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Teachers as Action Researchers in the Calgary Science School

-by Dr. Garry McKinnon, Superintendent

The Calgary Science School Board of Directors in setting the direction for the school for the 2011-2012 school year, adopted a strategic plan with four key strategies, one of which involves fostering research initiatives and building research capacity to inform teaching practices for the benefit of students. This strategic goal is in keeping with the Alberta Education research and innovation mandate for charter schools. To support the achievement of this goal, the board established a Research and Innovation fund which makes provision for teachers to access $2000 to undertake an action research project or to implement an innovative teaching practice, which is supportive of the school charter, strategic plan and the Calgary Science School descriptors of Exemplary Teaching and Learning.

The fund recognizes that research informs teaching practice and teaching informs research. The Board believes it is important to provide the teaching staff opportunities to conduct action research and/or develop innovative teaching practices. The fund is intended to support and promote a strong culture of research and innovation in the school, where teachers are encouraged to be researchers and innovators and to demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit in collaboration with their students and peers. As well, consistent with the Calgary Science School focus on the science of learning and making meaning through inquiry, teachers seek opportunities to engage their students as researchers.

A Research and Innovation Committee with representation of the Board of Directors and school leadership team was established to review and approve proposals which meet the guidelines. Submissions are accepted on a monthly basis throughout the school year. The basic criteria is that proposals reflect one or more of the Calgary Science School descriptors of exemplary teaching and learning and demonstrate the potential for benefiting teachers and students within the school and beyond. Teachers are encouraged to make provision whenever possible to involve colleagues, students and parents. Teachers are able to work individually or as teams. Provision must be made in each proposal for sharing key findings and highlights from the project within the school and with other schools through such things as blogging, presentations (at professional conferences or webinars), information sharing on the school website and the completion of a project report as prescribed by the Research and Innovation committee.

The response through the teacher Research and Innovation project proposals has exceeded all expectations and the quality of the projects is noteworthy. Eleven project proposals have been approved and each month there are new proposals to be considered by the committee. The members of the Research and Innovation committee facilitate monthly project dialogue sessions which provide an opportunity for the teachers to provide an update on their projects and to benefit from questions and suggestions from their colleagues and the committee.

To date, the focus of the projects approved includes: collaboration as a framework for success; the impact of learning coaches on teaching practices; the curricular potential of integrated digital inquiry resources; enacting ethical citizenship within an inquiry-based context; developing an implementation guide for inquiry; parent and community engagement and growing meaningful connections; the power of collaboration to transform teaching and learning; recorded conversational assessment and its impact on student (and parent) understanding in physical education; improving student problem-solving strategies; the use of iPads to enhance learning and teaching and Inquiry-based Leadership: a new frontier.

We invite readers of the teacher and student blogs in the Calgary Science School Connect to learn more about these Research and Innovation projects and to participate in this exciting initiative by sharing feedback and suggestions.

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