Scouting for Tech: My Year with the Girl Scouts at the Library

PICCINO StephanieScouting for Tech: My Year with the Girl Scouts at the Library
by Stephanie Piccino


Admit it: You do not think “tech” when you think “Girl Scouts”. You think of camping, crafts, and, of course, cookies. But these are not your mom’s Girl Scouts. They are not even mine. Today, Girl Scouts are encouraged to explore the world of STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – so they can get the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. Here at the Martin County Library, we have the tools to help them get there.

I have worked with multiple local Girl Scout groups over the past year to help them earn technology badges. I have watched girls between the ages of six and 14 come up with spectacular digital photos, amazing posters about their favorite animals, and write, direct, and edit a short digital film. In a world where girls are often pushed out of STEM before they have a chance to explore it, our library has helped many local girls take that first exciting step into a whole new world.

I had always been interested in, as I liked to put it, geekery: video games, graphic design, anything computer-related. I also had a desire to get more girls involved in geekery since many of them seemed turned off by the very idea of calling themselves “nerds” or “geeks”, which I have always found disappointing. The truth is, it extends beyond that. According to a study conducted by the American Association of University Women, even though girls are now scoring higher than 700 on the math portions of their SATs, many will not pursue STEM fields once they get into college. Moreover, those girls that pursue STEM in college do not always follow through with it. Although STEM program retention rates from first-year studies to graduation are 60% for both men and women, there are fewer women entering the field, so these numbers are still worth looking into.

So why are girls not following through with STEM careers? The American Association of University Women recently found that negative stereotypes of women and girls in fields that are not considered “feminine” tend to push women and girls away from pursuing STEM careers. Even when boys and girls had similar skill levels in math, girls tended to downplay their abilities. Interestingly, girls were also found to believe they must outperform boys in order to be successful in traditionally “male” fields. With a lack of self-confidence and an anxiety to need to be the best in order to succeed, no wonder girls are steering clear of STEM!

After working in the Martin County Library System as a homework helper in the Palm City branch, which had recently opened its tech-oriented “idea lab”, my own ideas began to blossom. The library was looking for ways to get people from the community into the idea lab, and I still had some connections from when I worked with the local Girl Scout council. I researched different technology badges the girls could earn – many of which I would have loved a chance to go for when I was a Scout! – and spoke with my manager about my ideas. She was most definitely on board!

But even though I had the ideas and the support from my colleagues, we did not have any Scouts. I had not heard from my contacts in the council and was about to give up on my plan. Then one day, a small troop of Junior Girl Scouts came in to work on a badge. I plucked up the courage to approach the troop leader and explain who I was and what the library offered. Interested, the troop leader, my manager, and I worked out a time for our very first badge workshop: digital photography.

I developed a lesson plan that fit with the badge requirements and, with some modifications, we came up with a library-friendly program that not only engaged the girls but taught them some photography essentials: what makes a good picture, how to work with lighting, and some quick edits you can make on a computer. We gave the girls a scavenger hunt sheet, asking them to take pictures of 10 objects in the library however they wanted. This not only engaged them in the work, applying what they had just learned to real-life examples, but I also wanted to encourage their artistic eyes. We uploaded the pictures into our idea lab iMacs, made a few tweaks here and there, and then imported the edited pictures into Microsoft Word to make Fathers’ Day cards. The girls enjoyed themselves, had a lot of fun, and most importantly, got to play with some really cool technology.

Encouraged by the success of our first workshop, I started approaching more troop leaders as they came in and told them about our programs. As we got cameras into the hands of more eight- and nine-year-old girls, something miraculous happened: troop leaders were coming to us, asking about our Girl Scout badge workshops and wanting to get their troops involved. It turned out that word-of-mouth had been our best advertisement!

As knowledge of our workshops grew, so did our audience. Brownie Girl Scouts, girls between six and eight years old, came in to learn basic computer skills. Not only did they learn about internet safety and how to look up images on Google, they also learned how to save those images to a computer, paste them into a PowerPoint slide, and how to cut and paste text. They also got a very basic introduction to typography as they experimented with fonts, text sizes, and text colors to get exactly the results they wanted. Plus, the Brownies got to take their posters home!

The most exciting project, and possibly the most complex we had yet done, was a dual-badge program for Cadette Girl Scouts. Cadettes, being older girls between 12 and 14, had to create and edit a short film. My undergraduate degree is in television production, so I was beyond excited to get a group of girls behind the camera. I suggested to the troop leader that we could also work in a scriptwriting badge to give them the full production experience. Over the course of three meetings, as opposed to our usual stand-alone workshop, the Cadettes wrote and storyboarded a script, directed each scene, worked behind the camera, and put it all together into a one-minute short, which we posted on the Martin County Library’s YouTube page.

There have, of course, been challenges, namely in having enough people around to help the girls with technical questions and keep them on task. The troop leaders often are the ones to rein the girls in, but sometimes I needed a little bit more help. Our digital literacy librarian at the time, Justin de la Cruz, came to the rescue and made sure the girls had the help they needed. He lead a digital photography workshop when I was unable to, and he even made a guest appearance in the Cadettes’ short video!

Another issue was how our branch was often short-staffed. It became a challenge to schedule troop visits around times when we had the staff to cover all of our regular bases. There were times when I myself was leading both a Girl Scout troop and helping patrons at the same time! I cannot thank my fellow staff members enough for helping out whenever they could and rising to the occasion when we needed it most. Our badge workshops, as well as other programs we host, would not be what they were without their help and support.

Over the year in which we have had our badge workshops, local Girl Scouts have not only learned amazing things but created works of art they are rightfully proud of – and their leaders and we staff are also proud of! But I don’t want to stop there: I want to eventually have similar badge workshops at all the branches of the Martin County Library System, so I have made all of my lesson plans readily available for all staff to access. As we implement more technology throughout the county, I am confident we can replicate these workshops with relative ease.

Our next step is to get Boy Scouts in our lab as well. They have a good deal more tech badges to earn, and some are more complex and more detailed than those for the Girl Scouts. But if we want all Martin County children to have the same opportunities, we must afford the Boy Scouts of our area the same fun opportunities as we have for the Girl Scouts.

Though digital photography and basic computer skills are not exactly hard science like electronics, engineering, or complex calculus, sometimes all it takes is one small foot in the door. Today’s digital photographer using a library camera could be tomorrow’s forensic scientist photographing a crime scene. Basic computer skills such as Google searching and fact-finding can spur a girl toward research and data collection, two things that are very crucial to a career in a STEM field. Giving the girls the confidence that they may need to take whatever step is next in their journey has been a highlight of our workshops and partnerships with the Girl Scouts.

It is my goal – as well as that of the Martin County Library System – to get as many kids as I can into STEM-related activities. It is a personal goal to get more girls into STEM, and working for the Martin County Library has allowed me to do just that. I hope to one day expand our offerings and see programs like the ones I have developed implemented throughout Florida and possibly the country. I want to make these programs bigger, better, and accessible for girls everywhere. I have the proof that these programs not only work but can draw a crowd as well. I cannot wait to see what the next year brings!



Hill, Catherine, PhD., Christianne Corbett, Andresse St. Rose, Ed.D. “Why so few? Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics”. American Association of University Women (2010): 1-28. Web. 20 May 2014.



Stephanie Piccino is a library specialist in the Martin County Library System as well as a current student of San Jose State University’s iSchool. A native of New Jersey, Stephanie’s interests revolve around visual design and the psychology of design. In addition to the popular Girl Scout programs, Stephanie also teaches classes on visual design and digital photography. She currently lives in Port St. Lucie, Florida.