I am joined today by Burton Hable. Burton Hable is a music educator, currently living in Central Virginia. He is a doctoral student in Boston University’s Music Education program, and his research interests lie in how people construct music knowledge in the context of a makerspace. He also serves as the Operations and Building Manager for the Charlottesville Band. Prior to moving to Virginia in the summer of 2018, he taught instrumental music in Iowa for eight years. I’ve also known Burton for 20 years now, as we were high school classmates and played trombone in the same high school band together, and both of us came back years later to teach in the same district we graduated from. In so many ways, Burton and I share a similar journey in arriving at progressive education, and I am grateful to call him a friend and a learning partner for these many years.
As the title mentions, this episode focuses on the niche pedagogy of “constructionism” largely attributed to one man, Seymour Papert, who published his first book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas, back in 1980. It’s both fascinating and frustrating that despite 4 decades of research supporting the powerful impact on cognition and the opportunity for collaboration inherent in these ideas, the philosophy and framework of constructionism and similarly modeled “makerspaces” are still only deployed in limited pockets on the fringes of the standard model of school. This conversation gets at the same central premise as so many others on this podcast, that is our limited imagination about “what works” in schools as they are currently structured, and “what works to do what” within music education in particular. What does it mean to be musically literate? To be a musician? Burton Hable imagines the role of makerspaces supported by constructionist pedagogy in music ed as a way to expand and enrich the standard model for students, with the goal of creating a broader collaborative experience for students to engage with all aspects - creating, performing, responding, and connecting - of what it means to be musical.
Burton Hable, music educator & Operations and Building Manager for the Charlottesville Band
0:00:13.2 Burton Hable: Man, wouldn't it be cool if your first year experience in band instead of being the one night that you get to try all of the instruments and then pick if you had like... This is a logistical nightmare, but it's still just fascinating, if you had six weeks on flute and then six weeks on clarinet, this is all an arbitrary amount of time, and then at the end of the year, after you've developed these, there's a ton of musical skills that apply across everything, and then you've got some very specific stuff sprinkled in on top, and then you get to make an informed decision about, "Hey, I wanna play trombone. That was the one I liked the most." I think that in terms of skill development as it currently exists from beginner to the end of their high school career, that you wouldn't see a dip. If anything it would stay the same, I would be willing to bet that you would see that that second and third year of band for them would be far above where it used to be because they have a different, but probably stronger foundation as they get into it.
0:01:21.4 Nick Covington: Hello and welcome to episode 109 of our podcast at The Human Restoration Project. My name is Nick Covington, and I'm a social studies teacher from Ankeny, Iowa. Before we get started, I wanted to let you know that this is brought to you by our supporters, three of whom are Ephraim Hussein, Jennifer Mann, and Marie Becker, thank you all for your ongoing support. You can learn more about The Human Restoration Project on our website, humanrestorationproject.org, or find us on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. I am joined today by Burton Hable. Burton Hable is a music educator, currently living in Central Virginia. He is a doctoral student in Boston University's Music Education program, and his research interests lie in how people construct music knowledge in the context of a makerspace. He also serves as the Operations and Building Manager for the Charlottesville Band. Prior to moving to Virginia in the summer of 2018, he taught instrumental music in Iowa for eight years. I've also known Burton for 20 years now as we were high school classmates and played trombone in the same high school band together, both of us later came back to teach in the same district that we graduated from.
0:02:31.1 NC: In so many ways, Burton and I share a similar journey in arriving at progressive education, and I'm grateful to call him a friend and a learning partner for these many years. As the title mentions, this episode focuses on the niche pedagogy of constructionism, largely attributed to one man, Seymour Papert, who published his first book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, back in 1980. It's both fascinating and frustrating that despite four decades of research supporting the powerful impact on cognition and the opportunity for collaboration inherent in these ideas, the philosophy and framework of constructionism and similarly modeled makerspaces are still only deployed in limited pockets on the fringes of the standard model of school. This conversation gets at the same central premise as so many others on this podcast, that is our limited imagination about what works in schools as they are currently structured, and what works to do what within music education in particular. What does it mean to be musically literate? To be a musician? Burton Hable imagines the role of makerspaces supported by constructionist pedagogy in music ed as a way to expand and enrich the standard model for students with the goal of creating a broader collaborative experience for students to engage with all aspects: Creating, performing, responding, and connecting to what it means to be musical. Enjoy.
0:04:06.3 NC: Burton, how are you doing?
0:04:07.7 BH: I'm well, Nick, how are you?
0:04:09.5 NC: I am doing great, so it's awesome to get to talk to you. So why don't we just start with you, tell us about yourself, your experiences and interests in education, what values do you center in your work with students in schools as a music educator?
