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The Knack of Knives and Knots
Half of the new scouts in the troop attended the Paul Bunyan campout last weekend. This was our first tent camping trip of the season and the agenda was to teach the Totin' Chip and Firem'n Chit skills.
The Panther patrol did a most excellent job of scheduling the day's events and two scouts working on the Communications merit badge planned and led the campfire program. This was the best organized weekend we've ever had! I hope it is a harbinger of a great summer ahead.

The two new patrols are the Carnivorous Crows and the Buffalos (or, as they prefer, the Buffalo Chips). This year, we are trying larger patrol sizes. Two years ago, we had 3 patrols of 6 scouts each but when a few scouts dropped out and some moved away, those patrols were merged. This year, we have two patrols - 9 in one and 12 in another. The 12-man patrol has a lot of sports-oriented scouts so I expect they will never have a full contingent. And, 3 or 4 are just 'trying out' scouting without much expectations of staying in. We'll work with them.

These scouts were taught knife, axe, and saw safety by experienced scouts and were presented with their Totin' Chip cards. We tear off a corner for poor tool safety and when all the corners are gone, the program needs to be redone. Each card gets the first corner taken off when it is presented so the scouts know it's serious and because 4 mistakes are too many.

Fire safety was covered and Firem'n Chit cards given out. In the past, we've burned off one corner, but these scout leaders just tore one off.

The basic two half hitches, tautline hitch, clove hitch, and bowline knots were instructed. The plan was to do a lashing project in the afternoon, but the scouts preferred to practice their whittling, chopping, and sawing, along with a few little fires being built and stomped out.

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Posted: 9:44 04-26-2007 139
Learning Experiences
Three adults in our troop just completed Assistant Scoutmaster training. Two of them are parents of new scouts. Now they get to start practicing adult leadership in Boy Scouts - trying out the theoretical in a practical way.

One of these new Assistant Scoutmasters (ASM) told me he wanted to get some color-coded rope for a new scout patrol to use in practicing knots and he wanted to know if he could buy it and get reimbursed. This is a good example of how a simple thing can and should be used as a learning exercise.

I explained that materials for the patrol really should be requested by the Patrol Leader or Troop Guide through the Quartermaster. (Our troop has a Troop Guide for each New Scout Patrol.) This gives the Patrol Leader some responsibility and lets the Quartermaster keep track of what the troop has purchased and where it is.

The ASM could mention to the Troop Guide that it would be useful for each scout to have a color-coded rope and ask him what he thinks - he'll most likely agree that it would be good.
Then, ask him how he thinks they should go about getting the rope. There's a good chance he won't think of requesting it from the Quartermaster, but may just say "buy some at the store".
Then, ask him if he thinks getting rope for the scouts would be a Quartermaster job. And, he'll say "oh yeah."
Then, ask him if he thinks he should go ask the Quartermaster for the rope or if he should give some responsibility to one of the new scouts to do that task.
A discussion about the length, thickness, kind, and number of ropes required for practicing knots would result in a specific request that the Quartermaster could fulfill. The scouts will also need to either fuse or whip the ends and decide how they can be colored.

By using the troop structure and placing as much leadership and decision making on the scouts as possible, the program is improved. Instead of an adult handing out a dozen lengths of color-coded rope, the Troop Guide got to figure out what was needed, how to use the troop structure, share his leadership, and get the rope to the scouts.

From the scouts' point of view, their Troop Guide got them the rope they needed and they whipped the ends and colored them so they have respect for his leadership and ownership of the results.

From the adult's point of view, it can be a lot more work, very inefficient, and sometimes frustrating. :-) Instead of a 20 minute task of buying, cutting, fusing, coloring rope, it may take a week or more for the Troop Guide discussion, getting the request to the Quartermaster, the Quartermaster getting the rope to the patrol leader, and finally the scouts preparing the rope.

