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Guitar-Building Workshop Revolves Around STEM Teaching

August 12, 2015
woman holding up guitar
Laramie High School biology teacher Kim Burkhart pulls her guitar from a barrel filled with water and a dash of swirling paint. Burkhart was among 18 educators taking part in the National STEM Guitar Project that incorporates STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) training for educators. (UW Photo)

Kim Burkhart can’t wait to integrate guitar building into her biology classroom as a way to get her Laramie High School (LHS) students interested in science.

It is an interesting concept, Burkhart says, meshing how to build a guitar from a piece of wood and then applying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) training for educators. The hands-on approach teaches participants applied learning techniques to engage their students and spark excitement in learning STEM subject matter.

Burkhart was among 18 educators who took part in a recent five-day STEM Guitar Building Institute at the University of Wyoming. The guitar-making project was held in the LHS woodshop.

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.

This is the first time Burkhart has participated in this type of program.

“This is a huge project for me that encompasses all the content of science, technology, engineering and math, as well as the arts,” she says.

Burkhart says the fun activity will help her students become more interested in STEM programs and hopes that she can add a guitar-building project into her classes.

“Of course, the guitar is the hook, the tie-in that gets the students excited. The drive and the passion, and then the STEM content follows,” she says. “For me, as a biology teacher, the content in this workshop is that we looked at the different type of woods, the sustainability, the environment, natural resources and recycling. For chemistry, it incorporated the swirl-paint, sealing, the elements, the materials and the metals that are involved. All those will help students learn about chemistry.”

She says a fun guitar-building workshop will enable students to become more interested in science.

“It is important for students to have hands-on projects to get them interested in STEM fields,” Burkhart says. “Hands-on is the way to go. It doesn’t matter what area you are in; you can tie it into something applicable to our lives. It’s just a different way to get that educational perspective.”


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Chad Baldwin

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