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The U of C's research bug bites five-year-olds

November 21, 2006

Source: University of Calgary

You can never be too young to be curious, as University of Calgary graduate students discovered through their research in the classroom with elementary school children.

"We asked the children what they ‘wonder’ about certain topics covered in the school curriculum, such as weather," says Dr. Anne McKeough, professor in the U of C’s Faculty of Education Division of Applied Psychology.

"Throughout our study the children explored their ideas and questions — and became junior researchers in their own right as they too inquired and gathered more information on the topics they were curious about. They began to articulate their ideas and to understand they had theories of their own."

McKeough leads her graduate students in collaborative research focused on the cognitive development of children. A recently completed four-year study explored inquiry and its role in children’s literacy development and their understanding of the learning process. The research team worked alongside teachers and their students in kindergarten and Grade 1 classes in the Golden Hills School District.

Exploration leads to increased vocabulary, confidence and knowledge building The graduate students and teachers were equally engrossed with the research process as they identified the role of inquiry in helping the children to develop their vocabulary, gain confidence as learners, and understand how to build knowledge through questions and research. According to doctoral student Meadow Schroeder, children shared ideas in class and then took them home to their parents where learning became a family affair.

Funding for the project came from the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network (CLLRNet) of the

Network of Centres of Excellence (NCE), which fosters powerful partnerships between university, government and industry. The research findings will be integrated into the development of new teaching programs.

McKeough’s research into how children’s minds, language and literacy develop includes a study on early science knowledge with preschoolers. The research team included colleagues across departments at the

U of C and within other Canadian institutions. They analyzed commercially available science books targeted to small children. The team incorporated selected texts in their project within day-care centres and worked with the children to explore inheritability — helping them to identify those characteristics they inherited from their family. McKeough believes it is critical that children learn science as a process of discovery — not as a memorization of established facts.

"To participate in our culture now you have to understand scientific process and thinking," she says. "You need to be able to generate an informed opinion and understanding if you are to take a position — for example, to vote for elected officials based on your stance."

McKeough speaks frequently around the world and has contributed to the development of a comprehensive reading program called Open Court Reading, which is used throughout North America. She is currently collaborating with colleagues in Italy on children and adolescents’ use of narrative thought to interpret their social world.



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