MER: Unit 2: What's the Problem? - Maker-Centered Music

For Unit 2 (November 13-26) of our Introduction to Music Education Research course, we designed an introduction to a music education research study we might want to conduct. This developed out of the process outlined in The Craft of Research, an excellent book on conducting and writing about research. Where the texts from Unit 1 (A Rulebook for Arguments and Zen in the Art of Writing) laid out structures for supporting a conclusion and provided inspiration for writing in an engaging way, The Craft of Research guides the reader through the process of selecting a research topic, developing research questions, discovering sources to help answer those questions, and much more. Unit 2 only covers the first six chapters of the text, as we are only proposing a study, not actually conducting research.

The Craft of Research suggests the following sentence frame for proposing a research problem:

  1. Topic: I am studying/working on ___

  2. Significance: because I want to find out who/what/when/where/whether/why/how ____

  3. Rationale: in order to help my reader understand how/why/whether ___.

For the first part of our assignment, we created a research problem sentence using this frame and workshopped it with two classmates and our professor. Much of what I learned in this process was focusing on being clear in my statements within the sentence frame. Here is my final product:

  1. Topic: I am studying the intersection of music education and maker-centered learning

  2. Significance: because I want to find out how music education occurs in two maker-centered learning programs in Albemarle County Public Schools, Albemarle Tech and Lab Schools of Albemarle County,

  3. Rationale: in order to help my readers understand how music education can play an authentic role in maker-centered learning experiences.

For the second part of our assignment, we were to write a full research proposal. Here is the prompt:

Beginning with The Craft of Research Chapter 5, and following the authors' instructions, start gathering sources (mainly primary and secondary) that support your topic. You are encouraged to use any of the studies that you have previously reviewed for this course among the sources for this assignment.

As you gather your sources, start outlining a music education-related research problem and its context in the form of an argument. Consider: What other researchers have made similar inquiries? What have they found? What concepts and context do your readers need to understand so they grasp the research problem fully?

Finally, write out your research problem as an introduction to a study that you might conduct. You will include premises, support for those premises, and all the concepts and context necessary for a reader to understand your prospective study. End with the need for and significance of the study, and your main research question(s). Because you have read and analyzed several research problems during this course, you have models from which to work, as well as advice from Booth, Colomb, and Wilson.

In addition to the above requirements, your final paper should provide information about one or more of the theoretical frameworks you encountered in your topical reading. You should, at a minimum: (a) name and describe the theory; (b) describe how the expectations of the theory cause a researchable tension with current practice. You should also seek out at least one original source that describes the theory, read it, and include in your paper a brief review of the source you read.

Finally, take a "stab" at naming and describing a method you might use to collect data that addresses this problem. Think about whether or not the proposed method aligns epistemologically with theories you have encountered that are often used as lenses to investigate the problem. You need not go into tremendous detail about method, but demonstrate your awareness of data collection methods typically ascribed to the theory and problem.

I was able to complete a (very) rough draft of this second part early enough to receive some feedback from our professor, as well as conference with him during an office hour to gave a better understanding of the components of the assignment. From the prompt, I identified the following necessary components to the proposal:

  • Research Problem

  • Premises + Supports

  • Necessary Concepts & Content

  • Significance

  • Research Question(s)

  • Theoretical Framework

    • Name & Description

    • Researchable Tension

  • Research Method

Some of which I struggled to understand. For the purposes of the second assignment, the research problem did not have to take the form of the Topic, Significance, Rationale sentence frame from the first assignment. In our conference, we were able to hammer out a description of looking for how music education is occurring at Albemarle Tech and Lab Schools of Albemarle County as the research problem. Once that piece fell in place, the premises, supports, concepts, content, significance, and question were easy to develop. Many of my classmates seemed to struggle with the theoretical framework and research method components, but I was lucky to find in my literature review descriptions of Papert’s constructionism as a theory of learning and several examples of studies looking at incorporating the arts into maker-centered learning experiences. Below is my research proposal paper:

Maker-Centered Music: A Look at Two Albemarle County School Makerspaces


The maker movement—characterized by creatively producing artifacts and finding digital or physical forums to share the products and processes—is playing a larger and larger role in education (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014, pp. 495–496). Maker education delivers project-based learning curriculum to students within traditional classrooms or as large as full high school workshops (Waters, 2015, para. 1).  These makerspaces focus on student interest and view learning as integrated across subject areas into projects, rather than isolated into specific sets of skills (West-Puckett, 2014, as cited in Halverson & Sheridan, 2014, p. 499).  Clapp, Ross, Ryan, and Tishman (2017) developed a symptomatic definition of maker-centered learning using constellations of characteristics involving community (collaboration, distributed teaching and learning, combination of diverse skills and expertise, expectation to share information and ideas), process (curiosity-driven experimental learning, rapid prototyping, interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, flexibility), and environment (open, accessible, tool-rich, and media-rich spaces; p. 25). Not all of these characteristics are necessary for an experience to be classified as maker-centered learning.  This study proposes to answer the following: how are maker-centered learning experiences at Albemarle Tech and Lab Schools of Albemarle County incorporating music education?

