distancing we have had to delay or cancel these events.
It cost $205 per registered Scout to continue providing a quality Scouting experience for the youth of the Pacific Northwest. You have supported us in the past, can we count on you to help today? Your recurring contribution of $20.00 per month will make a big difference for youth in our area. Please go to mountbakerbsa.org/giving/friends-of-scouting/ or text mountbakerbsa to 41444 to make a gift today.
Thank you for your continuing support of the mission of the Mount Baker Council. With the support of our volunteers and people like you, the mission will continue.
Mount Baker Council, Boy Scouts of America
Steven Davis, Council President
GaryBazzell, Senior Vice President of Development
Kevin Nichols, Scout Executive
The Mount Baker 2020 Camp Cards are here!
Let’s use this opportunity to test our online sales skills. These cards hold great value, especially the restaurants that have take-out and delivery. Who doesn’t want a discount on their pizza while stuck at home?! And with most vendors, the new expiration date of March 2021 allows for plenty of time to use the card. We have also extended the campaign through the end of June to give units more time to sell. Please be in touch with your District Camp Card Captains for distribution details.
Good luck with your sales and always remember – Do Your Best!!!