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Research

Current Research Projects

2019 – 2026 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Grant

Project Director: Dr. Carla L. Peck, University of Alberta

Thinking Historically for Canada’s Future

When history education in Canada was first designed at the end of the nineteenth century, it was part of a nation-building project shaped by competing interests of Anglophone Canada and Francophone Québec. Indigenous peoples and their histories were completely omitted, marginalized, or expressed through settler perspectives. In contemporary Canada, characterized by ethnocultural diversity and efforts to usher in an era of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, the nation-building purpose of history education no longer holds. The political, social, and cultural complexities we face demand a critical grounding in the past and make history education indispensable. Sophisticated historical thinking requires well-developed facility with the concepts and processes of history, and having students actively construct and understand the past rather than passively receive prepackaged versions of it. Although history and social studies curricula in Canada have been influenced by developments in historical thinking research, we do not know how this research has influenced pedagogy, student learning, assessment, and resources. If Canada is to protect, maintain, and grow its status as a healthy democracy, it requires a well-educated, engaged citizenry with the capacity to engage in critical study of the past. The capacity to “think historically,” which involves both knowing and doing history, helps students make connections between the past and the present and is transferable knowledge that is crucial in a time of “fake news.” Thus, this partnership proposes to conduct a long-overdue, Canada-wide investigation of the state of history education.

The overall goals and objectives of the proposed partnership are to nurture a community of interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral inquiry among academic historians, researchers based in faculties of education, Indigenous scholars, graduate students, educators in museums, archives, and historic sites, and practicing teachers to (1) map the terrain of history education in K–12; (2) ascertain to what extent history and social studies teaching helps students engage with the key issues or problems facing Canadian society today; (3) identify and develop evidenced-based practices in history teaching, learning, assessment, and resource development, and evaluate their efficacy in providing powerful and engaging learning experiences for students, particularly in terms of building trans-systemic understanding across knowledge systems; (4) with pre- and in-service teachers, cultivate communities of practice that are grounded in theoretical and empirical research on history education pedagogy to promote engaged and critical historical thinking; and (5) using findings that emerge from the research, make evidence-based policy recommendations for history curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment through proactive connections with ministries of education, faculties of education, museum educators, Indigenous organizations and stakeholders, publishers, other curriculum developers, and practicing teachers.

The partnership will bring together various constituencies involved in history education including academic historians, history education scholars working in faculties of education, Indigenous scholars, graduate students and highly qualified personnel (HQPs), museum educators, teachers, ministries of education, policy makers, and local, provincial and national history and heritage organizations. The partners will be meaningfully engaged in all aspects of the project, from conceptualizing and conducting research to knowledge mobilization and providing effective training of students and HQPs.

Completed Research Projects

2010 – 2014 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Standard Research Grant

Teachers’ and Students’ Understandings of Ethnic Diversity: Implications for Multicultural Education in Canada

Principal Investigator: Dr. Carla L. Peck, University of Alberta

Co-Investigators: Dr. Reva Joshee, University of Toronto; Dr. Alan Sears, University of New Brunswick; Dr. Laura Thompson, Acadia University

The purpose of our proposed program of work is to provide a rich portrayal of how teachers and students in four provinces (Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) understand the concept of ethnic diversity. Specifically, the proposed research will enable us to: (1) Delineate conceptions of ethnic diversity inherent in educational policy and curriculum documents in Canada; (2) Map the qualitatively different ways in which teachers and students understand ethnic diversity; (3) Provide an assessment of the relationship between teachers’ and students’ conceptions of ethnic diversity and the conceptions outlined in policy and curricular documents; and (4) Theorize the nature of this relationship by contextualizing the data within a “web of interrelated, ongoing policies” (Joshee & Johnson, 2007, p. 6) that influence multicultural education in Canada.

The scholarly contributions of this work are threefold: 1) It will enable a more nuanced understanding of the conceptions of ethnic diversity held by teachers and students in four provinces; (2) It will add to the growing body of scholarship on constructivist theories regarding the role of prior knowledge in new learning and our own smaller studies mapping students’ understandings of ethnic diversity (Peck & Sears, 2005; Peck, Sears, & Donaldson, 2008); (3) It will shed light on teachers’ understandings of ethnic diversity, which, until now, has not been studied. This is crucial because teachers are responsible for interpreting and teaching curricular outcomes related to ethnic diversity.

