High School Students Learning STEM Skills in Guitar-making Class
When Myia Jones signed up for Edgecombe Community College’s new guitar-making class at North Edgecombe High School, she was looking for something easy to fill a free period.
But what the seventeen-year-old senior got was so much more than an underwater basket-weaving course.
“I’m not a good math person, but we can work at our own pace,” Jones says. “I didn’t think it would be this interesting, but we’re learning about a lot of different things. It’s great.”
The class steers students toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), combining these philosophies with the arts, says Doug Parrish, instructor and ECC’s chair of Industrial and Technical Trades.
“It’s been eye-opening for me to be able to bring together STEM components into making a solid body guitar,” Parrish says. “I think it adds to the coolness factor of math and science.”
Parrish admits that there’s a preconceived notion among young people today that STEM subjects are too difficult, not applicable, and boring. But by showing students how math and science play a huge role in building something as hip as a guitar, Parrish hopes to dispel these myths.
“Teaching STEM courses with innovative approaches such as the National Science Foundation STEM Guitar Project takes away some of the stigma and enables the instructors to actively engage the learners in an extended exercise that shows how heavily involved STEM subjects are in everyday life,” Parrish says.
And that’s the point of the class – to generate excitement among students in the world of STEM, especially those who often struggle with math or science subjects.
“I didn’t know what wet sanding was before I took this class, but this is great,” Jones says. “I’m learning a lot of things about math and science.”
Electronics, chemistry, biology, physics, structural engineering, and geometry all go into building a guitar. Students also learn about computer-aided design (CAD), string tension, and a variety of other mathematical concepts related to STEM.
“We start out with guitar body blanks,” Parrish explains. “We look at the wood hardness and grain pattern, how easily some woods splinter, and how oily other woods are.
“When we get to the necks, there’s tons of math in the fret spacing.”
This is the first semester for the class, in which six students – five seniors and a junior – meet for two hours a day at North Edgecombe High School.
For now, Parrish is using guitar kits in the class. But eventually he intends for students to build guitars from scratch in an effort to implement more woodworking and carpentry into the class.
“STEM courses are still heavily associated with the old model of manufacturing where jobs are dirty, menial, and dangerous,” Parrish says.
“Today’s engineering, technical, and manufacturing facilities are more high-tech and much cleaner, and the pay for mid-skills employees can be quite lucrative.”