Sparking interest and engagement in high school students while honing STEM skills and knowledge through hands-on, applied learning techniques was the primary goal of the Entrepreneurship/STEM Guitar Building/School of Rock Course. Encouraging teacher collaboration across subject areas in Career and Technical Education and Fine Arts, which was unusual in a public school setting was also a goal. A student centered activity using Art and Design teaching techniques provided students with the Information they needed, the opportunity for discussion, sketching and refining their ideas, and finally the process of making. Students were to build electric guitars, while engaging in technical skills including woodworking, electronics, and product design. They were also to explore entrepreneurial and business management, advertising, cost analysis, branding, and other aspects of business and industry. Finally, they were to engage in tuning and playing their instruments in order to understand the perspective of the consumer. Collaboration took place between a business teacher, an engineering teacher, and a music teacher to create a transdisciplinary experience for students. It was intended that students were to be assessed using pre and post tests and an end of course presentation, however, the lack of time was prohibitive and assessment was done through a rubric and based on the quality of the final product. The ultimate goal of the project was to increase student engagement and knowledge and skill acquisition within a transdisciplinary experiential learning environment. This goal was met although the depth of learning across disciplines was not attained due to time constraints and other barriers.

The ultimate teaching and learning objective of the course was to devise a teaching structure for producing material outcomes that encouraged the student to collaborate with confidence and creativity. This goal was achieved.

The Student Experience

Students worked together in teams to engage in an experience that fostered creativity, innovation, and transdiciplinary learning through building a product that incorporated the arts, design, science, mathematics, engineering, and technology. Guitars were an excellent vehicle for engaging students in the discovery process, encouraging innovation in design, exploring natural connections between disciplines, while examining the impact of music on businesses and industry by exploring three guitar companies in depth. One student from each class was on a team so that each discipline was represented.

Students went through the entrepreneurial process first-hand. In preparation and through the guidance of Dr. Paterson, students named two companies and designed two logos as well as made templates for electric guitars which were then built in future classes. They began with ideation and development of a company name, company logo, and designed their guitars. The students then developed a business plan, and completed a cost analysis of their instruments. They then completed the manufacturing and fabrication process while exploring the use of materials, tools and equipment, painting and wood finishing processes, soldering and electronics. They finally learned to tune their instruments and some students played their guitars in an experience that took them from design and build, to real-world application.

The Teacher Experience

The teachers involved in the experience were given the opportunity to collaborate across curriculums and design a learning activity that was more meaningful than most activities provided at the high school level. School and county administration gave complete support to an innovative way of teaching, which freed teachers to step outside the boundaries and do something completely different. This experience provided each participant a glimpse into each other’s curriculum and the opportunity to explore areas that naturally overlap. It was exciting and empowering. It was also stressful, often chaotic, and caused some discomfort while exploring something new and unknown. Also, it offered the opportunity to learn about processes outside each others’ normal curriculum. It also highlighted areas for growth within our own curriculum areas. Finally, it contributed to a sense of camaraderie which is often missed in the typical classroom, ordinarily an isolated and solitary experience. Teacher/student relationships were also forged as they worked side-by-side to create their instruments.


Although the experience reached the ultimate goal of creating an engaging project that would excite students while expanding their skills across curricula, their were many areas that could be improved upon. The biggest hurdle was time. Time was a barrier in many different arenas.

Lack of time for genuine teacher collaboration and planning proved to be the biggest hindrance. The three teachers involved agreed to embark on this collaborative journey but there was no dedicated planning time where all could meet, except after contract hours. Due to after school obligations, this was not a possibility.

Obtaining tools and supplies was another problem. Writing a grant for partial funding, obtaining the rest of the funding, and going through the purchase order process, ordering, and shipping was extremely time consuming. By the time supplies were received, less than 3 weeks remained in the semester that could be dedicated to a guitar build. Coupled with the lack of common planning times, there were times when it seemed we wouldn’t be able to complete the instruments.

Lack of a common teacher vision was also problematic. Although there was discussion and agreement before the project began, as the pressure to complete discipline-specific competencies before the end of the semester increased, one teacher backed away from the collaboration and concentrated on his course requirements. The other two disciplines continued the collaboration but the rotation that was planned between the classes was disrupted and introduced a bit of chaos at first. A lack of communication between the teachers made this more difficult than it would have been with prior planning.