The end result is the scouts have rope to practice knots, but the Scout-Led path to get there makes those ropes much more valuable.
An even better solution for this specific rope issue would be to have each new scout make his own knot-tieing rope from twine - Ropemaking Machine

The next time you see a need for rope, tents, tools, ..., anything for the troop, make sure the scout leaders agree with the need and guide them to fulfill the need rather than having an adult step in and do it.

Scout On

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Posted: 9:51 04-10-2007 138
Moccasin Results
We learned a lot from our moccasin project at a troop meeting last month.
There were about 25 kits made and most of the scouts really enjoyed the project and were successful in starting their kits and finishing them at home.

Four scouts made moccasins from scratch. I got their shoe sizes and used a pattern to lay out the pieces on a side of suede leather. I also glued the foot pads in place since that would have been an hour of just waiting for it to dry and it is potent glue. They had to cut out the pieces, punch the holes, and lace them together with leather strips.

Things we learned:

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Posted: 10:17 04-09-2007 137
Spring Break
I just returned from a great vacation skiing at Keystone and Breckenridge in Colorado with my family. Last year, a couple scouts wanted to get a spring break ski trip on the schedule but it didn't get enough support at the planning meeting. Now that I've been there, I hope they bring it up again this fall. :-)
We had a great time on a lot of Blue and a couple Black runs.
Keystone Web Site tells about where we were.

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Posted: 22:43 04-06-2007 136
Annual Adult Recap
I just held our troop's annual 'Adult Recap' meeting last weekend. This is the second year we've done it so it's not really a tradition yet - just an experiment.

I invite the registered adults (not all the parents) over for pizza and a short review of the past year and a look forward to the year ahead.
I have a page highlighting the program parts that went well last year. In this case, it included the Scout-o-rama, patrols organizing campouts, scout-planned high adventures, troop muster, and an exceptionally good Troop Guide.
Then, I have a page with the areas for improvement, either things that have degraded, did not live up to our expectations, or some way we can challenge the scouts to excel even more. In this case, it included accountability for leadership jobs, having more fun activities at troop meetings, and getting known in the community.
Finally, a page listing a few ways to help with the areas of improvement and a request for ideas for an overall better program.

We spend a little time letting the adults tell what they saw as positives from the past year and suggestions they have for the coming year.

This year, our recap happened right after the troop planning session led by the new SPL. So it worked out that I could share with the adults what the scouts had come up with for the troop schedule.

If we do it again next year, then I guess it's officially a troop tradition. :-)

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Posted: 12:06 03-30-2007 135
Leader Training
Last weekend, the new SPL held our semi-annual Troop Planning and Leadership Training day. It's a long day, but a lot gets accomplished.

In the morning, the SPL, ASPL, Scribe, and patrol leaders meet to review the current 12-month schedule. They discuss any changes that are needed to dates, themes, and planning responsibilities. Each patrol is responsible for planning an outing and sometimes patrols swap events if the dates work better for the new patrol leaders.

After reviewing and accepting the current schedule, they tack on another 6 months worth of outings. Before this meeting, each patrol is given a brainstorming sheet to use to come up with their favorite ideas for outings. Their patrol leader is responsible to promote these ideas to the troop. Sometimes it works, sometimes its just one scout saying what he'd like to do, sometimes there's no input at all.

A challenge I gave the scouts this time was to come up with 'Adventure Themes' rather than activities. For example, one scout really wanted to ride horses. Instead of a horse riding campout, they've planned a 'Western Round-up' with horse riding, rope fusing & whipping, open fire cooking, lasso contest, and other cowboy stuff. They seemed to be more excited about it and I expect participation will be higher. They also came up with 'Amazing Race' road rally, 'Big Game Tracking', and 'Castle Caving'. The last one is just going on a cave tour while camping at a Webelos camp that turned an old barn with silos into a castle - they went there for skiing this winter and loved the castle. :-) So, sometimes, just a cool theme makes a big difference.

