Constructing a Research Problem; Writing an Argument

Week 5 marks a major transition in our Problems, Theories, and Literature course. While we are still consuming mass quantities of scholarly literature, we are beginning to use that scholarly literature to craft a research problem. This process builds on the process we started in Introduction to Music Education Research. We discussed it at great length in our Live Classroom on Tuesday, and began constructing a skeleton of a research problem in our blog post for this week. In that blog post (below), I shared some of the issues I am having with the process in general. Finally, we also had to complete another annotation of an article we read this week.

Week 5 Study Guide.png

Live Classroom

After a week off of from a full cohort Live Classroom, the gang was all back together again this week. This class took a more lecture-based approach to talk us through scholarly arguments and constructing a research problem. As I said in the introduction, much of this was a review of topics and processes we covered in Introduction to Music Education Research. The scholarly arguments section discussed Anthony Weston’s A Rulebook for Arguments on how to build a scholarly argument. The research problem section reminded us from Week 1 that a research problem is a tension between theory and practice. For this week, it was suggested that we attempt to craft a research problem using a skeleton of statements about theory, practice, and the tension created between the two. You will see my example in the Blog section below.


I decided this week to keep track of the scholarly articles I read to better help me blog and annotate for the course.

  • Brahms, L., & Crowley, K. (2016). Making sense of making: Defining learning practices in MAKE magazine. In K. Pepper, E. R. Halverson, & Y. B. Kafai (Eds.), Makeology: Makers as learners (Vol. 2, pp. 31–45). New York, NY: Routledge. Retrieved from

  • diSessa, A. A., & Sherin, B. L. (2000). Meta-representation: An introduction. Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 19(4), 385–398.

  • Halverson, E. R. (2012). Participatory media spaces: A design perspective on learning with media and technology in the twenty-first century. In C. Steinkuehler, K. Squire, & S. Barab (Eds.), Games, learning, and society: Learning and meaning in the digital age (pp. 244–270). New York: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from

  • Halverson, E. R., & Sheridan, K. M. (2014). Arts education and the learning sciences. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (2nd ed., pp. 626–646).

  • Halverson, E. R., & Sheridan, K. M. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 495–504.

  • Hughes, A. (2018). Maker music: Incorporating the maker and hacker community into music technology education. Journal of Music, Technology & Education, 11(3), 287–300.

  • Kafai, Y. B., Fields, D. A., & Searle, K. A. (2014). Electronic textiles as disruptive designs: Supporting and challenging maker activities in schools. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 532–556.

  • Sheridan, K. M. (2011). Envision and observe: Using the studio thinking framework for learning and teaching in digital arts. Mind, Brain, and Education, 5(1), 19-26.


Part A: Please list the following information about your theory or conceptual framework:

  • Name: Constructionism

  • Author: Seymour Papert (1991)

  • Concepts/Terms

    • Knowledge Construction: Extending Piaget’s (1972) belief that learners construct knowledge through experience, Papert believed this occurs best when constructing a physical artifact that becomes a mental artifact—an “object-to-think-with” (Kafai, 2006, p. 39).

    • Appropriation: Similar to Piaget’s (1972) concepts of assimilation and accommodation, learners appropriate knowledge when they make it their own “and begin to identify with it” (Kafai, 2006, p. 39). This constructed knowledge has both intellectual and emotional values. Mental artifacts “help to construct, examine, and revise connections between old and new knowledge” (p. 39)

    • Syntonic Learning occurs when learners are able to identify with an object in multiple ways. (pp. 37–38)

      • Body syntonic: related to sense and knowledge of one’s own body

      • Ego syntonic: related to sense of one’s self as someone with “intentions, goals, desires, likes, and dislikes” (Papert, 1980/1993, p. 63)

      • Cultural syntonic: related to “extracurricular experiences” (p. 68)

    • Cultures of Learning: a place where learning is encouraged through the interaction of a number of people. The concepts draws “on apprenticeship models in which all members of the community of practice contribute to the larger enterprise” (Kafai, 2006, p. 40)

  • Relation to my Phenomenon of Interest: This is where I am beginning to struggle. The literature I have read so far on makerspaces frequently references Papert’s (1991) constructionism. My phenomenon of interest is the intersection of makerspaces and music education. More specifically, I believe I want to study how music learning occurs in makerspaces. Through a constructionist lens, I think I would be asking questions like: How do learners construct music knowledge in a makerspace? How does the learning culture of a makerspace aid in the construction of new music knowledge? What types of musical artifacts are being created in school makerspaces? Perhaps this is getting too deep in the weeds, or perhaps I am coming at this from the wrong angle of knowing what I want to study rather than “dating” my phenomenon of interest and theoretical framework for awhile, but will this constructionist lens help me study music learning in makerspaces? I have just begun to delve into the arts integration literature, and I am having some (small) anxiety that I am “headed down the wrong path” with constructionism.