Research Problem

            Currently, there is a gap in the scholarly literature regarding music education and the maker movement.  Much of the maker movement seems rooted in the exploration of science and technology. Dougherty (2013) created Makemagazine for enthusiasts who were playing with new technology to learn about how the technology worked (p. 7).  Honey and Kanter’s (2013) design-make-play learning methodology is viewed as a vehicle for teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) content (p. 3) and relates to the National Research Council’s (2011) Framework for K-12 Science Education.  Clapp et al. (2017) found a strand in their research suggesting maker-centered learning experiences potentially increase proficiency and interest in STEM fields (p. 36).

            Due to the focus on science content, there is a gap in the scholarly literature examining how music education occurs in a maker-centered learning environment.  Halverson and Sheridan (2014) recognize there is a lack of scholarship looking at the history of artistic processes through the learning-by-doing perspective (p. 498). When Clapp and Jimenez (2016) explored how STEM disciplines and the arts (STEAM) played a role in maker-centered learning experiences, they found the arts were greatly underrepresented in these experiences compared to science, technology, and engineering topics.  May and Clapp (2017) evaluated interviews with maker educators and thought leaders, finding their subjects rarely used arts and aesthetics-related terminology in their teaching (p. 335).


            Knowledge of how music education can be incorporated into maker-centered learning experiences benefits both the music education and maker education communities.  With the growing popularity of maker-centered learning experiences, music educators need proven methods for students to learn by making.  Maker-centered learning experiences incorporating music education may occur as project-based learning units within traditional classrooms (e.g. Janowski, 2018; Rever, 2016), music makerspaces within the school (e.g. Socol, Moran, & Ratliff, 2018, p. 18), external music makerspaces (e.g. NYU Music Experience Design Lab,, or as projects within the contexts of full school workshops.  Currently in maker education, Clapp and Jimenez (2016) found that the arts played one of three roles within implementations of STEAM content in maker-centered learning—ornamental or decorative, crafting with little connection to STEM topics, or excluded from the learning entirely (p. 486).  Their analysis found only one exemplary STEAM maker-centered learning experience, an activity from Makemagazine where readers created a guitar to learn about the mechanics and musical qualities of string instruments (p. 487).  Both maker educators and music educators need examples of how to authentically incorporate music education in maker-centered learning experiences.

Research Question

This study proposes to answer the following: how are maker-centered learning experiences at Albemarle Tech and Lab Schools of Albemarle County incorporating music education?  The new Albemarle Tech functions as a full high school makerspace that provides students with an “alternative style of learning,” an experience “without learning time limitations, curricular divisions, or traditional grading practices” where students “will have the opportunity to imagine, design, collaborate, and complete projects both within their own school community but also with community partners through internship opportunities” (Albemarle County Public Schools, 2018).  Murray High School and Community Middle School—collectively known as the Art & Design-Focused Lab Schools of Albemarle County—provide a similar experience with a focus on the creative arts, media, and design (Ratliff & Craddock, n.d.).  When discussing how music education occurs within their maker-centered learning experiences, the author of this proposal was directed by former superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, Dr. Pam Moran (personal communication, October 28, 2018), to examine the work of David Glover at Albemarle Tech and Chance Dickerson at the Lab Schools of Albemarle County.  To answer the question, how are maker-centered learning experiences at Albemarle Tech and Lab Schools of Albemarle County incorporating music education, this study will search for experiences incorporating any of the anchor standards and artistic processes from the National Core Arts Standards (National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, 2014).

Theoretical Framework

This study will look at music in maker-centered learning experiences through Harel and Papert’s (1991) theory of constructionism.  They describe the idea of constructionism as “learning-by-making” (para. 1) and extending constructivism’s view of learning as building structures of knowledge (para. 2).  Constructionism says that learning best happens when the learner “is engaged in constructing a public entity” (para. 2).  The authors point out the paradox in writing about these particular theories of learning in that, if one believes that learning occurs by constructing structures of knowledge, one cannot learn about constructionism through direct instruction without experiencing it (para. 3).  This paradox also applies when attempting to define making, the maker movement, or maker education without an included experience in any of the three.  Sheridan et al. (2014) note that constructionism extends constructivism, focusing explicitly “on how the making of external artifacts supports learners’ conceptual understanding” (p. 507).  Papert (1993) said that learners can further develop knowledge by interpreting the artifact as a representative object (as cited in Sheridan et al. 2014, p. 507).  Peppler (2010), in a review of the role of digital media arts in arts education, found that even though constructionism is tied to the arts and design, the theory has not had much influence on the arts and arts education (p. 2122).  However, Halverson and Sheridan (2014) believe that because art making is a representational domain, it fits within a constructionist perspective of learning (p. 498).

