RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A lot of kids grow up participating in the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. I remember selling my fair share of Thin Mints. But it's to for everyone, the uniforms, cookie sales, and camping aren't that appealing to some families. So recently, other scout-like groups have been sprouting up around the country, and their focus is on technology, do-it-yourself or DIY projects. These are co-ed and, like the traditional scouting organizations, if you master a skill, you get a patch.
Jon Kalish reports.
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JON KALISH, BYLINE: Ace Monster Toys is an adult hackerspace in Oakland, California, where members share high-tech tools. Normally, there are grown-ups here working on electronics or woodworking projects. But on a Sunday afternoon, this place is overrun by 50 kids and their parents for the bi-monthly gathering of a group called Hacker Scouts.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: If you are doing a Judobot, you can head down the stairs into the room at the bottom of the stairs.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Compressed air rockets at this table.
KALISH: The kids in Hacker Scouts are not breaking into computer networks. They make things with their hand. And at this particular meeting they are learning to solder and building Judobots, small robots made out of wooden Popsicle sticks.
On this warm fall day, 10-year-old Alicia Davis is wearing a wool had she had knitted. As her dad stands nearby, she sits sewing an LED bracelet with conductive thread.
ALICIA DAVIS: I've been sewing on little felt pieces with this. The battery will power the LED's and light up. It's pretty cool.
KALISH: One of the parents, active in organizing the Hacker Scouts, is Chris Cook who serves as president of the adult hackerspace where the Hacker Scouts meet.
CHRIS COOK: We've expressly targeted the eight- to 14-year-olds. It's old enough where they're ready to start developing skills. They're not so old that they've already been set in their ways and they're more interested in what their peer groups are doing. So, we felt it's the right kind of time to expose them to how to craft with their hands, how to take things from a computer and put them in the physical world.
KALISH: The Hacker Scouts don't wear uniforms but soon they'll be able to earn something akin to merit badges. And the badges are made by Adafruit Industries in New York. Becky Stern and Limor Fried showed me a few of their favorites.
BECKY STERN: I like the Quadcopter Badge, so your Aerial Quadcopter. And then this is the High-Altitude Balloon Badge.
LIMOR FRIED: This is the Learn to Solder Badge, so you can learn to solder. We have the Dumpster-Diving Badge for when you get dirty but get some free stuff.
KALISH: The thought of a bunch of Hacker Scouts dumpster diving may be unsettling but recycling and re-purposing are big with hacker groups. A new DIY website for kids is awarding badges for salvaging and foraging. Eleven-year-old Grace McFadden of Madison, Connecticut, used a recycled juice carton as the soles of a pair of felt slippers she made, and got herself a Salvager Badge.
GRACE MCFADDEN: Right now, I really like making paper airplanes and origami. I have a whole fleet of paper airplanes.
KALISH: And how did you learn how to make them?
MCFADDEN: Well, I have this app on my iPod and I just looked online.
KALISH: McFadden shares photos of the stuff she makes on DIY.org - a San Francisco-based website - that awards more than 40 badges for skills ranging from bike mechanic to special effects wizard. The website has started producing how-to videos for DIY projects.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Shoebox harp.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You'll need a shoebox, some scissors, a pencil and a few rubber bands.
KALISH: There are now 32,000 kids registered on DIY.org which plans to organize local clubs around the country. The website has an animated anthem exhorting kids to build, make, hack and grow.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Build, make, hack, grow.
CHORUS: (Singing) Build, make, hack, grow. Build, make, hack, grow...
KALISH: DIY.org's chief creative officer, Isaiah Saxon, says they plan to create the digital equivalent of a scouting handbook for mobile devices.
ISAIAH SAXON: We hope that people's smartphones are eventually the Swiss Army knife of our movement. And that you go out into the woods and can point your phone at a tree and peel it open and learn about the wood underneath. And we can provide visual guides and amazing experiences on the fly through these powerful handheld computers.
KALISH: The Hacker Scout movement is spreading around the country. Seattle now has a science-focused group called Geek Scouts. And a couple of tribes, not troops, of Maker Scouts are being formed in Milwaukee and Charleston.
For NPR News, I'm Jon Kalish.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.