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Guitar-Building Project Aids Wheatland Teacher

August 26, 2015
woman holding up guitar
Wheatland High School physical science teacher Janet Jorgensen pulls her guitar from a barrel filled with water and a dash of swirling paint. Jorgensen was among 18 educators taking part in the recent National STEM Guitar Project that incorporates STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) training for educators. (UW Photo)

Wheatland High School ninth grade physical science teacher Janet Jorgensen says her school district is focused on the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) concept and how to better educate its students.

That is why her interest in a STEM-focused program this summer at the University of Wyoming got her excited about how she will approach the new year in the Platte County school district.

Jorgensen was among 18 educators who took part in a summer five-day STEM Guitar Building Institute at UW. The guitar-making project was held in the Laramie High School (LHS) woodshop.

The second-year Wheatland teacher says when she first heard about the guitar-building project, she became curious about how the program translates meshing building a guitar from a piece of wood and then applying STEM training to educators. The hands-on approach teaches participants applied-learning techniques to engage their students and spark excitement in learning STEM subject matter.

“This program will really help with planning with different properties of physics integrating STEM, the whole concept of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which our school district is really focused on and dedicated to,” Jorgensen says. “I am excited about this because it probably is the best workshop I’ve ever been to.”

The workshop, jointly hosted by LHS and UW, is a partnership between the National STEM Guitar Project and the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education Centers that teaches qualified instructors how to build their own solid-body electric guitars. It also integrates related STEM lessons into the classroom.

The teachers, mostly from Wyoming, worked hands-on at every step of the process, building their own custom electric guitars. They even custom designed each one by dipping the unfinished guitar-shaped wood into a barrel filled with water and a dash of swirling paint, giving each teacher his or her own specially designed guitar.

The workshop focused on student-centered learning activities that relate the guitar design to specific math, science and engineering topics. Participants left the weeklong workshop with their custom-made guitars and curriculum modules with short-term assessments that can immediately be integrated into their school curriculum, says Debbie French, who led the local STEM project.

French is a UW graduate student who has been a co-principal investigator with this NSF grant project for the past six years. This is the first time the program has been held in the Rocky Mountain region, she says. As a former high school physics and engineering teacher, French implemented the guitar program in her physics class at Ohio’s New Philadelphia High School.

“Participating in the guitar project has positively impacted my students and my community. As a doctoral student at the University of Wyoming, I wanted to bring the institute to Laramie,” she says.

STEM integration has been a hot topic in education for the past 25 years, and the guitar program is one of the programs that fully integrates STEM, French adds.

“In the morning sessions, teachers are in the classroom working on STEM lessons they can implement in their own classrooms,” she says. “As part of the institute requirements, teachers also develop two modular learning activities. These modular learning activities are peer-reviewed and then listed on our website.”

The five-day institute, combined with additional instructional activities comprising 80 hours, provides faculty training on STEM programs for middle, high school and postsecondary faculty.

Jorgensen says the guitar-building project will encourage her students to become interested more in science.

“Making a guitar or reading out of a book? Yes, I would say definitely the students would love doing a project like this,” she adds. “I can implement what I learned into the classroom, and I think it would energize the students. A project like this would bring in science without the students thinking about actually learning science.”

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