Scholarly Reading and Writing

Week 4 for Problems, Theories, and Literature course was quite similar to the first three weeks: a primary focus on continuing to read scholarly literature about our topic of interest. Instead of a Live Classroom this week, we each had a one-on-one meeting with our assigned professor to discuss how our reading is going. Like previous weeks, we also had to complete a blog post and annotation. My parents came to visit at the end of the week, so while I feel significantly better about reading and my process (see below), the end of the week felt rushed to complete the blog post, responses, and annotations. I also got to meet a classmate for lunch who happened to be in Charlottesville for a wedding. After my readings this week and meetings with my professor and classmate, I feel much better about my progress and track for this course.

Week 4 Study Guide.png

Live Classroom

For this particular Live Classroom, we had to each schedule a one-on-one meeting with our assigned professor from Week 3. Dr. Tawnya Smith and I met on Wednesday, and we discussed quite a bit about the course and my progress in reading about makerspaces. The main takeaway I had from our conversation was that I should change how I am progressing through all my reading. Prior to this meeting, I was using one primary source (Sheridan et al.’s 2013 article, Learning in the Making), noting the work cited by this source in which I was interested, reading through these cited works in alphabetical order by first author. Just mentioning this out loud to Dr. Smith during our meeting made me realize how foolish this was. I have since restructured my reading plan to still originate from a few primary sources (Learning in the Making, Implementing STEAM in Maker-Centered Learning, and Media Arts: Arts Education for the Digital Age), recognizing broad topics from these primary sources, and reading through cited works falling under these broad topics. The first topic I chose to pursue was the learning theory of constructionism, which I discuss below in the assigned blog post.

Dr. Smith also had a few other suggestions for me:


First, I’d like to start off with a more personal aspect, as it relates to the prompt for this week’s blog. Prior to my one-on-one meeting with Dr. Smith, I had been conducting my scholarly reading as follows:

    1. Identify a primary source. In this case, Sheridan et al.’s (2014) comparative case study.

    2. Select references of interest from the primary source. This first pass generated a list of about 20 more sources.

    3. Begin reading these “secondary” sources alphabetically by first author.

    4. Rinse, recycle, repeat.

I realized this was allowing me to read the scholarly literature associated with my phenomenon of interest—makerspaces in music education—, but leaving me rather scatter-brained as I progressed through the reading. I have since begun following more topical sources from this primary source down their proverbial rabbit holes before moving on to a different topic from the primary source. I am tracking all of this with a mind mapping software called MindNode. The screen shot below shows a piece of it, and I can link the PDFs of articles to each of the nodes.

Makerspaces MindNode.png

My answers to all three questions from the prompt this week relate to each other. The first topic I pursued from the primary source was the theoretical framework every scholar I have read so far has been citing—Seymour Papert’s (1991) constructionism. This past summer, I was able to obtain a copy of Idit Harel and Papert’s (1991) book of research reports and essays from 1985–1990. The theory is grounded in the work of constructivism from John Dewey (1933/1998), Jerome Bruner (1990), Jean Piaget (1972), and Lev Vygotsky (1978). Martinez and Stager (2013) connect Dewey’s constructivism—learning from play, experimentation, and inquiry– to Papert’s constructionism—“learning by constructing knowledge through the act of making something shareable” (p. 21). Kafai (2006) identified knowledge construction and learning cultures as the two key ideas in constructionism.

My favorite piece so far is Papert (1991) pointing out the inherent paradox of constructionism: if the theory says we construct knowledge “especially felicitously” when we create something to be shared, we cannot learn about constructionism through reading—we must experience it (pp. 1–2)!

Much of the research done on constructionism—and makerspaces as well—revolves heavily around STEM-related fields. In Harel and Papert’s (1991) research reports and essays, scholars studied how students constructed knowledge through computer programming. Sheridan et al. (2014) found makers of all ages working with circuits, metal, wood, plastic, textiles, and a variety of digital tools. Fortus et al. (2005) specifically analyzed students solving real-world problems using science. Kafai, Fields, and Searle (2014) studied students’ integration of circuits and textiles. Barton and Tan (2018) looked at how equity-oriented STEM-rich making experiences affected historically marginalized youths. Chen and Wu (2017), in a qualitative review of maker literature, found most articles to be studying science-related topics.

I have begun to find some scholarly work linking constructionism—and makerspaces—to the arts. Peppler (2010) and Clapp and Jimenez (2016) see potential for arts integration into STEM-based making, but have not seen many examples of quality integration.


Annotation #3

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

Phenomenon of Interest: Constructionism as a theory for learning

Theoretical Framework: Constructionism (Papert)

Research Problem: Because of constructionism’s roots in Papert’s work with Piaget and constructivism, as well as the theory’s history with computer programming, there are several misconceptions about constructionist learning that require clarification.