Part B: Start to create an outline of a Problem Statement, using the "skeleton" format to demonstrate a tension between theory and practice

  • Theory: According to Papert’s (1991) theory of constructionism, learners best construct knowledge by creating a physical artifact to help make mental connections to old and new knowledge.

  • Practice: Makerspaces exist as a culture of learning for learners to construct new knowledge in a variety of different disciplines.

  • Tension: Musicians construct musical artifacts in a variety of ways: performance, composition, arranging, production, mixing, and more, yet music learning rarely occurs as a part of maker-centered learning.

You can see my struggle from the end of Part A in my response for Part B. I am finding a "hole" in the scholarly literature analyzing music learning occurring in makerspaces. Studies looking at arts learning occurring in makerspaces is finding that there is typically not quality arts learning happening.


  • Kafai, Y. B. (2006). Constructionism. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (1st ed., pp. 35–46). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from

  • Papert, S. (1980/1993). Mindstorms (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.

  • Papert, S. (1991). Situating constructionism. In I. Harel & S. Papert (Eds.), Constructionism (pp. 1–12). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

  • Piaget, J. (1972). The psychology of the child. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Annotation #4

Halverson, E. R., & Sheridan, K. M. (2014). Arts education and the learning sciences. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (2nd ed., pp. 626–646).

Phenomenon of Interest: Learning in the Arts

Theoretical Framework: The authors do not cite a specific theoretical framework for their review of research. However, they frequently mention Papert and Harel’s (1991) theory of constructionism as an undergirding framework for arts learning.

Research Problem: Learning in the arts is different than learning in other subject areas, and while there is a wealth of research in arts education, there has not been a review of arts education from a learning sciences perspective (p. 626).

Research Purpose: This chapter reviewed “research on how people learn disciplinary knowledge and practice in the arts” (p. 626).

Research Question(s): Explicitly stated and quoted verbatim:

  • What do we know about the arts within educational contexts?

  • What do we know about learning in and through the arts?

  • What are the features of designed learning environments for the arts?

  • How can an arts-based perspective contribute to the learning sciences? (p. 626)

Rationale: Looking at arts education through the lens of the learning sciences can provide better understandings for learning in general (p. 626). The authors ended up drawing a few conclusions about how arts learning can inform learning on other disciplines.


  • The authors reviewed research on the types of learning studied in K–12 art education. Specifically, they looked at five artistic disciplines: “drama and narrative arts, music, dance/movement,” visual arts, and digital media (pp. 626–631).

  • The authors then identified and discussed themes that emerged from their review of research (pp. 631–636).

  • Next, the authors discussed features of effective arts learning that were drawn from the arts-based learning environments (pp. 636–639).

  • Finally, the authors discussed how their findings could contribute to the learning sciences (pp. 639–641).


  • Learning in the arts is different than learning in other subjects.

    • The arts are a “representational domain.” In an earlier study, Halverson (2013) found that learners must understand “how representational choices communicate meaning to different audiences” (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014, p. 626).

    • The concepts of “form and meaning are deeply integrated in the arts” (p. 626)

    • Artistic work typically involves an exploration and examination of identity and culture “because artistic cognition is intertwined with both” (p. 626)

  • “The desired learning outcomes of arts education across these five disciplines are for learners to be able to produce and critically respond to artworks” (p. 626).

    • “Learners develop the ability to represent ideas through techniques for manipulating diverse materials, and the ability to analyze and interpret the forms other artists have created throughout history across cultures” (pp. 626–627).

    • Learning can occur across multiple arts disciplines (p. 627).

  • History (beginning to answer Question 1)

    • Goodman (1976) and others demonstrated that children constructed arts knowledge by mentally processing symbolic representations (p. 627).

    • Artistic skill develops more ambiguously than the linear progression of academic skills like literacy and numeracy (p. 628).

    • Research has also looked at how artist experts “approach their art form” (p. 628).

    • Other researchers have begun looking at how arts learning transfers to other disciplines (p. 628)

  • Disciplinary Research (answering Question 1)

    • Visual arts learning research has evolved from a focus on “representational accuracy” to “facility with a symbolic and communicating language” and “developmental outcomes” (p. 629).

    • Narrative arts learning research “focused primarily on how young people learn to create and share original narrative art” (p. 629). “Research on drama in learning is often differentiated by the degree of spontaneity present in the composition process” (pp. 629–630).

    • Music learning research has explored several avenues including skill acquisition, effects of musical training, informal music learning, and more (p. 630).

    • Dance learning researched has involved the field of neuroscience as well as how the body communicates (p. 630)

    • Digital media learning research has looked at how technology contributes to learning across several domains within and outside the arts (pp. 630–631)

  • Themes of Arts Learning (answering Question 2)

    • Creating Representations

      • Constructionism’s central belief is that learners construct knowledge by creating a physical artifact that becomes a mental artifact (p. 631).

