Thompson Rivers University

Research equips teachers for pandemic challenges

October 1, 2020

Dr. Carol Rees, Associate Professor, Education
Students in Grady Sjokvist’s Grade 11 physics class created Rube Goldberg machines, and filmed their success. This incredible machine was created by Paige Grice.

An impressive team of TRU researchers is working together with Kamloops teachers on a federally funded project that aims to improve learning opportunities for students during a pandemic. 

Carol Rees, associate professor in the Faculty of Education and Social Work, has been awarded a $25,000 Partnership Engage Grant through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) COVID-19 Special Initiative program. She leads a team that includes TRU researchers Michelle Harrison, Naowarat Cheeptham and Christine Miller, as well as Grady Sjokvist, Elizabeth DeVries and Morgan Whitehouse from the Kamloops Thompson School District.

The project, announced last week by the Hon. Navdeep Bans, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, is an extension of research undertaken this spring in the midst of school closures due to the pandemic. Rees had been working with Sjokvist in his Grade 11 physics class, creating inquiry-based experiences for his NorKam Secondary students.

The Partnership Engaged Grants COVID-19 Special Initiative provides researchers and their partners a unique opportunity to foster knowledge exchange on COVID-19 crisis-related issues, challenges and impacts. More than $3 million was awarded nationally through this initiative, supporting 139 projects.

Grant enables partnerships

This grant has enabled greater collaboration between TRU and the Kamloops-Thompson School District, and a greater depth to the research team with the additional collaborators.

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced school closures in March, Rees and Sjokvist quickly developed projects students could complete at home. Students were provided with project kits to develop solar-powered cars and were also tasked with creating their own Rube Goldberg machines, which are highly elaborate systems set up to perform simple tasks. 

“When the student presented their final projects, we were just blown away,” said Rees. 

Inquiry-based learning explained

Sjokvist said he always tries to incorporate his students’ own interests into lessons, but working with them virtually created an opportunity to do so to an even greater extent.

“If the students are practicing their basketball shots, or if they’re playing with their dog, we can turn those moments into experiments that they can run at home,” he said.

So much of what students accomplished in the spring was made possible using technology available on their cellphones.

“With a bit of flexibility, and by using something that the students already have in their pockets, we can leverage those tools to develop quality experiments,” said Sjokvist.

Ensuring open access to knowledge

The goal of this new project is to ensure that all teachers and students benefit from the research. “Whatever we produce will be openly available to everyone. At the end we will create an open education resource to share with teachers immediately and for free,” said Rees.

Now schools are reopened and students and teachers are back in classrooms, but it is important to be ready and capable of adapting quickly in an emergency, she added.

“If another emergency hits, we are ready, and we can put this model into place. And even if you think of remote learning for students in small communities, this would work really well. 

“What we are doing is building curiosity into learning and giving students a choice in what they want to study. You make sure you are covering the curriculum but doing so in a way that is in alignment with their interests.”

Dr. Carol Rees, Associate Professor

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