Orienteering for S’mores – Merit Badge

Are you able to find your way with map and compass? As a merit badge counselor for the boy scouts I’ve had the opportunity to share these skills with scouts. We explore activities that scaffold skills and meet the boy scout merit badge requirements. In our final orienteering course challenge participants navigate to find ingredients for s’mores, make a fire and enjoy a tasty treat. 

I use the “PCT” method to hang the S’more ingredients in bear bags from the trees for the scouts to find. Each bag has a single ingredient and when they find the Fire Kit, Marshmallows, Chocolate and Graham Crackers the scouts make a fire to cook them. If you do this make sure to include more weight in each bag so the weight can work against the friction of the rope setup (BUT DO NOT USE ROCKS or you’ll make a death trap).

The students make a compass rose craft kit to familiarize themselves with the cardinal and intermediate directions. They are then able to orient their bodies with the compass held flat in an open hand to find North.

I then ask who can show me how far 100feet is? We lay out the 100ft measuring tape and they find their pace count by counting every other step or when their right foot lands at a normal gait. My pace is 5 feet so every 20 paces is aproximately100ft.

Participants then learn to find their direction of travel and participate in a Cross Country Course of 7 posts in a field while counting their paces. This quickly helps me see who understands and who needs assistance and allows them to have repetition of the skills for mastery.

We then orient a map and compass together to point North and I show them how to find the direction of travel and distance toward our destinations on our S’mores course.

Before hitting the course we review topography maps and better understand contours using clay. They make a mountain with a flat base and then run it through fishing line to make elevation contours. Each piece is traced to see the contours flat on paper and an index line every five lines. They determine the best course of travel up the mountain by reading the spacing between the contours. The direct path to our hanging bags may or may not be the best path of travel. Participants may choose to travel around obstacles.

Finally we explore the S’mores course and find our bags hanging in the trees to enjoy the treat! If time allows, we can take 180 degree back bearings to return on course or set a new bearing directly to our starting point.

“A person can hardly be lost if they are self-sufficient and have no particular place to be”.

David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula.  He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com

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