Order of Operations

This post comes to us compliments of Melissa Corrente. Melissa is a part-time instructor of Health and Physical Education studies at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University, North Bay. We’d like to thank Melissa for her wonderful piece that advocates for balance and family while reinforcing the importance of persevering through academic work. 

I recently read a journal article titled Striving to Obtain a School-Work-Life Balance: The Full-Time Doctoral Student (Martinez, Ordu, Sala & McFarlane, 2013). Five full-time doctoral students were interviewed to explore their experiences, and four themes emerged from the data. Martinez et al. (2013) found that doctoral students strived to achieve a school-work-life balance by purposefully managing their time, seeking well-being, finding support, and making trade-offs. There was one participant who discussed the order of operations in the doc life which made me reflect on my own order of operations. I was never the greatest math student; however, I do remember learning about BEDMAS (brackets, exponents, division, multiplication, addition, and subtraction) in public school. Upon searching the internet I was surprised to find they use a new acronym now which you can see below.

Upon reflecting on the priorities in my life I came up with the acronym SMHPT (son, me, husband, PhD, teaching) to represent my current situation.

My son will be two years old in April, and he is my first priority. After my son, I take good care of myself which includes eating healthy, exercising on a regular basis, and socializing with friends. My husband and our relationship are also important, so we recently had a weekend getaway to recharge our batteries and enjoy the great outdoors. After taking care of my family, the PhD is the next order of operation, because I am currently working on my research proposal.

Order of Operations 1

It is my goal to finish the research proposal before baby #2 arrives in two months! At this point I will be switching my priorities and the baby will move to the beginning of the equation. Teaching was a priority for me last term, however this term my focus has changed to research. I do miss being in the classroom, however I am at peace with my decision.

I think it is important to remind ourselves that priorities change and our order of operations one day may not serve us the next day. I encourage you to explore the current order of operations in your own life. Are they serving you or do you need to make a few changes? I have found that managing my priorities on a day to day basis has served me well.

The Martinez et al. (2013) article also discusses how graduate students carry various competing roles. I try to see the roles in my life as complementing each other because I learn from each one and they inform who I am as a parent, scholar, and educator. As you experience the graduate journey think about how the various roles in your life complement each other. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need support as I have learned that asking for help is a necessary part of the graduate school adventure!

Melissa Corrente

Order of Operations 2 



Martinze, E., Ordu, C., Sala, M. R. Della, & McFarlane, A. (2013). Striving to obtain a school-work-life balance: The full-time doctoral student. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 8, 39–59.

Welcome to the 2015/2016 year in the School of Graduate Studies at the Schulich School of Education, Nipissing University!

If you are just beginning this journey with us, we are so thrilled to have you as a colleague. I’m confident you’ll find our online program to be comprehensive, challenging, and responsive to your needs. If you are continuing with your studies and are beginning a new term of research or coursework, I hope you’re as excited as I am for another year of learning, growth, and opportunity.

Make no mistake; graduate level studies are designed to prod, provoke, and problematize your thinking, which frequently leads to temporary periods of discomfort and discontentment. However, rest assured that it’s worthy work, and that you are not alone throughout this rewarding process. Though we may be separated by geographic distance, know that your classmates and professors are only an email, phone call, or Skype away. We are all in this together; never feel afraid to reach out for support.

Over the past year, my colleagues and I have wrestled with Impostor Syndrome, attended conferences, gone through the process of thesis approval, engaged in field research, attended group research discussions, built critical friendships, and balanced the demands of coursework with our familial, professional, and personal obligations. Through all of this experiential learning, I can reflect upon my first year in the program, and offer a few tips for success that I’ve clumsily accumulated by stumbling through the challenges presented by the rigours of my chosen route.

If you have anything to add to this list, please feel free to do so in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

  1. The Medium is the Message, and the Process is the Product

Paying homage to Marshall McLuhan’s theory, the process of graduate work is simultaneous a process, and a product. In other words, it’s the journey, not the destination. The process through which you go through your studies and research work is also an incubator for complementary skills that will be essential to your long-term development; time management, academic writing, reflection, resilience, adaptability, and criticality. The medium (the route your graduate work takes) and how you engage with it will ultimately shape your message.

