Make a guitar, get interested in STEM

Researchers are betting that high school courses in guitar making are an effective way to encourage 19,000 students to continue studying STEM subjects.

The National Science Foundation agrees, and it has awarded the same group a three-year grant to take their curriculum to technology teachers across the country. The project is titled “LEAD Guitars in STEM.”

Mark French, associate professor of mechanical engineering technology, is a co-principal investigator on the project.

“We’re using guitar making to teach STEM subjects. It is representative of all the subjects, like physics, chemistry, biology and more,” he said. “If STEM education is going to work, it has to be interesting, it has to be compelling. And this turns out to be a way to do that. If it’s dry and abstract, it’s not going to be an inspirational and encouraging kind of thing.”

The principal investigator for the project is Mike Aikens, a professor at Butler County Community College in Pittsburgh, Penn. French, author of the book Technology of the Guitar, provides much of the technical background for the project.

This new three-year project is an extension and expansion of a similar effort the group undertook for the last three years. The previous project included one-week workshops for high school teachers and some college professors to learn about the guitar-making curriculum. The new project expands the workshop to two weeks.

“One-week was an awfully short time,” French said. “This will make a big difference and allow us to make a deeper dive into the classroom part of it. It will also allow us to make the guitars better, too.”

French said about half of all the teachers they reach implement the curriculum in their classrooms. The adoption rate has created a minor economic windfall for companies that make parts for guitars, too.

In addition, Doug Hunt, technology teacher for Southern Wells junior and senior high schools in Poneto, Ind., uses his classes to help build the fret boards for guitar kits available on the project’s Web site,

The CollabNFAB  fabrication lab at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, led by project member and professor Tom Singer, builds the full kits for the project. Last year, the organizers built nearly 1,000 kits for classrooms using the curriculum.

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