0:04:24.6 BH: Yeah, you touched on some of them already. I taught middle school and high school band in Iowa for eight years, and then moved to Virginia when my wife took a position at the University of Virginia as a Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. I have a Bachelor of Music Ed from Iowa State, a Master of Music Ed from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, Illinois. And like you said, I'm finishing up my doctorate of Musical Arts. I guess I don't get to be a PhD. A DMA [chuckle] in Music Education from Boston University. When we... I always say we, 'cause it was a team of teachers, but when I was teaching in Ankeny, we had a team of six teachers that delivered instruction for band, 6th through 12th grade, and the really cool thing was our schedule was built so that none of us were rehearsing at the same time, so all six of us could be in every rehearsal every day, either pushing in to help what was going on in the everyday rehearsal or to pull students out for some individualized or small group instruction. As a music educator, I really strive to help students know how to understand and communicate emotion through the music that they're listening to or that they're making and really like.
0:05:44.2 BH: I think that the best way to do that is to try and approach them using music that they enjoy and then using that as a gateway to try and help them broaden their musical horizons, whether it's more in through, I guess, the traditional canon of what we would do in band or into other things beyond what they're interested in. And one of the ways that we did that in Ankeny was we had this ensemble project where at the end of the year, things are winding down, there's no other concerts or performances that we're getting ready for, what are we gonna do with our students, and we let them divide themselves up into groups of two to six people, and then they picked whatever music they were gonna play.
0:06:28.1 BH: The only thing that we did as teachers was, Hey, I'll help you transpose that for your instrument. Maybe tell you like. Oh, you might wanna tweak that a little bit to make it a little bit more approachable. But beyond that, they were choosing the music, they were rehearsing the music, and then that last week that we had together, they were performing it for each other. And so we had all kinds of Disney medleys. My last year in Ankeny, there was a whole bunch of Panic at the Disco, it was some really cool, cool stuff and it's here, celebrate everything that you know how to do, but then do it in a way that's not teacher-prescribed or kind of in the traditional vein of how we do things.
0:07:08.1 NC: And to have such an authentic audience for that performance as well, which is for each other as in the form of this celebration, I can't imagine a better audience than kind of outside of that traditional, I don't know, like a concert band environment. Here's one where you kinda you get to flex those muscles a little bit.
0:07:26.0 BH: Yeah, exactly.
0:07:29.0 NC: A lot of the conversations that we've had for years now, going way back, have revolved around this guy, Seymour Papert. Am I pronouncing his name right, by the way?
0:07:40.4 BH: No, and it took me two years to figure out.
0:07:43.1 NC: Okay.
0:07:43.9 BH: Find somebody to pronounce it for me. It's Papert.
0:07:47.9 NC: Papert. Okay.
0:07:48.0 BH: Yeah, yeah.
0:07:48.0 NC: So I just kinda think of paper and then Papert. Okay. Papert, Seymour Papert. Well that's great, that's... See, I'm learning things too. And I'm not sure if you had actually exposed me to his ideas in of constructionism in particular, and so I think it bears in mind that constructivism, which is kind of a popular or ubiquitous idea inside a progressive education maybe, I don't know, traced back to like John Dewey, but constructionism as a separate idea, that's sort of related, I suppose, so I don't know. Give us the update here. Who was Papert? What's going on in constructionism and what's your interest in exploring that idea in your own work?
0:08:28.7 BH: I'm gonna work kind of backwards of what you were saying there, because it'll get us into it in the same way that I got into it. I am really interested in makerspaces and not just because I think that they could be a non-traditional avenue for students to get into music education that aren't in band orchestra or a choir, or just because I find them fascinating on my own. And for listeners that aren't familiar with what a makerspace is in its broadest idea, it's a place that has tools and technologies for people to make things. And kind of the most common things that you'll see are 3D printers, laser cutting, there might be some woodworking or metalworking, some textile work maybe, or circuitry, definitely some kind of computer programming maybe, it's just lots of different things for you to make really whatever you are interested in. And the theory of learning that kind of backs that up is this Papert's theory of constructionism, and constructionism... Papert was a student of Piaget, so the constructivist theory that we construct our own knowledge, that there's not one truth out there waiting to be discovered, but that we kind of construct knowledge through our experiences of the world, that Piaget after developing his stage theory of learning that he was interested in what that looks like in practice, and Papert was a mathematician that then, Hey, help me figure out some of the specifics about how we develop math knowledge.
