​​Making STEM education rock

Guitar-building program resonates with students.Students played instruments they made at concert.

The sounds of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” filled the John K. Lazares Alternative School in Warren County.

Students recently performed an end-of-year concert for their families, friends and school staff on electric guitars built by their own hands earlier that week.

The weeklong program offered through Sinclair Community College used the guitar-building process as a vehicle to get students engaged in science, technology, math and engineering (STEM).

“Students relate to guitars, and they see the relevance of their STEM education classes as they get real, hands-on experience. … The payoff is engaged student learning,” said Thomas Singer, Sinclair mechanical engineering technology professor and head of the National Science Foundation STEM Guitar Project.

Students learned how to build electric guitars, paint them using a swirl dipping technique and play through Berry’s iconic song. While constructing the guitars, they learned about the science of sound, manufacturing and industrial arts, technical writing, music and the arts. The students did daily homework assignments that reinforced all the major core subject areas.

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“I never knew that science and math could be so fun,” said sophomore Ricky Cannon from Springboro. “We started learning about sound waves and ended up making sound waves of our own.”

Eighth-grader Ben Johnson of Lebanon said, “I really didn’t think I liked math, but after this week I’ve seen how many careers math and science are a part of. I love the guitar I made, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other careers are out there in the math and science field.”

The guitar-building program was developed by faculty teams at Sinclair, Butler County Community College in Pennsylvania, College of the Redwoods in California, Purdue University in Indiana and Ventura College in California. They received a National Science Foundation grant in 2009 to train high school teachers and college faculty nationwide to incorporate the program into their classrooms.

“It’s not every week of the year that the school principal gets to watch students get so excited about learning and then treated to a guitar concert from students who four days earlier had never picked up a guitar,” said Mike Bidwell, principal at the alternative school.

The program was such a hit among students and staff that Bidwell said he hopes to continue the partnership with Sinclair.

“This was the coolest week of school ever,” said freshman Zyare Bowens of Middletown. “I can’t believe I got to learn how to build, paint and play a guitar — I even got to keep it.”

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