Sunday, March 29, 2015

M.Ed. CAPSTONE: My Journey as a Researcher

Program Goal:
2. Engage in the analysis and dissemination of education-related research.

“Theory and practice are inseparable in doing qualitative research. As we have shown, researchers generate theory from their data through a complex process of warranting their claims.” 
(Freeman et al., 2007, p. 29) 

“Determining why some high-ability students demonstrate low levels of achievement is difficult because underachievement occurs for many different reasons. However, practitioners must explore the causes of students’ underachievement if they plan to help these children.” 
(Reis & McCoach, 2002, p. 115) 

Twice-Exceptional Learners' Perspectives on Effective Learning Strategies 
“The most preferred strategies included choice/flexibility in learning, assessment, and pace; using compensatory strategies and strengths to circumvent weaknesses; and collaborating in specific ways. The strategies indicated as beneficial by both the quantitative and qualitative findings are consistent with those found in the literature;”


“Our results indicate that preschool-age children still have difficulties with a very simplified mental rotation task that was designed to put as few demands on working memory, attention span, and verbal comprehension as possible.” 
(Frick et al., 2013, p. 125) 

Children’s Spatial Ability: Exploring Individual Differences 
“Our findings suggest that IQ and quantitative reasoning contribute to visual-spatial ability. The results suggest an even greater need to emphasize visual-spatial learning in mathematics curriculum given these results and its highly malleable nature.”


Put quite simply, the role of a researcher is to ask questions in order to investigate and learn more something. With limited experience conducting formal educational research, this is a skill set I sought to develop as a Master of Education candidate. Finding and reviewing literature in the area of interest, posing research questions, using qualitative and quantitative research methods to collect and analyze data, and interpreting this data in meaningful ways; each of these tasks is challenging in its own way, yet essential to the research process. One research question often leads to new inquiries showing how research is iterative and reflective in nature. Through my experiences on two research studies, I have demonstrated my ability to analyze and disseminate research, fulfilling Program Goal 2.

My first formal experience conducting educational research occurred when I assisted Dr. Willard-Holt with a qualitative study on twice-exceptional students. I was involved with many aspects of the study from beginning to end which helped me better understand the complete research process. My initial contributions included completing REB forms and assisting with the review of literature. I became familiar with performing targeted searches using databases and highlighting keys ideas that align with those essential to the current study. After completing the review of literature we developed a survey to better understand which strategies ‘twice-exceptional’ students find of benefit to their learning. Later in the research process I had the fortunate opportunity to be a part of an interview with a participant. Transcribing this interview and extracting themes as they emerged helped me develop qualitative data analysis abilities. This study was submitted to Gifted Child Quarterly and after a few revisions was published.

I have always had an interest in mathematics education, fascinated by the developmental aspects of math abilities and how they relate to teaching methods. To my great benefit, Dr. Kotsopoulos invited me to assist with a study on visual spatial processing in young children. We distributed consent forms to the kindergarten students at the elementary school where I work, and enlisted approximately 60 participants. I experienced the tedious task of recruiting participants, collecting forms and questionnaires, and organizing information. We utilized an iPad app to collect data about each student’s mental rotation abilities as well as the Stanford Binet 5 for Young Children. After data collection, I was familiarized with statistical analysis by observing and experimenting with various tests. We found that IQ and quantitative reasoning are linked with visual-spatial processing. We are currently in the process of submitting this study to Psychology of Math Education North America (PMENA).

Through my participation in these studies, I not only honed my research skills, but also uncovered valuable information about childhood development and learning. Administering the SB5 was pivotal. So often as educators we are presented with reports including terminology such as working memory, visual-spatial processing, and reasoning. I am familiar with concrete tasks related to these terms and how they impact student learning and development. As a primary educator, I am much more confident and competent in providing targeted strategies to assist students with special needs. As well, I presented my findings based on the SB5 at a division meeting to help others understand how factors such as working memory impact student learning.

I have come to know that educators assume the role of researchers in many ways. We engage in inquiries about student learning, collect data, and interpret the data to make decisions and define results. This process is informal and cyclical. Taking a research stance as an educator has great benefits in the classroom. This stance requires us to think critically about our practice, ask questions, try new strategies, and embrace failure. Modelling this mindset for students, owning our successes and failures, is a powerful tool. Now that I have conducted formal educational research, I hope to delve into more informal action research projects in my classroom. Questions posed in previous studies have led me to new wonderings. With the skill set I have developed by my participation on these studies, I believe I can become a lead learner in this area. My hope is that this may highlight for others the iterative nature of inquiry and the benefits of adopting a research stance.

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