0:10:05.6 BH: So Papert after working with Piaget began to develop this theory that that process of constructing knowledge best happens when I have a tangible artifact that represents that knowledge, and it could be something that I create in the physical world, it could be something that I create digitally. Papert called it an object to think with, that something I can tangibly manipulate, that represents my knowledge. This preceded makerspaces, but it absolutely aligns with the work that's happening in them 'cause you're making something and that making represents your learning about how to use different tools or... An example of a project that I've seen out of a makerspace is I wanted to make my own weather balloon. Well, there's a whole lot of physics knowledge that has to go into that, there's a whole lot of some of the basic science of weather and being able to take measurements and use those measurements to make predictions. There's a whole bunch of knowledge that then gets represented in this artifact that you create in the makerspace. And so Papert, this was in the early 1980s that he had a group at MIT known as the Epistemology and Learning Group, and they developed a programming language called Logo, and it was meant to be this easier way of programming, and we would use it to program things like they had these...
0:11:32.1 BH: At first they were digital and then they became physical turtles, and you could use these turtles to draw things first on the computer screen and then later in real life, and they were used to teach students geometry, either through the act of programming the turtle or through helping them, well, hey, can you make the turtle draw this? Make the turtle do this design. So they published several different papers and then later books on, Here's the different things that we were doing with programming, here's the different things that kids were learning by constructing these artifacts, the drawings that the turtles were producing, or the programs that they were writing to help the turtles produce that. As this has evolved, it has become stuff that we see in definitely in makerspaces, but a whole lot in project-based learning, whether or not you're thinking about the specifics of them... Your students constructing an artifact, but the mere fact that we're producing something that is a representation of our knowledge finds its roots deep in Papert's constructionism.
0:12:40.1 NC: It's so interesting how constructionism kind of is this huge sphere that then we find kind of the applications of that in the physical makerspaces or in the computer spaces that he had originally written about. One kind of take away from my understanding of that constructionist way of thinking too is that you're representing your knowledge in the physical space actually then influences your cognitive models too, so it works to both put your cognitive model into reality and then in the creation, or in the construction of it, that too then influences your cognition. And so it just kind of is this, I don't know, this dialogue or this dialectic between you and the physical or the linguistic world, if you're working with, say, a programming language or that 3D printer.
0:13:28.2 NC: Now, so we kind of talked about makerspaces, which I think have been something that had popped up, I don't wanna call those things a fad necessarily, although I think they kind of can tend toward faddishness, which I think all trends in education can tend towards faddishness, where you might just have a 3D printer in a particular space, but there's not really a pedagogy aligned with how to use this, or, "How do we function in this space together?" So it can kind of be half implemented. But I wanna know them like, you're talking about this kind of makerspace pedagogy in music, so how do you construct those constructionist models? Like what, how in the world, right? What exists out there in the world already that you find that you can connect to? What is new that you're innovating on or having to... What hurdles are you having to overcome to get to the place that you want to be with this idea?
0:14:22.4 BH: There exist already some constructionist, and definitely constructivist, but then also constructionist educators and scholars in music. One example is... I'm gonna forget his first name, his last name is Shively. His dissertation was on developing a constructionist framework for teaching beginning band, and he unpacked a whole bunch of different constructivist and constructionist literatures to say... 'Cause there's a lot of different ways that people have applied Piaget's theories, and Papert's theories, and Vygotsky's sociocultural theories, and picking the pieces that, "How would this work best in a beginning band?" And I've been told that when he would go out to rehearsals, come and do an honor band or come work with my group, one of the first questions that he would do when he'd get up on the podium would ask, "Well, how do you think we should start? What do you think we should do?"
0:15:23.2 BH: And that has connotations of discovery-based learning, and Papert would agree that constructionism has pieces of discovery-based learning, but similar to the way many progressive educators argue in favor of it, it's not just, [chuckle] "Well, let's just see what happens," kind of a thing, that there's an intentionality along with it. For Shively, it was helping students discover how to interact with their instrument rather than in a prescribed way like, "How does your trumpet work? How does your trombone work for you to make the different sounds?" And you're discovering is a... As a means of, "Here's my goal, I want to produce this on my instrument, how can I construct the ability to be able to do that?" And there's some direct instruction that's necessary, how to put the instrument together and not hurt yourself, right? How to do some very basic tone production kinds of things, but then beyond that, there's so much that students can discover.
0:16:27.4 BH: There's other scholars, like Ruth Debrot from Boston University, did a similar thing in middle school chorus, and then Jackie Wiggins is like the epitome of a constructivist approach to music education, she wrote a book called Teaching For Musical Understanding and she talks a great length about how do we develop a constructivist or constructionist mindset towards teaching music, and then how do we explore it. And you could make the argument that the artifact that you're producing in a band orchestra or a choir or rehearsal or performance is a musical artifact that is a representation of your understanding of music, but I'm more interested in being able to do that outside of those paradigms. We know that... The most recent research tells us about 20% of a high school population takes band orchestra or choir at some point in their four years in high school.
