Guitar-building elective integrates math into music and carpentry
By Savannah Butcher, Reporter
Often when math seems too complicated or frustrating, students ask, “When will I ever use this in real life?” Next year, a new elective, STEM Guitar Building, will aim to answer that very question. It will be taught by math teacher Andy Callender. During the course, students will become familiar with shop tools, build their own guitar, and apply mathematics throughout the whole process.
Last summer, Callender attended a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) Guitar Project conference through the National Science Foundation. Over the course of the conference, Callender constructed his own guitar, which he still has today.
Callender has wanted to create a class with practical math applications for about 10 years. The conference inspired him to establish this new elective where students will learn the mathematics of not only building a guitar, but creating music as well.
To apply his idea, Callender recruited a few students from Per Lars. Blomgren’s Pathways class to build guitars from kits in a pilot course. This is currently in session and has been for the entirety of the spring semester. Next year, the class will be offered as an official elective for 10th -12th graders.
Most days, students will be working on crafting their own guitar in the wood shop, while also understanding how math is a necessary part of building a guitar. At the end of the semester, each student will have their own playable guitar they can bring home. Callender hopes to teach music lessons himself, or bring in a guest music teacher once the guitars are finished.
Callender encourages everyone who is interested to try it out.
“I don’t want this to be just for math students that are super-advanced in math,” Callender said. “I don’t want it to be for students who are necessarily just woodshop people. I want it to be for anyone who has an interest in music and learning how it all comes together.”
Callender also wants students to attempt tasks they’ve never done before, whether that’s working with power tools in the shop, building something with their own hands, learning about the math in music, or combining all of these skills and learning how to apply them in life.
“I’d really like to market [the class] to students that are nervous about trying something new like that and want to be able to feel a little bit uncomfortable, but have someone hold their hand along the way and gain some confidence in building something,” Callender said.
In the shop, students will learn about the math that goes into creating a guitar. This will help them understand how the math taught in traditional math classes is used in the real world.
“I think it’s really important for math to be taught in context for students,” Callender said. “I think the question of “When am I ever going to use this?” is a very fair question to ask.”
Looking towards the future, Callender hopes to have this class offered every year, though that will depend on student interest and funding for the guitar kits. Currently, the program is running on a grant from Vashon’s Partners in Education (PIE), but it would be more sustainable if the cost for the elective could be a part of the school’s budget.
Each guitar kit is between $150 and $210. However, with the help of PIE, the course will cost $100 per student. Callender is currently working to make this number even lower.
“It was a very open-minded, generous contribution that the foundation gave,” Callender said. “There’s no way that we could’ve tested it out next semester without money like that.”
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Next year, there will be a new elective called Guitar Building. It integrates math into music and carpentry, and will be taught by math teacher Andy Callender. Guitar Building is open to 10th-12th graders and is one semester long. Students will construct their own guitar over the course of the elective, and along the way learn about the practical applications math has in the world.
“I don’t want this to be just for math students that are super advanced in math,” Callender said. “I don’t want it to be for students who are necessarily just woodshop people. I want it to be for anyone who has an interest in music and learning how it all comes together.”
Each guitar kit is between $150 and $210, but thanks to Vashon’s PIE Foundation, the course fee for each student is dropped to $100. Callender is also working on making that number lower.