Narrowing Down a Topic

I realized as I went to create the post for Week 4, that I had not finished my post for Week 3! Week 3 for the Problems, Theories, and Literature course ran from Tuesday, September 17–Monday, September 23 and functioned similarly to the previous two weeks. Our primary goal was to continue reading scholarly literature about our research interest(s) while participating in a Live Classroom, completing and responding to blog posts, revising our annotation from Week 2, and completing a new annotation. The study guide is below. This week was harder for me because I subbed Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for band at the upper elementary and middle schools. I felt behind on my reading all week.

Week 3 Study Guide.png

Live Classroom

Our Live Classroom this week began with all of the students and professors together before breaking out into smaller groups. We were assigned to one of the four professors based on our research interest, with the hope that our assigned professor could provide more guidance for our scholarly reading. The main focus of which is to try and narrow down a research topic and theoretical framework to develop a research problem in a few weeks. I was assigned to Dr. Tawnya Smith. Each of us in our small group gave a brief presentation on our research interest (makerspaces and music education) and the theoretical framework (Papert’s constructionism) we are considering. One main point that was consistently driven home by each of the professors was that in this context, we are researchers, not advocates or activists. We want to study a particular phenomenon of interest, not advocate for our field.

My small group has a broad range of interests:

  • How has violence in Columbia affected music transmission/education?

  • What are the effects of music education on at-risk students?

  • What discriminations are women facing in pursuit of a career in jazz?

  • How can mindfulness interventions help student musicians?

  • How can collective free improvisation be used with high school students?

After my brief presentation, Dr. Smith encouraged me to check out arts integration literature, the Boston Arts Academy, and Ruth Debrot’s dissertation on social constructionism in the middle school chorus. She encouraged me also to begin to think about specifics in my topic: do I want to look at underserved students? Resilience? One of my classmates teaches up near D.C., and their school has a capstone project for seniors that could tie in well with makerspaces.


What do you know thus far about your research interest? The aesthetics of most products of maker work do not fit the traditional definitions of aesthetics from other domains like the arts (Clapp, 2017). Researchers at Agency by Design created a symptomatic definition of the maker aesthetic, listing five possible characteristics for a product to possess a maker aesthetic (Clapp et al. 2016). 

In a different study on aesthetics, Clapp and Jimenez (2016) found the arts, aesthetics, and creativity take a very different role in STE(A)M-based, maker-centered learning experiences. This was also something Dr. Smith and I discussed in Live Classroom 3. Clapp and Jimenez found the A in STEAM to represent either the arts, aesthetics, or creativity. By analyzing and coding a variety of different maker activities, they concluded that in most of the experiences studied, the arts, aesthetics, and creativity played a minimal role. One exemplary activity they found that allowed for an in-depth look at multiple disciplines within STEAM was making a guitar out of a cigar box. I have seen examples like this carried out locally.

What are some of the interesting things that you have learned from specific articles you have read? From what theoretical perspective(s) have other scholars (in and out of music) studied some aspect of this phenomenon, and why have they justified that stance? During this past week of reading, these two questions really tie together for me. While most of the empirical studies I have read lean on Papert’s (1991) theory of constructionism, researchers are also looking into other theories of knowledge and learning. Similar to Clapp et al.’s (2016) research into aesthetics, Halverson and Sheridan (2014b) looked at theories on design thinking (Cross, 2011; Kolodner et al., 2003; Fortus et al., 2005), metarepresentational competence (Halverson, 201; diSessa & Sherin), and how these theories work in science and arts education. Halverson and Sheridan (2014b) also discussed research on learning environments (Hetland, Winner, Veenema, & Sheridan, 2013), specifically studio structures, and how they frame learning in maker-centered and arts-centered learning (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014a).

This week, my reading was—in a very positive way—a process of going down several different rabbit holes from two major journal articles. I am fascinated by the different theories of learning and how this will begin to shape how I am looking at my research question. I am loving the “freedom” that 15 weeks of reading scholarly literature provides, especially through Interlibrary Loan! I am curious, after reading Clapp and Jimenez’s work, if there is a theoretical framework that could help classify “authentic” arts or music learning within a maker-centered environment. I am also interested in potentially conversing with Edward Clapp or Raquel Jimenez (Harvard’s Project Zero), Erica Halverson (University of Wisconsin-Madison), or Kimberley Sheridan (George Mason University) for my Conversation with a Scholar.


Annotation #2

Clapp, E. P., & Jimenez, R. L. (2016). Implementing STEAM in maker-centered learning. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 10(4), 481–491.

Phenomenon of Interest: role of science, technology, engineering, math, (STEM) and arts (STEAM) subjects have in maker-centered learning experiences.

Theoretical Framework: No framework or perspective is explicitly stated. The authors provide a background on the evolution of the maker movement before discussing the rhetoric advocating for STEM and STEAM subjects and professions and the potential connections to maker-centered learning.

Research Problem: Having visited various makerspaces (Clapp & Jimenez, 2015), the authors questioned “the quality and authenticity of arts learning in educational experiences designed to achieve other ends” (p. 482). While maker-centered learning could be a place for STEAM learning, the authors were not observing authentic, quality arts learning in makerspaces.

Research Purpose: Originally the “goal was to gauge the presence—or absence—of authentic arts teaching and learning in” maker-centered learning experiences (p. 482). As the study progressed, the authors expanded this goal to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math.