Around noon, after the schedule is laid out, the rest of the PLC team shows up for training. It takes about 4 hours, including 30 minutes for lunch. Each scout tells about his position and his goals for the 6-month term.
We cover Merit Badge and Advancement processes, new scout success strategies, how to lead games, how to lead meetings, and how to teach skills using EDGE.

I plan on asking a handful of Life scouts to run the Planning and Training sessions next time. We have some scouts that have been through it 3 times and even new activities each time don't freshen it up enough.

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Posted: 9:59 03-29-2007 134
New Troop Leaders
Since troop elections two weeks ago, I've been too busy to keep in touch - sorry about that.

A new Senior Patrol Leader was elected and all other scouts filled out a form of which troop leadership positions they were interested in. I put those in a spreadsheet and gave it to the SPL. Separately, he and I came up with our selections for the positions and then compared. He did a great job choosing scouts that could succeed at the positions.

He and I also met for an hour for his initial training. That's always a fun time because the SPL realizes what he's gotten himself into. :-) There is a lot of responsibility in that job! We scheduled the leader training session and he contacted all his leadership team.

He met with the ASPL to discuss his duties and I was there but didn't need to add much at all. Now, both the SPL and ASPL are doing individual training with each scout leader that reports to them. Then, I will chat with each scout leader to ensure they understand their responsibilities.

Historically, we've had challenges ensuring scouts perform the duties of their positions. To help this happen, each scout is required to report his accomplishments to the SPL or ASPL at the 2, 4, and 6 month marks of his term. This catches lack of performance early enough to plan a correction.

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Posted: 9:16 03-26-2007 133
Moccasin Project
The PLC decided it would be fun to make moccasins so scouts have them to wear in troop meetings and at summer camp.
One scout volunteered to gather the shoe sizes from all scouts that wanted to participate and get those to me. I ordered 25 kits from the local Tandy Leather shop and they are ready for tonight's troop meeting. The kits cost $12 and are pre-sized, pre-cut, pre-punched, pre-padded, and ready to sew together using the shoelace-like stitching included. It looks like a nice, simple project for a first attempt and for younger scouts.

Unfortunately, the kits only go up to size 10. Scouts with larger feet and those that just wanted more of a challenge could choose to make moccasins 'from scratch' for $8 instead of using a kit. We have 6 scouts going this route.
I bought a moccasin pattern from Tandy which only makes up to size 10 (kinda dumb) and had my wife 'super size it' on the copy machine at work to 105%, 110%, and 115% so it was approximately size 11, 12-13, and 14-15.
I bought suede leather, foam pad, leather lace, and glue. I also got two hole punches and two screw-on threading needles.
I drew the patterns onto the leather and cut out each scout's chunk - I figured this would save a lot of waste instead of having the scouts place pieces haphazardly. I also glued the foam pads for the feet onto the soles since it's pretty potent glue and takes an hour to set up - I figured that would be pretty boring watching glue dry at a troop meeting.
So, tonight the scouts get to cut out their pieces and hole-punch them, and then they are at the same starting point as the scouts that got kits. It's about an extra hour or 90 minutes of work for a pair.

We'll see how it goes tonight. We also have a batch of new scouts attending their first troop meeting so I got another 18 kits of smaller sizes in case they want to make a pair. We had no way to contact them beforehand since they are turning in their contact info tonight. The guys at Tandy were very helpful and said I can return unopened kits.

I'm looking forward to seeing lots of moccasins on feet soon and I hope this sparks some ideas for other troop projects.

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Posted: 8:48 03-12-2007 132
More Snow Camping
Gee, I thought we did our snow camping for the year back in January, but nooooooo.

Last week, we accumulated another 18 inches of snow, and it was good, thick, packing snow, not that really light, fluffy, cold-of-winter snow. So, my youngest, Josh the First Class scout wants to build a snow hut. And, of course, what good is a snow hut unless you sleep in it?