2007 – 2011 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Standard Research Grant

Youth and Democratic Participation in Canada and Australia

Principal Investigator: Dr. Alan Sears, University of New Brunswick

Co-Investigators: Dr. Carla L. Peck, University of Alberta; Dr. Ottilia Chareka, St. Francis-Xavier University; Dr. Andrew S. Hughes, University of New Brunswick

Collaborator: Dr. Murray Print, University of Syndey (Australia)

The purpose of this research is to provide a rich portrayal of how Canadian students in two regions of Canada (Alberta and the Maritimes) engage with and in democratic participation and to compare that engagement with an analogous population in Australia. Specific components of the research will: 1. Delineate of the conceptions of democratic participation inherent in policy and curriculum documents in Australia and Canada and set them in the context of theoretical conceptions of democratic participation; 2. Describe the experience and intentions related to democratic participation of a diverse sample of senior high school students in two regions of Canada and provide a comparison of these to similar findings with regard to youth in Australia; 3. Map the qualitatively different ways the Canadian students understand democratic participation; and 4. Provide an assessment of the relationship between students’ conceptions of and experience with democratic participation and expectations set for them in policy and curricula.  The comparative portion of the work will help deepen our understanding of the interaction among educational policy, political engagement and youth in Canada.  While the international transfer or borrowing of educational policies and practices has a very poor track record, there is considerable evidence that international collaboration in education can often enhance policy and practice.

Benchmarks of Historical Thinking: From Theory to Practice

Principal Investigator: Dr. Carla Peck, University of Alberta

The main objective of this research project is to investigate the effectiveness of an Alberta-based Benchmarks of Historical Thinking Project, an established program of sustained professional development, on teachers’ teaching, and students’ learning, of Canadian history. The findings from this research will inform a major research funding application (SSHRC) in 2010.

The Benchmarks of Historical Thinking Project was initially launched in four provinces (NB, ON, MB and BC) and in 2008 it was expanded to Alberta. The Project focuses on six Historical Thinking Concepts (HTC) to frame the development of lesson plans and student assessment tasks using topics, themes, events and people from Canadian history as they appear in current provincial social studies curricula: primary source evidence, historical significance, continuity and change, cause and consequence, historical perspective-taking, and the moral dimension of history. I helped Dr. Peter Seixas launch the project both nationally and in the Vancouver area, and am currently directing the Benchmarks Project in Alberta.

In the 2008 – 2009 school year I launched two “Benchmarks of Historical Thinking Working Groups” in Alberta, in partnership with the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium (ERLC) and the Calgary Regional Consortium (CRC). The working groups consists of 31, grades 1 – 12 teachers who have expressed a keen interest in learning more about historical thinking and how to build their students’ capacity to think historically. Twelve teachers in the CRC and nineteen teachers in the ERLC are involved. With a new Program of Studies for Social Studies in Alberta that includes an explicit focus on historical thinking skills, this seemed like the ideal time to launch such a project.

The professional development model used to implement this project consisted of five professional development days over the course of the school year, during which time teachers learned about historical thinking concepts and collaborated on the development of student tasks, or lesson plans, including assessment tools that assess students’ understanding of, and competency in, historical thinking concepts. Five professional development days were held in Edmonton and five were held in Calgary. Throughout the year, teachers working on the project tried out their Benchmarks lesson plan ideas with their students and adapted/modified/improved the lesson plan and assessment tools as needed. I am currently in year two of the project. Many of teachers from Year One of the project chose to come back for Year Two.

The next critical step involves an investigation into the effectiveness of the project.  While the project, in and of itself is exciting and highly valued by teachers and the Learning Consortia involved, excitement is not enough to sustain interest and Consortia funding. At this juncture, research that investigates the effectiveness of this programme of professional development on participants’ teaching, and student learning of history is necessary. van Hover (2008) notes that “very few systematic studies investigate the impact of [such] workshops, institutes and curricular training on teachers’ classroom instruction or on student achievement” (p. 359). The purpose of this research will be to engage in a small-scale, systematic investigation of the effectiveness of the Benchmarks of Historical Thinking Project with Alberta teachers. This project will inform a SSHRC proposal, in which a large-scale investigation of the national Benchmarks Project will be proposed.

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