Research in the Classroom

Christianne Loupelle, Science Teacher and Department Head in Science at Trafalgar School for Girls
Since 2017, Trafalgar School for Girls’ Secondary 1 science class and I have collaborated with Dr. Dawn Wiseman (Bishop’s University) and Dr. Limin Jao (McGill University) to explore and practice student-directed inquiry in STEAM. This educational research has sparked a range of questions from families, educators, and researchers alike. As Trafalgar works to develop the CoLab partnership with McGill University's Faculty of Education, I wanted to shed some light on what research in the classroom has looked like for me and my students so far.

We begin the inquiry project by asking students about their interests and how they might tie into the Secondary I science curriculum. Students then research these topics of interest, pitch their ideas to the class, and select one as the topic for the year. To date, the majority of our classes have chosen to pursue one topic as a larger group, with the themes varying widely:
  • 2017: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
  • 2018: Designing Community Spaces
  • 2019: Fast Fashion
  • 2020: Wildfires
  • 2021: Animal Rescue and Wellbeing
  • 2022: Escape Rooms

Once a topic is chosen, traditional roles in the classroom are reversed: students become the drivers of the pace and direction of the class and educators take a step back to facilitate the students’ learning. Throughout the year, we use large and small group discussions, student reflections, and interviews to gauge their learning, skill development, and the direction in which they want to move their projects. As this project has progressed, it has grown to include cross-disciplinary collaboration amongst Secondary I teachers and various experts from academic and professional communities.

Below, I will address some frequently asked questions about our research with the help of my students who have shared their own experiences.

1. What does research in a classroom look like?

One of the most common misconceptions about all research in classrooms is that it can only happen in the presence of a one-way mirror separating researchers and students; this could not be further from the truth. Though that observation model is useful and used in certain research settings, as seen in Figure 1 below, it is quite different from the more participatory and collaborative approach we have chosen to take in my classroom. Figure 2 below shows Ms. Wiseman as a part of the classroom, interacting and working with students in the Secondary I class. From the start of this partnership, Ms. Jao, Ms. Wiseman and their graduate students have worked alongside Trafalgar students and teachers to establish mutual trust and respect necessary for this level of collaboration. As a result, students see these researchers as additional educators in the classroom to help support their learning.

2. How do students feel about having researchers in the room with them?

“It felt like we (the students) were in charge and the McGill teachers were there just to guide our ideas and not force what they wanted to do on us.” – Lola, Sec. 4

“They were very kind and not intimidating.” – Rachel, Sec. 2

“It is really helpful having more teachers in the room to ask questions if you need it and you get the help faster because of the amount of teachers in the room.” – Olive, Sec. 1

2. How do students feel about participating in educational research?

“It was very fun and I’ve never heard of any of my friends at other schools doing something like it!” – Emily, Sec. 2

“I felt like I had a say in what I wanted to learn about.” – Eloïse, Sec. 1

“I find it fun because we get to choose what we do and it’s interesting to know we are helping with research.” – Jordyn, Sec. 1

4. What did your students learn from their inquiry projects?

“I learnt about how art and science fit together and how I can show my strengths while learning.” – Violet, Sec. 3

“I learned a lot about how to research and that's a great skill to have.” – Quinn, Sec. 1

“I learned that when you let students do their own project, it’s a fun way to learn and be creative. You also have a lot more freedom doing the project.” – Chloe, Sec. 1

As a teacher at Trafalgar, I feel that the continued success and student enthusiasm driving this research project on inquiry-based learning shows that the goals guiding the CoLab - collaborative partnerships, dynamic learning environments, and action-oriented research - are possible, and I look forward to continuing to bridge the gap between research and practice in the classroom.

Trafalgar School for Girls

3495 Simpson Street
Montreal, Quebec
H3G 2J7
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