What does this mean?

Be kind to yourself: mistakes are a necessary part of the process, inherent to your experience. I’m currently listening to transcripts of when I was out in the field researching, and sometimes I cringe at mistakes that I make. Congratulate yourself for being brave enough to go outside of your comfort zone, take the lesson you need from the mistake, and move on.

Another tip? Experimentation. Play around with your scheduling (as best you can), figure out your peak reading and writing times through trial and error, and be willing to try again. It’s taken me a year to make peace with my own internal clock, but now I can be much more responsive to my state of mind and energy levels. When I first started and was focused on coursework, I’d be on the discussion boards from 7am- 11am, and again from 7pm-9pm, to respond to what had been said during the day. That worked really well for me. However, I had to completely shift this schedule when I started working on my thesis. If you’re working full time, you may not have as much of an option, but you may find that waking up at 5am to complete your work for the day is preferable to beginning your work at 6pm. Trial and error, friends…trial and error.

Reflect: do frequent check-ins with yourself. Due dates coming up? Research proposal coming down the pipeline? Neglecting any other areas of your wellbeing? Any “aha!” moments? Write in a journal, go for a long walk or run, and allow yourself the time and space to reflect on your work.

  1. Chose your route as soon as you can

We have many posts on the three routes and the differences between the three, but knowing from the get-go what my path was helped me to hit the ground running. See this post for more information about each route. Start a conversation with your Faculty Advisor as soon as you’re able so that you can feel confident moving forward, even if you chose to focus solely on coursework and the research project and seminar. Knowing from the star that I wanted to do a thesis helped me make decisions, keep an eye out for opportunities, and tailor my coursework so that I could incorporate the research I performed for class credit into my thesis. I basically just had to tweak my research proposal from Research Methods in order to be approved for thesis, while keeping a copy of my ethics paperwork printed and by my side to complete them all simultaneously. Work smarter, not harder.

  1. Recognize your distractions

I’m a news junky, and am frequently on Facebook to see what headlines come up on the various news sources that I like and follow. As a result, I’ve had to install blocker software onto my computer to prevent me from accessing both it and YouTube. I use Self Control, it’s free and has helped me more than I’d like to admit.

Just this past month, I realized that I could get distracted by random thoughts and ideas that floated through my head (movie titles, a book that I just remembered that I had wanted to read at some point, I wonder what ever happened in season 6 of The Vampire Diaries…etc.) and suddenly I’d look at the clock and I’d been on Wikipedia for an hour. So I created my official Distraction Journal (it’s an orange moleskin). When I’m working and I get a thought that is starting to itch, I just write it down, so it knows that I’ll get to it when I’m done my work. Then it can stop bugging me and I can keep writing. It’s a simple fix, but it’s very effective.

Image credit: xkcd

Image credit: xkcd

  1. Back. It. Up.

This past October, I spilled a travel mug of tea all over my keyboard of my Mac, which then proceeded to turn itself on and off, until it turned itself off and was unresponsive. I put it in rice, and brought it into tech services, who were fortunately able to resuscitate my poor baby. Since then, I’ve been backing up my hard drive once or twice a week. All of my important documents are additionally backed up on Google Drive.

Back it up. Then back it up again. Have you backed it up yet?

  1. Be present

Physically, this might be a challenge, depending on where you’re studying from. But our bi-weekly graduate meetings offer a Skype option. If the timing doesn’t work for you, try writing a post for the blog, or consult with your faculty advisor or supervisor about a conference near you that you can attend or present at. The more time you spend as an active, present member of the community, the stronger your resolve will be when the going gets rough, because you’ll feel the invisible bonds of community.

Is there anything I’ve missed? Sound off in the comments, either below or on Facebook. Good luck, everyone!

