Cynthia Nicol


Relevant Thesis-Based 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

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Exploring International Baccalaureate students' experiences of community-based learning : an interpretive case study (2023)

The province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica has had high rates of child poverty and school dropouts among elementary and secondary students. As a result, many children and youth in Guanacaste have not attended school regularly and/or not completed their education. In response, a group of educators along with local community organizations, collaborated to address those educational concerns. Their efforts led to building a new school and implementing the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program (DP) in Costa Rica. Graduation from an IB DP requires completion of a Creative, Action, Service (CAS) assignment that involves students developing community-based projects. This study examines the perspectives of IB DP Grade 11 and 12 students in Costa Rica regarding their experiences developing the required CAS project. The study’s research questions are: What shapes International Baccalaureate Diploma Program high school students’ selection of their community-based learning project? How do high school students develop connections to both the local and global communities through their experiences in community-based learning? What do students consider to be the benefits of their participation in community-based learning?Using an interpretive case study, data collected consisted of interviews with 16 participants during and following the completion of their community CAS project; students’ online journals, which showcased photos and write-ups of the students’ thoughts and reflections of their CAS experiences; and researcher observations and field notes. The four main findings about students’ perspectives of their CAS community-based project experience include identifying personal, family, and community influences of students’ project choice; building and maintaining community approaches for interconnectedness and intergenerational cooperation; strengthening cross-cultural appreciation; and developing important life skills and interpersonal skills. Contributions of this study include conceptualization of student-centered community-based learning, that includes various aspects such as student agency, decision-making, problem-solving, reflection, and student engagement with(in) the community.

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Kenyan national teachers teaching in schools in a long-term refugee camp : addressing education crisis in the refugee camp (2023)

Access to schooling for children and youth in long-term refugee is a right and necessity. Kenya is host to refugees living in Dadaab, one of world’s largest long-term refugee camps. Although there are trained and untrained refugee teachers working in Dadaab camp schools, among them, are non-refugees Kenyan nationally trained teachers. Very little is known about these teachers’ experience teaching in the complex context of a refugee camp. This study investigates and reports accounts conveyed in narratives of non-refugee Kenyan national teachers’ pedagogical perspectives and living experiences in Dadaab refugee camp. Nine Kenyan national teachers participated in this study. Principles of narrative methodology were applied to collect data, which involved in-depth and semi-structured interviews. The study employed an Afrocentric lens centering African humanistic philosophy of Utu/Ubuntu as a framework to read and better understand the teachers’ context and their stories. The study investigated the following questions: i) What are the Kenyan national teachers' narratives of teaching experiences and implied meanings, understandings of the relationship between education in refugee camps and host communities? ii) What aspects of the narratives are in concert or conflict with the Afrocentric value of Utu/Ubuntu (you are because I am; I am because you are)? iii) What implications might the study’s findings have on global conceptualization of refugee education? A summary of the key study findings indicate that national teachers: 1) considered Dadaab as a non-family zone and risky place; 2) perceived Dadaab as place steeped in cultural and religious complexities; 3) appreciated Dadaab schools for offering noble opportunities for instructional skill deployment, refinement and retooling expertise; 4) noticed the only educational incentives and scholarships slipping away due to students’ low academic performance, manifested in panic and depression among students; and 5) considered teaching as a humane act. These results provide deep insights into how non-refugee teachers experience teaching in a refugee camp and the implications for the ways educational issues need to be addressed within refugee camps from national teachers’ perspectives.

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Attending to relationship: a narrative inquiry into teachers' experiences with community and place in mathematics education (2022)

The purpose of this study is to explore the ways in which relationships that teachers build with community and place shape mathematics education. It takes place in the context of urban and culturally diverse elementary public-school classrooms. This study occurs at a time when teachers across Canada are engaging in conversations and exploring strategies to bring Indigenous perspectives into all school subject areas, including mathematics. This is a response to calls for appropriate action to address the devastating legacy of residential schools for Indigenous students. Narrative inquiry research methodology was used to inquire into the storied experiences of seven non-Indigenous teachers from a school district in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Data gathered in a series of meetings that spanned the school year included: audio recordings, my own field notes, photographs of shared teaching resources, and email correspondence. Data analysis included three phases: (1) co-composition with each teacher of an ‘Individual Narrative’ account of our meetings; (2) the identification of ‘Resonant Narrative Threads’ across all seven of the ‘Individual Narratives’; and (3) a re-reading of the teachers’ narratives within the context of broader institutional and popular dominant narratives with attention to teachers’ counter narratives. Findings illuminate how elementary school mathematics teachers negotiate the tension between institutional and popular notions of an abstract universalizing curriculum at three sites of questioning: (1) Who can do math? (2) What counts as math? and (3) How can we relate with place through math? Details of all of the teachers’ descriptions of their day-to-day practices share common themes of deeply considering what success in mathematics means, whose math they are modelling for their students, and the agency of place in their lessons. This study contributes to the field of culturally responsive mathematics education by specifically focusing on an urban and culturally diverse context and adds to discussions of socio-cultural values in mathematics education. Through privileging teachers’ voices this study contributes to recent research that foregrounds issues of agency and identity in mathematics education. Teachers’ shared narratives demonstrate specific strategies and issues for non-Indigenous teachers engaging with Indigenous perspectives in mathematics education.