0:17:31.3 BH: There's so many students then that music is certainly a part of their lives that they're just not involved in it in some way formally in their high school process. And so how can we reach those other 80% of students? And I think that makerspaces is... Makerspaces are one way we could. And the way that I've seen that is, you could call it a makerspace high school here in Albemarle County that they originally started as a way for seniors to kinda do a capstone project, they would attend this makerspace school once every other day, and the other day they're at their comprehensive high school taking their traditional courses, and one of these capstone projects that emerged was a student said, "You know, I am self-taught on guitar, I would love to make my own."
0:18:24.5 BH: And his first attempt at it was to make an acoustical guitar and realized that that was a whole lot more complicated than he was gonna be able to accomplish in his senior year. And so he transitioned to making electric guitars and electric basses, and there's so much that he learned in woodworking and in some science fields in terms of getting the different components onto the guitar, and then wired the correct way, and used the correct way. But there's so much about music that he learned too, because it was, "This isn't sounding the way I want it to. What do I need to tweak to get that sound that I want?" And then obviously, once you've made it, well, you have to perform with it, right? [chuckle] And so here, this student had this... Several artifacts of his music learning and his science learning, and that's a big piece of the makerspace learning, is it's cross-curricular, it engages lots of different disciplines. And essentially, the sky is the limit with the student's imagination and what they wanna make. I think I covered everything there that you were trying to ask me.
0:19:29.9 NC: I think so. And I think what... The appeal of, less so just of makerspace generally, but the pedagogy behind it, is that it makes that learning self-evident and you just see that iteration. And I think I've seen this student or future students who had been part of that same kind of laboratory in constructing these instruments. It really is... It's absolutely incredible to just see how, I guess, the spectrum of skills that students are required to enter into. You mentioned the woodworking part, but there's also the electrical wiring, and then of course, again, with the musicality of the instrument too, just to say like, "Do all the frets on the guitar work? Is it getting the right timber that you want?" The pickup placement has a lot to do with it as well. So there's the interplay and the lenses that students have to use as they're approaching that work, and then the performance piece too. So nobody in that schooling context is gonna leave wondering what that student had learned in that class.
0:20:26.4 NC: You could walk out of so many classes that I've experienced, and probably you and I have even taught over the years, being like, "Wow, did I learn anything, or did my kids learn anything?" Or, "Did I actually give them the range of opportunities to be able to express the things that they've learned in there?" But with such a concrete base for performance and construction and creation, it removes all that doubt and just makes that thing self-evident. So I kinda wonder... 'Cause I can think back to my own band instruction, and I can think probably about a lot of musical instruction can look like the kind of rote instruction that we might see... I don't know, I don't wanna paint with too broad of a brush, but memorizing math facts or memorizing a scale, kind of as an equivalent thing. So I could leave a math class, per se, having memorized my times tables, but I... My ability to apply those or to create or to understand anything outside of that concrete knowledge is very limited.
0:21:26.3 NC: In the same way, maybe, when I think about those musical scales, it might be the case that I could play a C scale, but I can't... I might not be able to transfer that into some other context of either my playing or my listening or other of the literacies that you need to have to be musical, to have a musical competency. So on the spectrum from that kind of rote memorization of scales, which we've had a lot of conversation about this, but to your ideal or what we imagine this constructionist or this even constructivist method of music education looks like. Where are we starting from? How do we get to that ideal? Map that course for us here. What are the hurdles getting in between your vision for what this looks like?
0:22:16.3 BH: I don't know that I have a perfect pathway from one to the other, but...
0:22:22.9 NC: Oh, come on. Easy answers, come on.
0:22:28.5 BH: Easy... Exactly. I... And I don't know that my opinions about music education are necessarily inside the norm of what you might find amongst most high school music educators, well any music educator. But you brought up the idea of music literacy, and I would venture to guess that the vast majority of people in the United States, in Western cultures for music ed, would say that literacy is being able to read notated music. And I wouldn't disagree that, that is a musical literacy, but I don't think that it is necessarily the be-all end-all. Now, I'm not necessarily advocating that we should do away with teaching students to learn how to read musical notation, in any shape or form, but it doesn't have to be that only way. So my experience growing up in music, which was probably similar to yours, was at some point in an elementary general music class, we started learning the staff and where... The music staff and where notes appear on it. Every good boy deserves fudge, or something to that effect, and rhythms as well.
