Cynthia Nicol

Associate Professor

Relevant Degree Programs

 

Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.

 

Cynthia embraces kindness, patience, and positivity in her supervision style, and has a great understanding of the complexities that come into play in a grad student's career. In addition to her expertise and experience, she is immensely supportive. Such a great supervisor!

Aurelia Kinslow (2019)

 

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
(Un)Becoming teacher of school-based Aboriginal education : early career teachers, teacher identity, and Aboriginal education across institutions (2016)

This research explores the experiences and perceptions of nine Aboriginal and ally early career teachers (1-5 years experience) who have completed university coursework and/or extended professional development on the topic of Aboriginal education. The inquiry places focus on how targeted teacher education, and transitions into educational work settings, shape teacher identity and practice. Over an eight-month period, teachers participated in a series of three or four individual, semi-structured interviews on topics related to professional identity and engagement in Aboriginal education across institutions. Data fragments elicited from the research reveal ongoing, relational processes of momentarily occupying, exceeding, resisting, and/or reforming subject positions of teacher made available through discourse. The fragments are used to identify and trace significant forces that direct how participants become, and become undone as, teachers of school-based Aboriginal education. Analysis concentrates on four key relationships between teachers and sources of knowledge about Aboriginal education that formed, reinforced, and challenged teachers’ emerging professional identities and associated practices as they navigated Faculties of Education, schools, and areas between (e.g., teaching practicum). They include: (un)becoming teacher and a) school-based sources of Aboriginality, b) pedagogical pathways for Aboriginal education with/in teacher education, c) significant place, and d) supports used for engaging Aboriginal education. Contributions are made to the fields of teacher education, Aboriginal education, and decolonizing education and research. The research reveals the benefits and difficulties that coursework and professional development afford in preparing, and providing ongoing assistance to, teachers who foreground Aboriginal content and approaches. Learning from teachers’ processes, preparedness, and priorities enhances understanding about identity negotiation and movement of knowledge-practice across institutions. Further, theory building presents a decolonizing methodology for analyzing the construction of teacher identity that accounts for teachers’ complex and shifting positions beyond the binary opposition Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal. A decolonizing theory of (un)becoming teacher of Aboriginal education, alongside early career teachers’ recommendations to improve university and school-based Aboriginal education, hold potential to shift Aboriginal education research beyond a discourse of transformation/resistance. This opens space to reconfigure Aboriginal education and teacher education, as well as subject positions therein, to support the needs and prerogatives of Aboriginal students and communities.

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Learning to relate : an exploration of Indigenous Science Education (2016)

This dissertation shares the story of my research exploring the transformative possibilities of Indigenous Science Education for catalyzing the emergence of more equitable and sustainable ways of living. It is an educational response to humanitarian and ecological crises, and draws on the holistic frames of complexity and Indigenous knowledges to balance the dominance of the mechanistic worldview in which these crises are rooted, and that permeates school science. Weaving participatory action research and Indigenous research methodologies into an Indigenous Métissage, my research sought to decolonize and Indigenize school science, eventually focusing on sharing my own story of change and transformation. The research was conducted through four years of participation and relationship building in the local Indigenous education community in my hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, particularly through ceremony, and employed conversation and anecdotal narrative as primary methods. These experiences led me to suggest miskasowin, a Plains Cree term meaning “to find one’s centre,” as a goal of Indigenous Science Education, which I interpret as a process of “learning to relate,” fostering more relational worldviews and identities that connect us in multiple ways with the dynamic, living, patterns of nature. I describe my process of miskasowin as shaped by complexity and Indigenous knowledges and occurring through a “slow pedagogy of relations” that involved ceremony, story, land, and language, and that fostered a deeper sense of humility and reverence for life.

