Cathy Webb doesn't do a lot of woodworking. The alternative school where she teaches applied mathematics, Edmonds Heights K-12 in Edmonds, doesn't have a woodshop on its grounds.
But she and fellow math teacher Nancy Chang were busy sanding away on guitar necks Tuesday at Hanford High School's shop, all in an effort to motivate their students to learn.
"We already have a class of 15 kids," Webb said of her and Chang's plan to teach guitar construction this fall.
The teachers and 13 others are learning how to incorporate a guitar construction curriculum, noted for its emphasis on STEM education into their lessons. It's already in place at four Tri-City-area high schools. And more are considering adding it.
It's a crash course for the teachers, learning in a week a project that often takes students a semester to finish, and some of the teachers don't spend a lot of time in woodshop to begin with.
But those participating said the curriculum's benefit to students, from teaching math and science to motivating kids to learn, are worth the effort.
"Obviously, it's a carrot for the kids, to get them in your room," said Ryan Helms, who teaches drafting and engineering at Southridge High School in Kennewick.
Instructors at Kiona-Benton City, Richland, Hanford and Pasco high schools have incorporated the guitar building curriculum at various levels in their schools during the past year after taking a workshop from its originators at Edmonds Community College.
The course has been popular with students. Pasco High teacher Lane Winsor said he has twice as many students planning to take the class this fall.
Winsor and the other local instructors talked to teachers in career and technical education about the curriculum and also made a presentation at a conference in Wenatchee. The developers in Edmonds have since given them permission to teach the curriculum to others.
The teachers have a lot to learn in the weeklong workshop. In addition to knowing how to use the tools to make the guitar's body and neck, there's math formulas to learn on how to lay out the frets and other calculations.
"They're drinking through a fire hose of information," said David Lake, industrial arts and engineering drafting instructor at Kiona-Benton City High School.
About half of the teachers who signed up for the training are from the Mid-Columbia and Yakima Valley, and many teach shop or associated programs. But some, like Webb and Chang, haven't worked in a shop in a long time, or ever.
"There's been a fair share of grazed knuckles," Winsor said.
The teachers, though, are enthusiastic. Matt Duerre is a second-year woodshop and applied mathematics teacher at Kent-Meridian High School in Kent. He said he is in the midst of rebuilding the school's woodshop program and inspiring students to pursue creative, functional and unique projects.
"I want to get them to see what they can do out there," he said.
Scott LeDuc teaches career and technical education at Capitol High School in Olympia but is more the "art side" in teaching photography, graphics and web design.
He said he'll be working with his school's woodshop teacher to have kids build a guitar, and then he'd help them learn how to play it. Duerre said he's pursuing something similar with the guitar teacher at this school.
Most importantly, the teachers said the project provides application of important math and science knowledge in something students can get excited about. Webb said that's a big part of why she wanted to learn the curriculum, as algebra and science become increasingly important for students to graduate.
"If they're turned off to algebra, if they're turned off to geometry, how are you going to make that happen?" she asked.
The teachers said they already expect to see a hearty welcome for the curriculum at their schools.
"I walked into the guitar teacher's class and started talking about it and (the students') jaws dropped," said Duerre.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; email@example.com