Looking at the National Core Arts Standards ( through the constructionist lens, all of the anchor standards meet the criteria of “learning-by-making” (Harel & Papert, 1991, para. 1).  The three anchor standards under the artistic process of creating—generate, conceptualize, organize, develop, refine, and complete artistic ideas and work—all reference art making (National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, 2014).  Similarly, the three anchor standards under the artistic process of performing/presenting/producing—select, analyze, interpret, develop, and refine artistic work for presentation to convey meaning—lead to the making of artistic work.  Using Papert’s (1993) view that further learning can be accomplished through interpretation of created artifacts, the anchor standards under the artistic processes of responding (perceive, analyze, interpret, and evaluate) and connecting (synthesize and relate) contribute to “learning-by-making” (National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, 2014; Harel & Papert, 1991, para. 1).

Research Method

This proposed research will take a qualitative approach through a constructivist worldview, using case studies to observe and interview educators and students at Albemarle Tech and Lab Schools of Albemarle County.  A qualitative approach occurs in a natural setting with the researcher observing behavior and interviewing participants to collect multiple sources of data (Creswell & Creswell, 2018, p. 181).  The constructivist worldview of developing meaning through experience (p. 8) aligns with the “learning-by-making” view of constructionism (Harel & Papert, 1991, para. 1).  Case studies allow researchers to analyze “a case, often a program, event, activity, process, or one or more individuals” by collecting data over a specified period of time (Creswell & Creswell, 2018, p. 14).  A similar approach was used by Sheridan et al. (2014) in a comparative case study of three makerspaces.  The researchers conducted field observations and interviews and analyzed artifacts, videos, and other documents from three different makerspaces across the country, looking in each makerspace for who participated, how materials were used, and what the arrangements were for learning, teaching, and collaborating (pp. 505–507).  The researchers reference constructionism and how it builds on the constructivist perspective by focusing on “how the making of external artifacts supports learners’ conceptual understanding” (p. 507).


            This study proposes to answer the following: how are maker-centered learning experiences at Albemarle Tech and Lab Schools of Albemarle County incorporating music education? This proposed research will take a qualitative approach through a constructivist worldview and a constructionist lens, using case studies to observe and interview educators and students at Albemarle Tech and Lab Schools of Albemarle County.  From these observations and interviews, the researcher will categorize incorporations of music education beneath the anchor standards from the National Core Arts Standards (National Coaltion for Core Arts Standards, 2014).  This research hopes to inform music and maker educators on methods for students to learn music through maker-centered learning experiences.


Albemarle County Public Schools. (2018). Albemarle tech: The center for creativity and invention. Retrieved from

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

Clapp, E. P., Ross, J., Ryan, J. O., & Tishman, S. (2017). Maker-centered learning: Empowering young people to shape their worlds [Adobe Digital Edition]. San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2018). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage.

Dougherty, D. (2013). The maker mindset. In M. Honey & D. E. Kanter (Eds.), Design, make play: Growing the next generation of STEM innovators (pp. 7-11). New York, NY: Routledge.

Halverson, E. R., & Sheridan, K. M. (2014). The maker movement in education. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 495-504, 563, 565.

Harel, I. E., & Papert, S. E. (1991). Situating constructionism. In Constructionism. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. Retrieved from

Honey, M., & Kanter, D. E. (Eds.). (2013). Design, make play: Growing the next generation of STEM innovators. New York, NY: Routledge.

Janowski, D. (2018, November). Music and project-based learning: Engaging, challenging, and authenticVMEA professional development conference. Conference conducted at the meeting of Virginia Music Educators Association, Hot Springs, VA.

May, S., & Clapp, E. P. (2017). Considering the role of the arts and aesthetics within maker-centered learning.Studies in Art Education, 58(4), 335-350.

National Coalition for Core Arts Standards. (2014). Anchor standards. Retrieved from

National Research Council, Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

Papert, S. (1993). The children’s machine: rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York: Basic Books.

Peppler, K. (2010). Media arts: Arts education for the digital ageTeachers College Record, 112(8), 2118-2153.

Ratliff, C., & Craddock, M. (n.d.). Leadership blog: Inside the art & design-focused lab schools of Albemarle county. Retrieved from

Rever, A. L. (2016, May 15). So I had this idea… [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Sheridan, K. M., Halverson, E. R., Litts, B. K., Brahsm, L., Jacobs-Priebe, L., Owens, T. (2014). Learning in the making: A comparative case study of three makerspaces. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 505-531, 563-565.

Socol, I., Moran, P., & Ratliff, C. (2018). Timeless learning: How imagination, observation, and zero-based thinking change schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Waters, P. (2015, March 25). 9 Maker projects for beginner maker ed teachers [Blog post]. Retrieved from

West-Puckett, S. (2013, September 13). Remaking education: Designing classroom makerspaces for transformative learning [Blog post]. Retrieved from


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.