The Journey of a Thousand Miles… (Or How to Survive and Thrive in the Thesis Writing Process)

This post was written by Catherine Giroux, a second year full-time M.Ed student based out of the North Bay campus. We’d like to thank Catherine for her well-researched, experiential contribution to our community.

Maybe it’s the lovely summertime weather or maybe it’s the fact that I’m reaching the tail end of my first thesis draft, but my concentration (like Elvis) has totally left the building. I’m finding that common in the M.Ed., actually. There are periods where it is really easy to focus on my thesis and then there are others where I lack the necessary motivation. It’s completely normal.

Despite my current writing plateau, I’d like to share some tips, tricks, and resources that I’ve learned while writing my thesis so far.

The 10 Commandments of Thesis Writing

  1. Thou Shalt Read the Thesis Handbook

Before you even consider writing a thesis, make sure you read the thesis handbook! It can be accessed here. Many of your thesis-related questions can be answered within, including how to choose a topic, how to find your ideal supervisors, how to write a proposal and go through ethics, and things that you should know for your defense. It truly is an invaluable resource.

  1. Thou Shalt Read Thine APA Manual (multiple times if necessary)

I can’t emphasize this one enough. I am finding the APA 6th ed. manual incredibly helpful. Even though I used APA format throughout my undergrad, it has been updated and it’s always a good idea to check my accuracy. Also, no one ever really tells you exactly how to write a results section or a discussion section, but if you read the APA manual, there are whole paragraphs and chapters on how to do just that. It’s very useful, so definitely take the time to read it!

  1. Thou Shalt Find a Way to Be as Organized as Possible

I know that you’ve probably heard this over and over again but finding a way to organize your research- your articles, your sound files, your participant interview transcripts, everything- is essential. I use a mix of Mendeley (I like that I can categorize my articles) and Dropbox (so I can share important documents with my supervisors and we can update them as necessary). There are undoubtedly other ways to do it though and I would certainly be interested in learning from you so feel free to drop me a line and let me know what works for you.

  1. Thou Shalt Not Send Unedited Drafts of Anything to Thy Supervisors

Remember back in the day before computers when things had to be written out by hand? Things would be written as first and second drafts before being typed as a perfect final copy. Think of your thesis as an important document that needs to be done in drafts. You want your supervisors to see your best work – not something riddled with spelling, grammatical, and structural errors. Work those out in your first draft. Your supervisors are there to help you out, but they aren’t your editors and they will be much happier to receive your work if they can read it through with ease and make comments on the content rather than the conventions.

  1. Thou Shalt Use Thy Supervisors as Resources

Don’t forget that your supervisors are fantastic resources. They are the professionals! They’ve totally got this school thing down. If you have questions about the program, your thesis, which route is right for you, or anything academic, feel free to talk to your supervisor(s) or faculty advisor(s). I’ve found working through problems and bouncing difficult thesis sections off my supervisors to be particularly helpful. If there’s a section I don’t quite know how to write, I can talk with them in person, organize a Skype call, or we can email back and forth. It’s a tremendous help.

  1. Thou Shalt Consider Presenting Your Work At Conferences

I know this isn’t exactly part of the writing process but it certainly helps to shape the writing process. Sharing your work with like-minded peers can be very informative and eye opening. Even if you aren’t very far in the research or writing process, peers and faculty at conferences can provide you with invaluable feedback that can shape the future directions of your project. Conferences might also take you outside your comfort zone, which can lead to personal growth.

