Monday, November 12, 2012

Bitten by the Research Bug

While I was at last week's People For Education conference, I had the chance to speak with one of the most upbeat people in their organization - the incredible Gay Stephenson. I met Gay several times in the past. One of our lengthier encounters was while she was working on the Queens University / People For Education / Ontario Library Association study on "Exemplary School Libraries in Ontario". This 2009 study was the first research study that I read because I was genuinely interested and not because it was a course requirement. In fact, it was influential in my Masters of Education capping paper on The Factors that Support the Development of Exemplary School Library Programs with the University of Alberta's Teacher-Librarianship via Distance Learning program.

I finished my M.Ed. in 2010 but I still craved something more - I had been bitten by the research bug. The original topic I wanted to pursue for my final M.Ed. task was impossible to investigate because there was an insufficient amount of research done on the topic. Thanks to conversations with Dr. Elizabeth Lee, she helped me to formulate a potential research question. With further assistance and support from Dr. Marie-Claire Shananhan, Dr. Lee, JoAnne Gibson, and the wonderful folks at the Ontario Library Association, I created my data tool and conducted a survey. It took five months to get the survey questions just right! Now I am indebted to Dr. Bozena White as she analyzes the data to help me understand my findings. I've had to "take a pause" at this point to look for some external funding - my husband is very tolerant, but he began to get concerned when he learned that I planned on paying for the research analysis out of my own personal funds!

My love affair with academic research is not limited to my own study. Last year I answered questions for Stephen Smith for his research project on "Graphic Novels in the Ontario Social Studies Curriculum" written for his Research Methods Summer 2011 at Canisius College for the Masters of Education program. In 2011, I was a case study for Leo L. Cao's study called "Serious Play: An exploratory multiple-case study on the emerging practice of appropriating digital games for academic learning" for the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. (I wasn't so keen on the title or the idea of "appropriating", but it wasn't my study.) I've written academic papers a couple of times for Robert G. Weiner, an associate humanities and sequential art librarian for Texas Tech University. This year, I am delighted to be involved in two projects ... actually, both are still in the formative stage of things, so I can't say too much right now but I'm very excited to be possibly involved.

The wonderful thing I discovered recently is that my staff doesn't look at me like a freak when I get passionate about research. My inquiry topic with my primary division students focuses on control; their questions are "what is control?" "what can I control?" and "how can I keep control?". This links to the learning skill of self-regulation on our report cards. There's been a surge in interest on this topic and while reading about it, I heard about the Stanford University "marshmallow experiment". I decided that as one of my lessons, I'd recreate a version of this experiment to see what occured. I have three kindergarten classes in my school and the results were very interesting.

  • The first class had 4 students that ate the one candy instead of waiting
  • The second class had 0 students that ate the one candy instead of waiting
  • The third class had 7 students that ate the one candy instead of waiting
I shared the results with the kindergarten teachers and it lead to some very rich discussion. Some of our discussions centered on individual students - the class teacher tried to guess who ate the single candy and it was interesting to see how accurate the guesses were to the results. Some of our discussions examined the other factors that may have come into play based on the way I administered the experiment, such as peer pressure or influence and challenges involving English Language Learners. The original study has suggested that if the child has trust in the adult to follow through with promises, they are more likely to wait and wait longer; this was shown with a "pre-task" involving crayons to use prior to the candy portion of the task. In the real research experiment, the child was alone; in my version, the students were sitting at desks but near each other (and in one class I could hear a child telling another not to eat the candy yet). I'm tempted to repeat the experiment, to see if those factors that skew results can be reduced and to see if we can teach delayed gratification (or "the big C" as my students like to call self-control). Assessment is like action research - do some investigating, examine the results and contemplate some next steps. I'll let you know how these various projects go in the future.

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