My work as an interdisciplinary educator and scholar is driven by a passion to support teachers in co-creating learning experiences with their students that develop capacity in today’s youth to actively participate in the building of healthier, more sustainable and just communities. Increasingly, I see this work through an integrative lens across five central fields of study. These fields include: environmental and sustainability education (ESE), civics education, experiential education, youth studies (e.g., positive youth development) and social justice education. At the core of my interdisciplinary work across these fields is the concept of student/youth agency. To me, youth agency skills are life skills essential to the historical times in which we live.
My research interests focus on several overlapping areas:
- the importance of collaborative community engagement and youth-adult relationships in developing youth agency;
- pedagogical models that support youth in change-oriented learning and capacity building;
- the impact of experiential, nature-based learning on student well-being, student engagement, and student achievement;
- the linkages to addressing global sustainability challenges through changing behaviour, values, and civic capacity.
Below you will find a list of my current and past research projects, as well as my scholarly publications:
- Impacts of Nature-based Learning on Primary/Junior-aged Students—a regional study (Principal Investigator)
This is a multi-year study developed in partnership with the local Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and the Ottawa Forest and Nature School (OFNS), a regional program of the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada (CNAC). Currently, we are in year three of a four-year project that is examining the impacts of outdoor nature-based learning on primary/junior-aged students through the perspective of participating teachers. Two primary sites and nature-based programs within the district are being used in this study—OFNS and Regina St. Public School’s Mud Lake. The findings to date have already led to policy and procedural changes at the school board level, as well as to an interdisciplinary and inquiry-based professional development strategy for elementary teachers in the district on outdoor/nature-based learning. Findings from this study have also supported work on developing a district strategy on loose parts play, an accessible approach to outdoor experiential and nature-based learning that can take place in elementary schoolyards.
- To learn more about the Mud Lake Project, visit: http://www.themudlakeproject.ca/about.html
- To learn more about the Ottawa Forest and Nature School, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2tQQtNrM5A
- To learn more about Loose Parts Playground at Meadowland PS, visit: coming soon!
- Canada C3 – a national project and research initiative (Principal Investigator)
My second research initiative has grown out of my recent role as the Education Lead for Canada C3, an $8M signature project to celebrate Canada’s upcoming sesquicentennial year. Canada C3 is a journey of discovery and reconciliation that will celebrate the people and places that have shaped Canada’s identity and those who are shaping its future. The centerpiece is an epic 150-day sailing expedition from Toronto to Victoria via the Northwest Passage. En route, Canada C3 will explore Canada’s three oceans and the longest coastline of any country in the world, while celebrating Canada’s vibrant Indigenous and non-Indigenous coastal communities and cultures. As lead of the Canada C3 education program, I have developed strategic partnerships with a team of faculty members in Faculties of Education at 15 universities across the country to engage a cohort of their respective students in the design of learning modules, K-12 in scope, that are built around the central Canada C3 themes. These key themes include: reconciliation, diversity and inclusion, the environment and youth engagement. Students with the support of their professors will use an interdisciplinary-based approach, oriented towards the “big ideas” found across the various provincial and territorial curricula for each grade and subject, to create quality learning modules. In January-February 2017, these modules will be made available to teachers, students and schools across the country through our Canada C3 online education platform and disseminated through an extensive network of national and regional education partners already well established in Canadian schools.
Growing out of the Canada C3 project is situated a research inquiry that is bringing together researchers, teacher candidates and practitioners in the field (i.e., classroom teachers) to examine two aspects of the Canada C3 Education Program. First, how students (K-12) in Canadian schools are understanding and engaging with learning experiences that are aimed at the key Canada 150 themes of reconciliation and the environment. Second, what teaching competencies are perceived as critical in the designing and implementing of interdisciplinary learning experiences aimed particularly at primary/junior-aged students.
- To learn more about the Canada C3 project, visit: canadac3.ca
- Students on Ice—an International Study on the Impacts of Expeditionary Learning (Co-Principal Investigator)
My third research initiative is an international collaborative research project that I am co-leading. This project examines the impacts of expeditionary learning on the development of youth agency through the lens of the Students on Ice (SOI) experience. SOI is an organization that leads educational expeditions for youth to the Polar Regions. This study builds directly on my thirteen years of work with this organization, six years as the Education Director and the past seven years as the Chair of the Education Advisory Committee. Youth leadership development is a central aim of the program, along with interdisciplinary education connecting polar science with climate change, individual and community wellness, and cultural exchange. We ask: What pedagogical elements make the SOI experience unique in nurturing youth to engage in change (making)? This study involves the secondary use of data held by SOI regarding alumni (student and staff) program experiences from the years 2000-2016. We are generating a framework of the interconnected and catalyzing pedagogical elements that characterize the unique SOI experience. Greater documentation regarding how SOI goes about providing meaningful and distinct learning experiences for, and nurture agency amongst, youth is intended to grow and facilitate the potential for this educational program, and other comparable programs.
- To learn more about the Students on Ice program, visit: studentsonice.com
- Doing Democracy/Be the Change—A Civics Education Research Inquiry (Co-Investigator)
I have been an active team member since 2014 of Doing Democracy/Be the Change—a multi-year, collaborative research initiative, led by Professor Lorna MacLean, on civics education between the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, Elections Canada and the Encounters with Canada program based in Ottawa. Our research team supports teacher candidates in the faculty to develop and deliver civic education learning modules as part of a year-long community service learning project. The interactive lesson modules are delivered to approximately 1000 youth from across Canada who attend a week-long program at Encounters with Canada – Canada’s largest national youth civic education forum. The project is funded by Elections Canada as part of its outreach effort to encourage youth civic engagement and electoral participation. Future research will examine social and political issues important to Canadian youth and will identify ways to engage youth as citizens within the democratic process.
- To learn more about the Doing Democracy Project, visit: coming soon!
- Mobilizing a Global Citizenship Perspective with Educators (Project Manager/Co-Investigator)
From 2011-2013 I was the Project Manager of an innovative and collaborative research initiative between the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, the Ottawa-Carleton and Ottawa Catholic School Boards, and partnered community NGO’s that was funded by the ON Ministry of Education as part of the provincial wide Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research (KNAER) initiative. Under the umbrella of the Developing a Global Perspective for Educators (DGPE) research unit at the University of Ottawa, our KNAER project, titled “Mobilizing a Global Citizenship Perspective with Educators,” focused on knowledge mobilization of teaching and learning strategies that increase student and community engagement on social justice, global citizenship, and environmental sustainability issues. Professors, researchers, associate teachers, teacher candidates, school boards, and NGO’s, together in professional learning communities (PLC’s), examined and experientially explored evidence-based research and best practices, with an overall objective of building more effective bridges between.
- To learn more about this Global Citizenship Project for Educators, visit:
6. Exploring the Development of Student Agency from the Perspectives of Young Canadian Eco-Civic Leaders (PhD thesis)
My doctoral study investigated how Canadian youth, nationally recognized as eco- civic leaders, perceive their own sense of agency and their capacity to effect ‘change.’ More specifically, this study explored how these youth are interpreting change (i.e., attitudinal, behavioural, social, political, etc.), and what their perspectives reveal about the relationship between school and community-based environmental learning experiences and their capacity to make change in society.
For a link to my full PhD thesis, click here.
“I believe that educators must become students of the ecologically proficient mind and of the things that must be done to foster such minds. In time this will mean nothing less than the redesign of education itself.”
(David Orr, 2004, Earth in Mind)