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Living mathematics education (2011)

This dissertation searches for possible sources of life in mathematics pedagogy. It is motivated by my observation that much of mathematics education of today is obstructed by inertia. We teach mathematics today using methods and educational philosophies that have changed little in decades of practice, and we generally avoid the harder question of why do it at all? I use Wilber’s (1995) integral theory, a broad metatheory of psychosocial development, to conceptualize life in general, and aspects of life in mathematics education in particular. Wilber’s epistemological framework, called AQAL, describes reality as manifesting in four quadrants – subjective, objective, intersubjective, and interobjective – and in multiple developmental levels. I use AQAL to examine what is revealed about life in mathematics education through these perspectival lenses. The dissertation studies evolutionary dimensions of five related phenomena in mathematics education: purposes of teaching and learning mathematics, human relations in mathematics classes, the subject matter of mathematics, teachers’ mathematical knowledge, and ecological sustainability. I connect the diverse evolutions of these phenomena to reveal extant developmental pathologies in mathematics education, such as the Platonic barrier and excessive objectification. Moving beyond critique, the synthesis gestures toward a new emergent pedagogy – living mathematics education – that evolves mathematics education past these pathologies. The new pedagogy is elaborated through the examples of an instructional unit on circles and the participatory research methodology of concept study. I provide specific suggestions how living mathematics pedagogy may be practiced through dialogical classes, a new purpose of healing the world, a curriculum of sustainability, a skillful blending of Platonic and non-Platonic mathematics, and an improvisatory disposition towards teaching.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Hidden curricula revealed : a case study of Dadaab refugee camp schools (2017)

Within the field of Curriculum studies, a large part of the research literature portrays schools as places where formal curriculum translates into learning experiences. However, some literature acknowledge the existence of ‘other’ curricula––unintended, hidden or inexplicit––which also influence teaching and learning activities within school contexts. While such research recognizes informal, hidden curricula at work, most findings reference Western contexts. Limited literature and understanding exist on the nature of hidden curricula across non-Western contexts. This research inquires into the existence of hidden curricula and influences within a refugee camp context, the case of Dadaab refugee camp in Northeastern Kenya. Dadaab refugee camp is the largest encampment in the world. Its formal curriculum is adopted from the host country, Kenya. I framed this case study within a social constructivist framework to investigate the question: What are hidden (unwritten) curricula revealed in how the teachers in Dadaab refugee camp schools interpret and implement the formal (written) curriculum? Framed as a case study, I collected data from interviews with teachers and students in schools within Dadaab refugee camp. I visited the schools and conducted semi-structured, individual face-to-face interviews with the participants. My limited observations of both classroom environments and school routines complemented the interviews. These observations became critical to framing the interview questions and particularly follow-up questions seeking clarification during interviews. Analysis of the data corpus revealed six key broad themes that describe hidden curricula within the schools’ learning contexts: 1) curriculum of trust and alliance; 2) curriculum of what is at stake; 3) curriculum of communal benefit; 4) curriculum and pedagogy of oppression; 5) curriculum of silence and conspiracy; and 6) curriculum of culture and religion. The findings offer significant insight into how hidden curricula operates, as unnamed, obscured and even invisible to teachers in their practice.

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Ideology in home economics education : a critical discourse analysis (2015)

Home economics education is facilitated in many nations, including Canada; and governed by the International Federation for Home Economics. The subject derives from a mission-oriented field (Brown & Paolucci, 1979) that seeks to empower families, individuals and the wellness of these units from within the units themselves. In the 1980s, American home economist, Marjorie Brown submitted that the ideological and philosophical intentions of the field were split since their outset (Brown, 1984; Vaines, 1981; 1984); as a result, there were ideological (mis)understandings among home economists that resulted with professional activity differing from subject intention (Brown, 1993). At a similar time in Canada, a home economics scholar at a Canadian university, Eleanore Vaines recommended ecology as a unifying theme for the field in order to reconnect the social justice and libertarian roots of the field, that were recorded in the Proceedings from the Lake Placid Conferences on Home Economics (held annually between 1899 and 1909), to modern reflective and wholistic professional practise. Similar ecological views for home economics were promoted across Canada and internationally (Bubolz & Sontag, 1988; Hook & Paolucci, 1970/1987; Smith, Peterat, & de Zwart, 2004; Vaines, 1994). I applied Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) to the current (2007) official British Columbian home economics curriculum, to determine if this philosophical underpinning for the field was evident, since such analyses could uncover the ideologies underlying curricular discourse and draw out their local relevance; this would be useful for informing pedagogies and future curricular rewrites. Micro- (text) and macro- (social) analyses revealed that neo-capitalist and neo-liberal ideologies dominated the semiotic structuring of the curriculum document. The presence of these ideologies promoted a social hierarchy in which the interests of current government were foregrounded over passive and subordinate construction of educators and students. Developing home economics curriculum through ecology as a unifying theme was found to be minimally supported and hindered by declarative language and a transmissive style of education that also contradicted possibilities for social justice and libertarianism. The conservative approach prevented transformative potentials among educators and students and reduced the personal obligation of these actors to safeguard wholism, equity and ecological health.