0:23:40.1 BH: And that transferred to recorder and then later to some choice of a band instrument. And that's a fairly normal path, as I understand it, for most students. They might end up on a string instrument in an orchestra, or somewhere in a choir. But like I said before, we're missing out on a lot of other students that are outside of that path. And so I'm not advocating for a replacement of the traditional path, but rather supplements to. And in some places, it's already happening. There are music technology classes that, depending on the way the classroom is set up, you could argue that they're a music makerspace. At this particular makerspace high school that I was talking about before, there's a music studio. There's a place for students to record and produce, and they do their own music, their own music videos. There's instruments there, some of them designed by students, that they can play to produce. And there's also national standards for music technology, like, let's take you through learning how to use digital audio workstations, and recording your own music, and mix different loops and recordings, and things like that.
0:24:56.6 BH: There's also avenues where we're trying to provide learning opportunities in music for specific cultures. There is a big movement in Iowa that was starting before I moved, and I'm fairly certain it's still continuing, for mariachi music and having mariachi ensembles as part of the curriculum. I... One of my electives at Boston, you and I talked a lot about this, was a rock band pedagogy class. And it can be called rock band, it could be called modern band, there's lots of different avenues for it. But learning piano-based guitar, drums, or even computer, like building through loops and sampling. But producing the music that you listen to on the radio all the time. The final for that course was a performance in Boston's Memorial Union. I got to play some bass on Get By With a Little Help from My Friends. It was quite the learning and performing experience.
0:25:56.5 NC: Very nice.
0:25:58.0 BH: But again, for music, I want us to have more options for more students. The students that we're not reaching with band, orchestra, and choir. And I think that the ways to do that are to let them explore using the music that they are interested in. And how can we help you create or re-create music like that? Because band, orchestra, and choir, at least the way that we're teaching them right now, don't really offer opportunities for that to happen.
0:26:27.6 NC: They certainly don't. And that... I see that in my own students now. There are students that I've had come through my courses who have talked about the music that they're creating, whether it be like loops or samples or rap and hip-hop and those kinds of things. I find it really interesting that the students... Those students who are usually involved in actively pursuing music in high school as a career for themselves or something, or wanting to get into that, are not the same kinda students that I see who are the... Maybe the most involved in the concert bands, marching bands and jazz bands and stuff, who aren't just creating music on the side. And I don't know if that's a function of structure or a function of time or if they would, if they could. But yeah, it doesn't seem like those are groups of kids who overlap a whole lot. And I would really hate it if kids who went through like a band program then didn't ever take up music in the future or absent that kind of structure or the opportunity to perform in a structured way.
0:27:29.2 NC: So yeah, there just has to be more ways for tiny humans to discover sort of the joy of that... The inner joy of that musical world, and this is a conversation we've had off air a lot, which is just about how like, we kinda think of discovery learning as sort of being a non-rigorous or a much lampoon sort of idea, but when you start to play pentatonic scales or those kinds of things for kids, they feel a certain way about it, right? You have an emotional attachment to the way the timber of a certain instrument, or the way that the dynamics of a piece work. I mean, you can feel those things before you have a musical language to describe them. So, are the makerspaces the way that you feel, are the ways to reach that? Or is it more through, I don't know, grabbing those kids and sitting down with them and saying, "You gotta learn your majors and minors, and your modes and everything else." I don't know, I'm not trying to get you to play into a false dichotomy here, but I'm seeing the dichotomy. Seeing kids who drop out of music or kids who pick it up and then never let it go, and it goes on to influence the rest of their life.
0:28:41.6 BH: Yeah, and I don't know that again, that a makerspace is a be-all end-all. But, if we take that broad definition of a makerspace, that it's a place where the tools and technologies exist for you to make things. And if we create opportunities for students to make music... And not even necessarily make music the... Putting aside the baggage of discussing national standards for a second, and just the national standards for music are the same for national standards in arts education. That we create, that we perform, present or just depending on the field of art, like produce whatever. That we respond to art around us. And if we're creating opportunities for students to do those things with music. They're creating music, they're performing, they're producing music, they're responding to music around them, I guess, you could say makerspace, if it's providing the opportunities to do that, are the answer, but it is a way of giving students opportunities to interact with music that aren't choosing, hopefully, aren't choosing to interact with it in the ways that we're already providing.
