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Workshop teaches elements of math and science through guitar making

ENCINITAS — In an effort to integrate math and science concepts and applications into the classroom, the National Science Foundation STEM Guitar Project facilitated a weeklong workshop June 21 at San Dieguito Academy (SDA) High School.
Teachers from schools around the county descended upon SDA’s woodshop for a crash-course in how to make a guitar. The high school, middle school and community college teachers learned how to engage in student centered learning activities that relate the guitar design to specific math, science and engineering topics. Not only did the teachers leave the course with a fully functional custom-made electric guitar, but they also received curriculum advice tailored to integrating the guitar making process in a way that engages students.
One practical science-based application is to have students practice calculating decibels based on the intensity of sounds. Students learn to calculate the sound level in decibels using logarithms, calculate the pressure of sound waves based on their intensity with respect to the threshold of hearing and finally extrapolate data from a chart to use in a mathematical analysis.
The unique program was a welcome innovation for the participants. Paul Brice, a math teacher at SDA, said he was excited about implementing some of the ideas generated during the workshop into next year’s curriculum.
“This gets kids involved in learning math and science concepts through an avenue that’s already cool,” Brice said.
The program sheds new light on the quandary of how to create excitement in students learning math and science.
“We had more teachers interested in the workshop than available spots,” Brice said. “It’s a good opportunity to have teachers from different disciplines work together to create new relationships and network.”
Kathy Worley and Anne Foster, teachers at West Hills High School, collaborated on ways to engage students using the lure of guitar making.
“My ultimate goal is to have an all-girls woodshop class,” said Worley, who has taught the subject for decades. “I think understanding math concepts through practical applications like making a guitar are valuable for students at all levels.”
Foster, an advanced placement literature teacher said she plans to incorporate the music element during a poetry unit.
“Kids who understand rhythm have a better grasp of poetry,” Foster said. “It seems like making a guitar would have nothing to do with literature but it actually does.”
The presenters came from around the country to facilitate the workshop. Mike Aikens, a professor of mechanical engineering technology at Butler County Community College, said the program is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation to incorporate methods to teach STEM — a popular acronym in educational circles that stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“This is not a woodshop project,” Aikens said. “We’re sort of tricking kids who’ve lost interest in school into being engaged. It’s a real hook; it really takes math and science to a different level for these kids and makes it work.”
For more information, visit guitarbuilding.org.