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2015 August 24 - 08:51 pm

Strumming a STEM Lesson

Teachers Hope To Teach STEM Through Designing and Building Guitars

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Dave Haggadone traveled all the way from Lansing, Michigan, to master the art of building an electric guitar.

“I’ve learned a heck of a lot,” said Haggadone, an instructor at Lansing Community College, as he inspected the wiring in his finished instrument. “I’ve played guitar for 40 years, and I learned more this week about guitars than I’ve ever known.”

Haggadone was one of about 18 educators to participate in a five-day STEM guitar workshop at the Laramie High School woodshop. The workshop, jointly hosted by LHS and the University of Wyoming, is a partnership between the National STEM Guitar Project and the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education Centers that teaches qualified instructors how to build their own solid-body electric guitars and integrate related STEM lessons into the classroom.

The teachers worked hands-on at every step of the process, from shaping the necks to assembling the guitars’ internal wiring. They designed their own headstocks, used math to align their fretboards properly and installed all of the guitars’ hardware, from the pickups to the tuner pegs.

This is the first time the program has been hosted in Laramie.

“This really incorporates all aspects of STEM,” said Debbie French, a UW graduate student who helped coordinate the workshop. “From electricity to electronics to technology to woodworking, to the mathematics of fret spacings on the fretboard and the science behind the electromagnetic pickups, STEM is really incorporated in this project.”

Brandy Talbot, a teacher at Wind River Middle School in Pavillion, Wyoming, said she planned to incorporate guitar-themed lessons into the curriculum for her physical science class — particularly studies of the different types of energy moving through the guitar.

“We’re going to be talking about the orientation of the magnets in the guitar, which are the pickups, and how that directs the flow of electrons,” she said. “Basic electricity.”

Talbot said she found the workshop particularly helpful for teaching STEM.

“The technology and the engineering sometimes is the harder part to wrap your mind around, getting into the lessons,” she said. “So, it’s really nice to see a project done specifically for education, with student learning in mind, so that you can see how you can pull all the pieces of STEM together into a lesson.”

LHS science teacher Eric Weitzel said the school’s physics teachers hope to incorporate new STEM lessons into the classroom as quickly as possible.

“We’re applying real-world experiences to the theories of physics,” he said.

His colleague, Pete Kontaxes, said he could create an entire course based on the science of the guitar, including topics such as sound waves, the tensile strength of wood and the laws of strings, among others.

“It took a lot more work than I thought it would take,” he said. “A lot of little intricate measurements you have to take, and measure and remeasure and adjust and readjust.

“It turned into quite a little project.” Science teacher Kim Burkhart said she particularly enjoyed the chemistry component of the design process. Her guitar, decorated with bright swirls of yellow, was created by swirling the instrument in oil-based paint and water, she said.

“I think there’s a lot for kids,” she said. “And then they can teach their teachers how to play.”

Doug Hunt, a technology teacher at Southern Wells Junior-Senior High School in Poneto, Indiana, has been with the program since the beginning. On Friday afternoon, he plugged the finished guitars one by one into a small amplifier and, after playing a song or two, gave the teachers feedback on their work.

“There’s a very practical component as well, in terms of somebody’s got to fix this stuff,” Hunt said. “You can’t send this overseas and have it sent back fixed. Kids get turned on by that aspect as much as the engineering and the design and the customizations — the idea that this could lead to something after high school.’’ At the end of the final session, participants presented LHS Principal Stacy Bush with a signed copy of her own guitar.

Bush described the workshop as an “amazing program” that gets students excited about math, science and engineering and epitomizes STEM — as well as “STEAM,” due to the artistic nature of designing the instruments.

“We’re super excited because we’ll see this hit the classrooms this fall,” she said.

Information from: Laramie Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com

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