0:30:01.8 BH: A perfect example is, and shout out to our mutual friend Tom Hinds at Centennial High School in Ankeny. Tom has worked to get some grant money going to develop a... Essentially a music studio in his media center. There's a room off to the side there where there's a couple iMacs, some recording equipment, piano, guitar, bass, drums, and he had even found a random trombone at some point, that I have nothing to do with that. But then the kids can sign up at any time to go into the media center and make some music and it's... Is it a music makerspace? You could argue, yeah. There's not a set curriculum for it, and there doesn't need to be. Kids can come in and make and explore music. It's a really neat idea that Tom had.
0:30:54.0 NC: And I love the idea too of sort of having like a neutral ground for those kids who aren't in the structured band activities for whatever reason. Whether it's time constraints or financial constraints or they didn't get into it in fifth grade, and so then they missed the window for it or something. Whatever. But I love the idea of maybe... It's a collaboration space for those students who have the extra-curricular interest but don't have the musical background, and then the kids who have the formal education in there, but don't have the ability to collaborate or don't have the tools at home to collaborate other than writing trombone music and playing it in their bedroom. I think the more that we can kind of get those spaces and tear down... Not tear down, that seems awfully violent. But maybe like, deconstruct those silos and just really get kids into the work of making music together, and yeah, that involves the collaboration, creation, there's a performance, there's the recording and editing component. Then of course, the performance.
0:32:00.9 NC: I have always loved students who have been those musical creators, be the editors, or the rap artists, R&B loopers and stuff. They are always very willing to share with me their Spotify or their Sound Cloud and everything else, and I love to participate in that. And I feel like I don't get the same thing through the students who are more in those structured programs, 'cause they only happen at certain times. So I don't know, maybe I'm just projecting a little bit of myself in that. But, it'd be a fascinating thing to be able to bring those groups together and give them a structured time during the day that they could collaborate and create those projects.
0:32:42.9 BH: I wanna jump on something you said there, if that's alright. You keep mentioning collaboration, and it's a huge piece of constructionism, it's a huge piece of makerspaces. One of the things that Papert was fascinated by were Brazilian Samba schools. And take what you think of schools and throw it out the window when that word is used, because it was communities of people that are preparing for Carnival. There would be, "Our community is gonna have this part of a performance in that celebration. At this point in time, our neighborhood is gonna put on a performance from this time to this time. And so we're gonna get together and practice together for this performance." While there are people in there that are just such a huge range of ages and skill levels, so there's small children participating, there's grandparents participating in the full range and people are learning from one another.
0:33:40.6 BH: It's very Vygotsky and sociocultural, and the more knowledgeable other, the scaffolding of everybody around it, and constructionism is a huge piece of that, it takes a huge piece of that, that we're gonna be learning from the people around us interacting in these makerspaces. And some of it, if it's a more... I don't wanna use the traditional... Word traditional, but it's what's coming out of my brain right now, makerspace where I'm trying to design this thing for the 3D printer and I'm not quite sure how to use the software while the kid sitting next to me that... "Yeah, absolutely. Let me show you how to help you do that." Or in a music makerspace, like you're talking about, "Hey, you wanna learn how to play bass?" Let's come and learn bass by doing it, not by... Not necessarily by, "Now learn your 12 major scales. Okay, now you can come and play." That...
0:34:38.8 NC: Exactly.
0:34:38.9 BH: Collaboration is a huge, huge, huge part of it.
0:34:43.9 NC: It's such an interesting thing, isn't it? When you compare the samba school model with again, what I think about my suburban high school, let's... Maybe that's a universal kind of experience, I don't know, for Americans to have. But it is kind of bewildering that we just put all the fifth graders and we say, "This is a fifth grade band, and you don't play next to anybody else who's younger or older." And it really lends itself to the only people that you're... The only person really then that you are allowed to learn from is then the one adult who is conducting and managing, and doing the impossible work that I can only assume band instructors do. But quite frankly, maybe our structures make that work more difficult, because there aren't the more knowledgeable others, or there aren't more mature peers, 'cause we've isolated fifth graders from sixth graders and sixth graders and seventh graders and seventh graders from their high school counterparts and never do they ever interact.
0:35:39.7 NC: And even when those bands put on performances, and you're aware of this. How do they perform it? They perform as a seventh grade band and as an eighth grade band, and then as a nine, 10 to however your high schools combine the band. It is such a fascinating thing to think of what music education could even look like if the... Not just interdisciplinary, but kind of that, if the grade levels were allowed to intermingle and to support each other in that. And yeah, that's just an interesting kind of observation in that.
0:36:14.5 BH: There's so many tangents that we could take off of that. Because I know people, myself included, that worked to manufacture experiences that were... In Ankeny we called them vertical. Like we're gonna make sure that those sixth grade students are getting to interact with the high school students. Now, was it as much pie in the sky as you were describing? No, absolutely not. But working to make those opportunities. Man, wouldn't it be cool if your first year experience in band, instead of being the one night that you get to try all of the instruments and then pick, if you had like...