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Examining culturally responsive education in the context of an elementary school science unit (2010)

This study is a reflective examination of my practice as an educator in which I explore how aspects of culturally responsive curriculum and pedagogy are enacted in the classroom. Specifically, it is the story of how I endeavored to make sense of the pedagogical decisions and actions that I made while preparing and teaching a science unit in my grade two classroom. I examine the ways in which I held high expectations for each student, developed learning activities that were meaningful, relevant, useful and important to each student, valued and built upon the students’ strengths, incorporated community interests and social justice, and built reciprocal relationships with the students and their families. I also examine how my thinking and knowledge was enriched and deepened by the experience of intentionally taking up cultural responsiveness as something I wanted not only to enact, but also study. The main data source for this study was a research journal. Other sources of data included samples of newsletters, blog posts and instructional planning notes as well as a parent/guardian questionnaire, transcripts from a student feedback session and samples of student work. A detailed, thick description and analysis with direct quotations captures my own perspective and experience as a teacher, as well as that of my students and their families.

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Learning from inside : the perspective of Elders, teachers, math educators and mathematicians in the process of developing culturally responsive education (2010)

The math curriculum that Indigenous students receive is not culturally adequate, and there is no research to help understand the experiences of people that take the path to creating culturally relevant math lessons. Hence, this study researches the experiences of a collaborative group that developed culturally-based math lessons through a case study approach within an action research methodology. The literature explored is in the area of culturally responsive education (CRE) and models of curriculum development informed by Schwab, Freire and Cajete. The data was gathered through interview-conversations with participants, and the analysis results were developed through mind maps and diagrams that coded each interview-conversation, and also intertwined the dialogues. The analysis results contain the story of each participant’s experience and through these stories the discussions and conclusions were assembled. The findings and implications involve Elders and teachers when creating CRE lessons, develop a relational dimension of CRE curriculum/lesson development, find cultural catalyst content from which diverse lessons can be developed, and include philosophical underpinnings in CRE lessons.

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Investigating students' understandings of probability : a study of a grade 7 classroom (2008)

This research study probes students’ understandings of various aspects of probability in a 3-week Probability unit in a Grade 7 classroom. Informing this study are the perspectives of constructivism and sociocultural theory which underpin the contemporary reform in mathematicseducation as codified in the NCTM standards and orient much of the teaching and learning of mathematics in today’s classrooms. Elements of culturally responsive pedagogy were also adopted within the research design.The study was carried out in an urban school where I collaborated with the teacher and students as co-teacher and researcher. As the population of this school was predominantly Aboriginal, the lessons included discussion of the tradition and significance of Aboriginal games of chance and an activity based on one of these games. Data sources included the responses in the pre- and post-tests, fleidnotes of the lessons, and audiotapes of student interviews.The key findings of the study are that the students had some understanding of formalprobability theory with strongly-held persistent alternative thinking, some of which did not fit the informal conceptions of probability noted in the literature such as the outcome approach and the gambler’s fallacy. This has led to the proposal of a Personal Probability model in which the determination of a probability or a probability decision is a weighting of components such as experience, intuition and judgment, some normative thinicing, and personal choice, beliefs and attitudes. Though the alternative understandings were explored in interviews and resolved to some degree, the study finds that the probability understandings of students in this study are still fragile and inconsistent. Students demonstrated marked interest in tasks that combined mathematics, culture and community.This study presents evidence that the current prescribed learning outcomes in theelementary grades are too ambitious and best left to the higher grades. The difficulties in the teaching and learning of the subject induced by the nuances and challenges of the subject as well as the dearth of time that is needed for an adequate treatment further direct that instructional resources at this level be focused on deepening and strengthening the basic ideas.

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