      • By creating artifacts, others can see and critique “the understandings, discoveries, and misconceptions inherent in learners’ evolving design” (p. 631).

      • “Just as representation is an integral process to art making, the design and critique of external artifacts is central in arts learning” (p. 631).

      • “Producing art is a communicative act that requires learners to master the representational tools of the artistic medium. In learning sciences research, the capacity to construct an external representation of a complex idea is a marker of mastery in many disciplines” (p. 631).

      • In an earlier study, Halverson (2012) found that in order to use representational tools effectively, artists must have an “understanding of the design grammar within which they are working” and how their tools can help communicate “within a specific context” (p. 631).

    • Engagement in Identity Process

      • There are psychosocial benefits to arts participation, specifically related to identity exploration and development. Learners can explore roles that they have not or would not otherwise experience (pp. 632–633).

    • Language Development

      • Because language “is a core tool for communication” and arts learners are creating works to communicate to an audience, “participation in arts practice provides unique opportunities for language development” (pp. 633–634).

      • Literacy and communication are broader than just the use of spoken and written language. This has been expanded by the use of digital media to include “still and moving images, sound, and music” as well as many other mediums for communicating (p. 634)

    • Creativity and Critical Thinking

      • Creativity is both an individual and group trait. Research into Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) concept of flow has shown how “creative arts processes are distributed cognitive endeavors” in group performances (pp. 634–635).

      • “Creativity and design thinking share many characteristics (…) One of the key contributions of the learning sciences has been to clarify the different components of the creative process involved in design” (p. 635).

        • Exploration and Ideation: “finding or describing a problem”

        • Constructing potential solutions

        • Reflection and critique (p. 635)

      • The process is iterative, moving toward an eventual artifact (p. 635)

  • Features of Effective Learning (answering Question 3)

    • Attention to an Authentic Audience

      • “Meaning is co-created by artists and their audiences” (p. 637)

      • “In the arts, consideration of the audience is embedded throughout the creative process” (p. 637)

    • Focus on Critique

      • Discussions of art work frequently involve critique of intent and representation (p. 637)

      • “The use of critique as a form of authentic assessment has the potential to transform the way we understand learning in many non-arts disciplines that involve the production of artifacts” (pp. 637–638)

    • Embedded Authentic Assessment

      • There is a “trajectory of participation that values progress, failure, iteration, and reflection as learning outcomes” (p. 638)

      • It is challenging to assess artistic products because “criteria and/or standards of quality in the arts are culturally situated” (p. 638)

      • “One powerful method for evaluating artistic products is to share final works with external, interested audiences” (p. 639)

    • Opportunities for Role Taking

      • Learners take on roles both within the context of performance art as well as the organizational work of the learning environment (p. 639)

  • Contributions to the Learning Sciences (answering Question 4)

    • Artists develop metarepresentational competence (diSessa, 2004) by understanding how to use the tools of their medium to effectively communicate to audiences (Halverson, & Sheridan, 2014, p. 640).

    • As arts practices, tools, and media change within culture, so to will art representations. Thus, learning environments need to be set up to constantly adapt and iterate (p. 640)

    • “Identity plays an important though often neglected role in learning” (p. 640).


  • Learning in the arts is different than learning in other disciplines because of

    • “the centrality and richness of representation in arts,”

    • “the integration of meaning, and”

    • “the examination and exploration of identity and culture in arts learning” (p. 639)

  • Arts learning provides a “seamless” integration of cognitive and sociocultural components of learning (p. 639).

  • The learning sciences have introduced “sociocultural theory, noncognitive learning processes and outcomes, and explicit accounts of the design of learning environments” to arts learning (pp. 639–640).

  • The authors view this chapter as a continuation of Papert’s original inspiration by an art class—the learning sciences and education can better their understanding of learning by looking specifically at arts learning, just as arts learning can be informed by the learning sciences (pp. 640–641).

How this relates to my study: I am particularly interested in studying how music learning occurs within makerspaces. This article reviewed research on arts education with a specific focus on learning. The themes and features the authors identified provide examples of what to look for in maker-centered learning. 


Czikszentmihalyi, M. (1988). Society, culture, and person: A systems view of creativity. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), The nature of creativity: Contemporary psychological perspectives (pp. 325–339). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

diSessa, A. (2004). Metarepresentational competence: Native competence and targets for instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 22(3), 293–331.

Goodman, N. (1976). Languages of art: An approach to a theory of symbols. Cambridge, MA: Hackett Publishing Company.

Halverson, E. R. (2012). Participatory media spaces: A design perspective on learning with media and technology in the 21st century. In C. Steinkuehler, K. Squire, & S. Barab (Eds.), Games learning & society: Learning and meaning in a digital age (pp. 244–270).

Halverson, E. R. (2013). Digital art-making as a representational process. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(1), 121–162.

Papert, S., & Harel, I. (1991). Situating constructionism. In I. Harel & S. Papert (Eds.), Constructionism (pp. 1–11). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.


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.