0:36:50.0 BH: This is a logistical nightmare, but it's still just fascinating, if you had six weeks on flute and then six weeks on clarinet, this is all an arbitrary amount of time, right? But then... And then at the end of the year after you've developed these, there's a ton of musical skills that apply across everything, and then you've got some very specific stuff sprinkled in on top, and then you get to make an informed decision about, "Hey, I wanna play trombone. That was the one I liked the most." I think that in terms of skill development as it currently exists, from beginner to the end of their high school career, that you wouldn't see a dip, you know, if anything, it would stay the same. I would be willing to bet that you would see that that second and third year of band for them would be far above where it used to be, because they have a different, but probably stronger foundation as they get into it.
0:37:45.6 NC: Where do you think that that strength in the foundation comes from just kind of seeing the... Seeing how they fit into the whole or kind of seeing the breadth of musical expression that's out there, like...
0:37:56.8 BH: Yeah, and then too, that it's that idea of transfer of learning, right? The flute player... I mean, are they reading different music? Yes. But it's not as different as you might think. I mean, there's transposition and things like that, but I get to take those skills and apply it on this new instrument, and the vast majority of woodwind instruments, well, if I add a finger, add a button going down the sound gets lower. Like, there's concepts that will work across all of the instruments, right? And the valve pattern on brass instruments is the same on all... Right? And so there's just this new wealth of knowledge that you can take from what you learned on this instrument to this instrument, which I think creates a stronger foundation there.
0:38:43.1 BH: And I'm a perfect example, I started on trumpet in fifth grade. Our 10th grade year, our 10th grade band was a little short on trombones and so I said, "Yeah, okay. I'll do it." And there's so much that I was able to transfer even though it was going from treble clef to bass clef and valves to a slide. But there's so much that's similar that all of a sudden... I mean, yes, I was five years older as well, [chuckle] but picking up a trombone was not nearly as difficult because of that foundation of knowledge.
0:39:14.2 NC: God, that's fascinating. Yeah, and again, I think about my own musical experiences in... If I try to pick up a woodwind now, I would be lost in the woods. [chuckle] It'd be just as likely for me to do open heart surgery on a whim as it would be to play a clarinet the first time. But with brass instruments, I could probably figure out a brass instrument in 15 minutes or so. Maybe not play anything super competently, but the basic mechanics of it are so different between those instruments and really I think maybe percussionists probably get the most broad range of transferability. You've got musical notes on malleted instruments and you've also got rhythmic patterns on various drums and things. So they might get the broadest depth of transfer there. The fascinating way, just to kinda unpack the way that bands in school work.
0:40:04.5 NC: You know, we talk about reimagining what a classroom education looks like, or reimagining what that band room education looks like. You mentioned logistical nightmare. Yes, I'm sure. At the same time, is it worth... And this is totally hypothetical, you don't have to say yes or no. Would it be worth at least like, launching those experiments, if only to then see... Literally, what's the worst that could happen? Kids are more interested in playing music for the rest of their lives? Or I think so much of the... Again, let's call it standard experience of band perhaps is more of those... Are those legacy projects. Those prestige building things, you know? The playing at solos and performing at All-State Band, winning awards for your school and kind of about acquiring those things.
0:40:52.4 NC: But yeah, I wonder if it would be worth it at some point to reevaluate the conveyor belt of music education that we apply everywhere else and we say is detrimental to the long-term curiosity and things of the rest of school if that applies to band too. So I wonder then as, maybe if we start to wrap up here, thinking of constructionism or constructivism as it's applied to music instruction in particular, who are you reading? Who are leaders that you are looking up to, who are motivating you? What media can listeners as learners of this who wanna seek that out more, what can they connect with?
0:41:31.6 BH: Because I'm in my doctoral program, the vast majority of the [chuckle] stuff I'm gonna recommend is on the scholarly side and probably less so on the fun experimental side. But to start on the fun experimental side, there is a program called Little Kids Rock and it has... Although it says Little Kids in the name, it's modern band, it's rock band, it's a curriculum for exposing kids to learning how to play piano, bass, guitar, drums and they are doing some fascinating work. That was that rock band class that I took at BU was built out of some of those things. But there's a whole lot of really, really neat stuff going on there. And then, even if you as an individual listener or you, Nick Covington, are interested in messing around with loops and things like that, there's a free web-based service called soundtrap.com and you can...