Purpose: This article intends “to articulate more clearly a constructionist perspective on the nature of knowing, teaching, and learning” (p. 36).

Research Question(s): Not explicitly stated. However, the author shares the intention of sharing how constructionists perceive knowledge, teaching, and learning.

Rationale: Learning science research is looking to find the most effective ways of learning. Constructionism provides a theory for researchers and educators to understand how learners build “relationships between old and new knowledge, in interactions with others, while creating artifacts of social relevance” (p. 35).

Method: The method is not explicitly addressed by the author. The article is organized into sections that refuted popular misconceptions of constructionism (pp. 35–36), discussed the history of constructionism in Logo programming (pp. 37–38), highlighted knowledge construction and learning cultures as key ideas (pp. 38–40), demonstrated the application of key ideas within microworlds and construction kits (pp. 40–42), presented a case study illustrating “the implementation of core constructionist ideas” (pp. 42–44), and addressed concerns and the future of constructionism as a learning science (pp. 44–45).


  • Constructionism builds on constructivism’s belief that learners construct knowledge in a variety of circumstances by adding the belief that knowledge construction occurs best when the learner is also constructing a physical artifact. This knowledge has both individual and social dimensions where knowledge is constructed in interactions between people and artifacts (p. 36).

  • Technology is a tool that can help in the construction of knowledge, but it is not a necessary component for learning (p. 36).

  • Syntonic Learning occurs when the learner is able to identify with an object in multiple ways.

    • Body syntonic: related to sense and knowledge about own body

    • Ego syntonic: sense of self as people with intentions, goals, desires, likes, and dislikes

    • Cultural syntonic: related to extracurricular experiences (pp. 37–38)

  • Reflection and Metacognition are also components of constructionist learning. The learner is able to learn about their own thinking and learning by interacting with an object (p. 38).

  • Constructionism focuses on how learners appropriate knowledge by personalizing and identifying with their constructed knowledge. Physical objects can become mental objects (“objects-to-think-with”) that “help to construct, examine, and revise connections between old and new knowledge” (p. 39)

  • In opposition to Piaget’s stage theory, Turkle and Papert (1990) argued that “concrete thought could be just as advanced as abstract thought” (Kafai, 2006, p. 39).

  • Learning cultures “facilitate learning by improving the connectivity in the learning environment, by actions rather than on individuals” (Papert, 1993, p. 105, as cited by Kafai, 2006, p. 39).

    • Learning cultures have non-linear curricula that function more like apprenticeships—“all members of the community of practice contribute to the larger enterprise” (p. 40).

    • Constructionists ask, how does the social context provide opportunities for making connections to what is learned? (p. 40)

  • Microworlds are “a computer-based interactive learning environment where the prerequisites are built into the system and where learners can become the active, constructing architects of their own learning” (Papert, 1980/1993, p. 122, as cited by Kafai, 2006, p. 40)

    • They provide access to “ideas and phenomena” that learners may not otherwise access easily (p. 40).

    • More personal learning occurs through feedback from interacting with the environment. In this environment, learners are more likely to discuss mathematical or scientific concepts (pp. 39–40).

  • There is a constructionist tradition of “using materials and activities that are already part of children’s experiences,” but enriching them “with computational elements,” bringing “engineering and robotics activities into the classroom and home” (p. 41).

  • “Design activities (…) can facilitate knowledge construction, reformulation, and expression in the process of building shared artifacts” (p. 42).

    • The Instructional Software Design Project (ISDP) had students teaching younger students about fractions by designing computer programs. This involved daily programming integrated with other content areas in a meaningful way. Students involved in ISDP improved significantly in programming skills and “conceptual and procedural understanding of fractions” (p. 42).

    • Other iterations of ISDP demonstrated learning cultures across grade and experience levels (pp. 42–43).

  • There is a lack of literature analyzing the connectedness of constructed knowledge. Learning sciences research look at how discipline-specific knowledge is constructed using motivational theories and project-based learning. The author called for research “to develop a better understanding of how learning can tie into the socioemotional personal lives of learners” (p. 44).


  • Constructionism has both individual—“personal appropriation and knowledge construction” and social—learning cultures—components (p. 44)

  • Microworlds and construction kits have become popular because they provide both individual and social aspects of learning (p. 44).

How this relates to my study: Constructionism as a theory of learning provides a lens through which to view how students are learning musical concepts as they create artifacts within a makerspace. I would need to see how this is occurring both at the personal level—how are individual students making connections to prior knowledge and experiences?—and social level—what is gained by creating artifacts in communities? ISDP shows a cross-disciplinary approach between programming and mathematics that could also be used with music and another discipline like physics or mathematics.



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.