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Forgotten need: exploring a sense of belonging with a local refugee community (2021)

This dissertation study explores a fundamental human need of belongingness, identified during the researcher’s immersion in a local refugee community in Vancouver, British Columbia. The purpose of this study was to collaboratively explore and understand the ways in which the community members conceptualized and experienced a sense of belonging in Canada. The use of a mixed qualitative methodology, Participatory Critical Incident Technique (PaCIT), and the Photovoice method engaged the community members as participant researchers (PRs) in processes of transformative social change and knowledge creation. To begin with, this community-university engagement research project involved two years of building relationships, developing research questions, and planning the research project with the community leaders and members. For data collection, analysis, and validation, over the course of one year, a team of 15 PRs and the primary researcher held research meetings to engage in group discussions about markers and indicators of a sense of belonging, factors and processes that facilitated or hindered the experiences of a sense of belonging in Canada, and reasons or goals for participating in the project. The final step involved planning for actions and dissemination of findings.A thematic and Enhanced CIT analysis of the data revealed six categories of Social Connection and Interaction, Helping Others, Cultural Identity and Values, Positive Mindset, Status and Rights, and English Language Proficiency. The outcomes of this study include PRs’ enhanced sense of belonging and agency, a publication of a Photovoice booklet to share their knowledge with a larger audience, and the formation of social circles for the community. Findings contribute to the emerging refugee literature as a doctoral dissertation grounded in community partnerships and provide a framework with specific examples to inform policies and practices that facilitate refugee settlement by addressing the fundamental human need to belong.

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Tertiary mathematics and content connections in the development of mathematical knowledge for teaching (2020)

Emphasis on the importance of subject matter expertise in teaching secondary mathematics is found in the research literature and in policy. In the United States, for instance, the No Child Left Behind Act, calls for secondary teachers to be certified in a subject specialization. In Canada, admission to secondary teacher education programs requires extensive subject-specific university coursework. However, it is unclear if or how extensive subject matter expertise impacts the practices of teachers in a secondary classroom.This study aims to explore how advanced coursework in mathematics, beyond the scope of the high school curriculum, impacts the ways prospective teachers understand and teach secondary content. Using a qualitative case study methodology, five prospective secondary mathematics teachers participated, with data obtained through document analysis and semi-structured task-based interviews. Participants engaged with classroom-relevant tasks and were explicitly asked how they could draw upon advanced mathematics to inform their teaching. Participants also detailed their perceptions of the role advanced mathematics plays in their development as teachers.Results from this study reveal that participants saw little value in the content of advanced mathematics to their teaching, but expressed value towards the beliefs and values gained through advanced mathematics, such as problem solving and rigour. Some participants demonstrated misconceptions at the secondary level, which had direct connections to content from their post-secondary mathematics coursework. For example, all participants made the false claim that a real-valued polynomial can be factored if and only if it has a root.Results extend the literature through rich empirical data which illuminates how prospective secondary mathematics teachers perceive and use advanced mathematics in understanding the secondary curriculum. While participants held content knowledge beyond the secondary curriculum, this knowledge was not integrated in a way that impacted their understanding of secondary mathematics. An understanding of post-secondary mathematics has the potential to be of value to secondary teachers in the classroom, but this potential needs a space to be unlocked. I argue that mathematicians and teacher educators need to work together to build opportunities for prospective teachers to build connections between the mathematics they know and the mathematics they need to teach.

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The world pattern of process (2019)

The World Pattern of Process, a holistic 'theory of everything' is based on four elements of existence (material, vegetal, animal and human — MVAH) and four stages of process (Zat, Sifat, Asma, Af’al — ZSAA) or Idea-Condition-Action-Result. The four stages modeled by the World Pattern are: Zat: power, pure potential, essence, existence, force, energy, concept, seed Sifat: condition, attributes or qualities, nature, being, form, container Asma: work, deed, action, course or step taken. Af'al: evidence, proof, reality, truth, result, outcomeThe process components, underscored in the framework above, can be used to gain new insights into the work of the Humanities and the Sciences. I have elaborated The World Pattern of Process, also a cosmology, in two parts. Part One outlines the World Pattern and explains how basic structures posited in the sciences and humanities are connected to a four-fold, cosmological World Pattern of Process. Part 2 discusses how correlations between disciplines and the World Pattern can be shown to support a Grand Pattern when applied to Indigenous world views, to the Great Chain of Being and to Theories of Everything.The methods of investigation are through conceptual analysis and intuitive inquiry, which follows a cycle of interpretation: 1) general engagement with the theory is described in relation to the work of Pope (2007), Whitehead (1978), Jantsch (1980), Bohm (1981), Pirsig (1991), and Schooler, Hunt & Schooler (2011); 2) emerging patterns are identified through elaboration of the World Pattern; 3) descriptive analyses of data associated with the World Pattern of Process (theories of everything, Indigenous world views, and the Great Chain of Being) are presented; and 4) the analysis of selected texts is summarized in Conclusions and Implications.In sum, the constituents of the World Pattern of Process hypothesize a new critical approach and perspective on possibilities for the analysis and integration of various disciplines and applications, cosmologies, theories of everything, and Indigenous world views. Based on energy, the motion of energy, and key patterns inherent in a four-fold process, the World Pattern of Process offers a holistic approach to knowledge systems and re-invigorates dialectics on human be-ing.

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(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

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

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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