0:42:31.2 BH: It's like, if you've ever used GarageBand or Audacity or things like that, but they have this built-in loop library and some of the loops you have to pay for if you... But there's tons of free stuff in there that you can create with as well. And they just recently, or at least, I discovered recently a feature where you can type in an artist that you like, you know? Doja Cat, right? And here are loops that we think sound like Doja Cat. How cool that students can start by recreating and then move to creating from the things that are in there?
0:43:12.0 NC: Or even begin to analyze what characterizes an artist's sound, you know?
0:43:16.9 BH: Yes.
0:43:18.2 NC: What makes this sound like a particular artist? Is it instrumentation, is it a production quality or something that's in post or is it something about the artist themselves? Oh yeah, that's a fantastic idea.
0:43:31.2 BH: Yeah, and then in terms of some of the more scholarly stuff there I mentioned, it was Joseph Shively was the constructivist beginning band thing. Jackie Wiggins is the... Teaching for musical understanding. In terms of makerspaces, the thing that really got me into it was twofold. One, I did a long-term sub job out here for a teacher at the Sigma Lab, like the Greek letter Sigma. And it's a makerspace at Charlottesville High School, they have a fairly structured engineering curriculum that the students go through towards a capstone project where you're designing some of your own stuff. But you can look up the Sigma Lab at Charlottesville High School and the stuff that's going on there, it's just absolutely fascinating. Erica Halverson is a professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and she and a few other different scholars did research on learning in makerspaces. They have several different articles about learning in the making and tying it.
0:44:37.0 BH: Erica is a theater artist and a lot of the stuff then is situated in arts learning and how can the arts connect to what's going on. She just recently published a book entitled, How the Arts Can Save Education: Transforming Teaching, Learning and Instruction and there's just some fascinating things in there. Yes, about makerspaces or how makerspaces relate to art education, but then too, what the rest of education can learn from the way that arts education happens. There's some neat stuff happening makerspace-wise at the MIT Media Lab, it's kind of the modern evolution of Papert's group that was there working in the '80s. The gentleman leading it, his name is Mitch Resnick, and his group of researchers is called the Lifelong Kindergarten group, and it's all about play and how we learn from play and we continue to develop experiences like, "Why isn't my senior year of high school more like my kindergarten class?"
0:45:39.7 BH: There's similar stuff happening at Harvard. Harvard's group that's of the equivalent is called Project Zero, and they've published some more research on STEAM integration with makerspaces, so not only science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing, but arts, and how are we seeing the arts play out in makerspaces. And then they also are doing a lot of things about identity, the identity of a maker and the democratization of makerspaces. Let's make sure that we're not doing things that are limiting it to stereotypes that we might have of certain students.
0:46:16.7 NC: Just on the note of research though, when we think of research-based practices, they tend to be, again, typical practices, you know? When you kinda think of an idea like constructionism being sort of a new thing, Papert wrote his first book in, what, 1980? And we're talking about computers like an Apple 2 or something like that. I mean, maybe even prior to that, that I just don't have an awareness of. So, it's a pedagogy now that's older than we are, you know? It's 40 years old plus. To say that it's not like a research back to practice, you might just have to work a little bit harder to connect to those spheres, but the fact that MIT and Harvard and things are pursuing it as well, I think probably give it a little bit of [chuckle] more legitimacy too. But... Well cool. Burton, how can people find you, connect with you and your work? Where can we find you?
0:47:06.7 BH: Absolutely. I have a blog at burtonhable.com, and then it's Burton Hable on Twitter and on Facebook. I've been publishing a lot about my work at BU, my interest in makerspaces, and there's stuff if you really wanna go digging, there's stuff about the work that we were doing in Ankeny with that vertical teaching and band, some of my thoughts about Nick, [chuckle] no just... But some of my thoughts about, as I've developed as a progressive educator because of the work that Nick has done, that is definitely in there, and I would love to have conversations. I'm sure that you have in some way outed me to my music education community as an outsider now.
0:47:56.1 NC: God, I hope so. [laughter] That was my goal. I was trying to pin you to the wall and make you take a hard stance and you wiggled out of it every time. [laughter] You're a slippery guy.
0:48:07.6 BH: Yeah.
0:48:08.7 NC: But no, it's been awesome to talk to you as always, and I think we've managed to capture here in nearly an hour in our recorded time, just a fraction of the kinds of conversations that we've had in the last 10 years as we both been on kind of our own journey through education and pedagogy and practice, and trying to navigate the tension and all of those things. So, it's always awesome to check in on where you're at in your journey as well, so thanks for taking some time this afternoon.
0:48:41.1 BH: No, thank you for having me, this has been fun.
Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas by Seymour Papert (open access)
Review: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms by Nick Covington