Research Questions: Explicitly stated, and quoted verbatim:

“To what degree are the individual topic areas associated with the STEAM acronym implemented in maker-centered learning activities?” (p. 483)

The authors also asked:

  • “To what degree do these same (maker-centered) learning experiences engage young people in the arts, beyond a last-minute reminder to decorate a sophisticated STEM project with stickers?” (p. 482)

  • “Could it be the case that the A in STEAM means something other than a traditional, discipline-based understanding of the arts?” (p. 482)

Rationale: With educational movements pushing STE(A)M integration and maker-centered learning, stakeholders must ensure authentic and quality learning experiences in each of the STE(A)M disciplines.  

Method: The authors developed three possible definitions of the “A” in STEAM:

  • A1: the arts as disciplines

  • A2: aesthetics, “based on attributes that appeal to the senses in regards to, or regardless of, the arts disciplines” (p. 483)

  • A3: creativity, “angled toward invention and innovation, with or without the incorporation of the arts disciplines” (p. 483)

For definitions of the STEM subjects, the authors used determinations from the National Science Foundation (2012). Table 1 shows each of the seven definitions used for the study (p. 484).

 The authors randomly selected 60 samples of maker projects from three different sources: the Art of Tinkering (Wilkinson & Petrich, 2014), Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show! (, and the first 40 issues of Make magazine. The authors then gauged implementation of the seven topic areas using “an empirical approach to deductive textual analysis (Bauer, 2000)” and tested for inter-rater reliability (p. 483).


  • Activities sometimes explicitly or implicitly engaged a topic area. Explicit engagement involved addressing topic-specific principles “undergirding the activity” (p. 484) Implicit engagement does not specifically address topic-specific principles while completing an activity. Typically, activities coded as implicit engagement only mentioned the underlying principles, but did not address them.

  • STEAM advocates argue that “fully integrated, cross-disciplinary learning” is occurring in all disciplines, but the authors found low engagement in math, art, aesthetics, and creativity. Specifically within arts disciplines, visual art was implemented more frequently than music, and theater, dance, and creative writing were not implemented in any of the activities. Some activities engaged apparel, jewelry, or fiber arts, and were coded as “other” (pp. 485–486).

  • Engagement of the arts happened in three different effects, described as STEM-with-stickers, arts-and-crafts, and artless. In activities coded as STEM-with-stickers, the arts were only engaged in “ornamental or decorative ways” without any deep exploration of arts concepts (p. 486). Arts-and-crafts activities functioned in the opposite way—arts-based projects with shallow engagement of STEM content. The authors found the artless effect to be the most common, with the arts disciplines not being engaged at all within the activity (pp.486–487).

  • The authors believe the low engagement of aesthetics within the sampled maker activities is because the focus of the projects is typically on making something that works, not necessarily on how the project looks when completed (p. 487).

  • The authors found that the majority of the activities in their “data sample consisted of step-by-step instructions that offered little opportunity for learning to substantively participate in creativity” (p. 487). The opportunities for engagement in creativity were similar to the STEM-with-stickers effect, occurring at the end of the activity to decorate the project. These results may be because of the nature of the chosen data set—“static maker-centered learning activities” (p. 490).

  • The authors found one activity that “centralized the arts and both integral and complementary of STEM content learning” (p. 487)—a cigar box guitar (Frauenfelder, 2010). The activity showed a deconstruction of a guitar to demonstrate key parts and their purposes, allowing for a discussion of the “scientific and mathematical concepts that were embedded” in the making of a guitar and their correlation to musical concepts. The project kept a focus on the aesthetics of making an instrument that looked and sounded good, exploring other potential materials and shapes (pp. 487–488).


  • The current rhetoric around STEAM “may be best understood as aspirational, and not yet connected with current practice” (p. 488). The analyzed activities did not meaningfully engage all content areas within STEAM.

  • “If the true goal of STEAM education is to incorporate the arts into STEM learning from a discipline-based perspective, then we find it imperative that educators, administrators, and curriculum developers who design STEAM-focused, maker-centered learning experiences must (a) be intentional about the incorporation of the arts into maker-centered learning experiences, (b) effectively integrate arts learning into the STEM subjects taught through maker-centered learning experiences, and (c) explicitly enact arts learning through arts-based concepts and practices.” (p. 489)

  • The authors advocate for “the design of high quality curricular materials (…), teacher professional development, and assessment strategies” to address the current practices of incorporating STE(A)M subjects into maker-centered learning (p. 489).

  • The sample for this study was limited in scope. Further research is needed with larger sample sizes and more diverse sources (pp. 489–490). Specifically, the authors recommend studying “in vivo maker-centered learning experiences” (p. 490).

How this relates to my study: Clapp and Jimenez developed a framework for viewing the arts disciplines, aesthetics, and creativity within maker-centered learning experiences. I am interested in studying “in vivo maker-centered learning experiences” (p. 490), specifically with how they function in school settings and how they incorporate aspects of music education. The authors provided one exemplary activity in the cigar box guitar that incorporated scientific, mathematical, and musical concepts. Delineating musical concepts, potentially by using the National Core Arts Standards in a similar way to how the authors used definitions from the National Science Foundation, could be a method for my own study.



Burton Hable

Burton Hable is an instrumental music educator from Central Iowa. In 2013 he helped open Centennial High School in Ankeny, the first time in forty years that a school district in Iowa expanded to two high schools. He served there through 2018 as Assistant Director of Bands: conducting the 10th Grade Symphonic Band, directing the varsity Jazz Collective, co-directing the Centennial Marching and Pep Bands, teaching music theory, and providing individual and small group lessons to brass students in grades 6-12 at Prairie Ridge Middle School, Northview Middle School, and Centennial High School. During his tenure in Ankeny, enrollment in band grew from 450 to nearly 700, the jazz program expanded from four to seven ensembles, and ensembles under his direction were invited to perform at Iowa State University, Harper College, and the Veterans Day Parade in New York City.