So, Monday night, I was outside sleeping in a snowhut with the temperature at 3F degrees. But, we were toasty warm in our Cabela's Summit bags and the full moon and stars with no clouds were beautiful at 2:00am when I had to run inside to use the little boys' room.

But, there's really more to the story.
We have an exchange student, Igor from Brazil staying with us until June. He lives at 4 degrees south of the equator and said he'd always wanted to sleep in a snowhut. So, we actually were doing a 'Good Deed' by making the hut. He and my oldest, Kory the Life scout, slept out in it on Sunday night when it got down to 1F degree.
And, this isn't one of those little quinzees that you can barely wriggle into because you scraped all the snow together from a half acre lot into a pile slightly higher than your knee. This was 5 feet high and big enough inside for 4 people. We had 4 little candles in alcoves in the walls and enough headroom for me to sit up. This was practically a mansion.

But, tomorrow the temps start climbing and the forecast is for a massive melt-off over the weekend so this will probably be the last snow for the year.

If you want to see some pics, I slapped together Igor Was Here - luckily the domain name was available. :-)

Scout On
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Posted: 0:05 03-08-2007 131
Blasphemy Challenge
If you have never heard of Blasphemy Challenge, then just skip this blog entry.

I've had a few people email me asking if Boy Scout Trail supports Blasphemy Challenge like they mentioned in a press release and has been propagated around the web.

I made a response page at Blasphemy Challenge with the hope it gets picked up by the search engines and ranks well when people search for blasphemy challenge.

It is amazing how much effort people put into things just to stir the pot and irritate others. It's like spam - all that effort could really be used for something good if it wasn't being wasted on trash.

So, the bottom line is that Boy Scout Trail does not support Blasphemy Challenge.

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Posted: 13:26 03-05-2007 130
How Many Eagle Scouts Does It Take ...?
The question often comes up about how many scouts reach Eagle or what percentage of scouts make it. I just got an email asking about that so I checked around a bit and found the most recent, most official info I could at Facts About Scouting page.

Through the end of 2005, 1,835,410 young men had been awarded the Eagle Scout Award, achieved by only approximately 5 percent of Scouts.
In 2005, 49,895 scouts earned Eagle. So, I would expect the total for the end of 2006 to be about 1,885,000 Eagles.

The interesting thing to me is that googling for 'percent eagle scout' returns results citing less than 2%, 2%, 3%, 4%, 5% depending on the point being made on that page. :-)
Earlier pages from the mid-1990s on say 'about 4%' so it appears the percentage of scouts earning Eagle is going up. One could argue that that statistic shows 'paper eagles' are being made - or it means more scouts are focusing on completing that high goal.

Either way, I'm expecting more than 2 of the 40 scouts in our troop to reach Eagle. And, I do understand that I need to count the Eagles against all the scouts that joined, not just current members. I have a page where I track every scout that joins, what rank he reaches before dropping, and the reason given for dropping. There's lots of room for improvement!

Scout On

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Posted: 8:46 02-28-2007 129
Tropical Escape
About this time of year, folks in the upper midwest are heading to Florida and other places south to thaw out a bit. Spring Break happens well before ice out and spring is still a long way off.
To combat the cold winters, dozens of 'indoor water parks' have been constructed over the past few years. These are small islands of liquid water, high humidity, and the smell of chlorine. Families visit for a day or a weekend and pretend to be places further south.
Our troop spent yesterday at the Waterpark at Mall of America - 7 hours away from the frigid arctic environment we've been in for the past month. It was a great day event for the youngest patrol to plan since there was relatively little planning required. It's a challenge to come up with ways to tie a waterpark with scouting, but the scouts got lots of exercise, had fun, and used the buddy system. And, the day was a good balance to our previous troop meeting which was night sledding for an hour while the temps hovered around 1-5F.

I'd recommend exploring a waterpark type event for a change of pace in the depths of winter.

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Posted: 17:17 02-18-2007 128
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