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Wind River Middle School Teacher Part of STEM Guitar-Building Project

August 14, 2015
woman holding up guitar
Wind River Middle School science teacher Brandy Talbot excitedly pulls her guitar from a barrel filled with water and a dash of swirling paint. Talbot 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)

Brandy Talbot figures if she can learn something completely new, so can her Wind River Middle School students.

Talbot 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 Laramie High School (LHS) woodshop.

It is an interesting concept, Talbot 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.

“I loved it and, to tell the truth, I was especially impressed with myself because so much of this is brand new. I’ve been able to complete or nearly complete all of the tasks to a level that I’m really proud of,” Talbot says. She is a first-year science teacher at the Pavillion-based school, and is a recent UW graduate in geology and earth and space science secondary education. “There is a huge piece of confidence development that comes with being able to do a hands-on project like this one.”

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.

Talbot says the guitar-building project goes hand in hand with her school’s mission of teaching students to become responsible, self-directed learners with 21st century skills.

“Bringing in this STEM project to my classroom is a great way to do that -- to incorporate all these different elements,” she says. “You reach a broader student base because you touch on so many skill sets -- you bring in the arts, woodworking and science. It all comes together in one really cool project.”

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