  1. Thou Shalt Not Procrastinate (Too Much)

I find that with every section of my thesis, starting is the hardest part because I have to overcome mental block and the fear of failure. It’s like impostor syndrome sets in with each new chapter. Not only that, but every section of the thesis has a unique tone and writing style. How you write the results section is very different from how you write your literature review. It seems like I procrastinate every time I don’t know exactly what I’m doing. It’s my coping strategy. It’s not a good one though. Once I finally start writing, the words just kind of flow and it helps the mental block go away. That’s why I find it helpful to work on my thesis a little bit every day (or at least a bit every week). Even if I’m just reviewing it so that it stays fresh in my mind, looking at it and dealing with the content is important. Break it down into chunks. You can do it! As Lao Tzu said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

  1. Thou Shalt Take Time for Thyself

On the flipside of the last commandment, your thesis can’t be the only thing you ever do. You need to find some sort of balance. I personally enjoy adding activities like swimming and Stand Up Paddleboarding into my weekly routine to mix things up. I must admit though that combating the isolation of online learning and thesis work is difficult and people who “get it” are sometimes hard to come by. That’s why making an effort to get together with peers is so important. Whether you attend the biweekly EGS Meetings, set up regular coffee dates with friends, or create a thesis/BBQ club during the summer, getting out of your own head and away from your thesis for a bit is every bit as important as working on it. I also find that when I put it away for a bit and do something else, I return to it with a fresh perspective and better ideas.

  1. Thou Shalt Remember to Thank Thy Supervisors

I can only imagine that it’s a lot of work to be a supervisor for an M.Ed. student. There’s certainly a lot of reading involved. Letting them know that you’re thankful for their efforts goes a long way. Chocolate is also a nice touch.

  1. Thou Shalt Honour Thine Inner Geek

Inner Geek

Everyone has a motivation for writing a thesis. No one (that I know of) wakes up and says, “Hey, I really just feel like writing a 100-200 page document for the fun of it.” If you do, all power to you! Remember what drew you to your topic and return to that when you feel like giving up. Remember that your work has value and is adding to the current body of knowledge. Something got you excited about your topic when you chose it; try and return to that excitement throughout the writing process. It makes the writing much more fun.

And in case you need more… Here are some helpful resources!

  1. Completed Dissertations and Theses: You can access these through the Nipissing Library and pull ones that have similar styles to yours to see how former students wrote certain sections that you’re struggling with. They can be found here: http://www.eclibrary.ca/library/list-subject-dissertations-and-theses
  2. How to Write a Discussion Section: Here is a document from the APA for Grad Students on the Dos and Don’ts of writing a discussion section. I found it very helpful because this, for me, is the hardest part of my manuscript! http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2006/01/findings.aspx
  3. How to Write an Abstract: I also found this very helpful. The U of T has some great writing resources worthy of exploration. http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/abstract


Please feel free to share! If you have something really neat and helpful that hasn’t been mentioned, share it in the comments section so that we can all add to our Grad Studies tool-kits. Happy Thesis-ing!

Relationship Building

This post comes to us compliments of Melissa Corrente. Melissa is a part-time instructor of Health and Physical Education studies at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University, North Bay. She was one of the 30+ representatives from the Nipissing community who went to Ottawa to present at the 2015 Canadian Society for Studies in Education (CSSE) national conference. We’d like to thank Melissa for her excellent piece highlighting the value of both presenting at and attending conferences. 

I am slightly embarrassed to admit that the end of May marked the first conference I have ever attended. “The Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE) is the largest organization of professors, students, researchers and practitioners in education in Canada. CSSE is the major national voice for those who create educational knowledge.”[1] I am puzzled as to why I didn’t I attend or present at any conferences during my MEd journey. My thesis is a piece of work I am still incredibly proud of; I have, however, never shared it with a larger audience. I guess it’s never too late to revisit it, or reflect upon it with a new lens.

Getting back to the conference, I felt very anxious and nervous about presenting my paper in a roundtable format. Would I be able to answer all the discussants’ questions? Is my purpose clear enough? What kind of atmosphere will there be? After getting over my self-doubt, other logistical concerns started to surface. Is my Aunt’s house baby proof? How will I fit the stroller, baby gate, high chair, and play pen in the car? What will my husband and 14 month old son do while I am at the conference? Will there be too much morning traffic to commute from Kanata to Ottawa? All the minor details worked themselves out as I left Saturday morning with my husband and son in tow. After driving for three and a half hours, we arrived at my Aunt’s house. She was out getting groceries when we arrived, so I changed and fed my son on her front porch as curious neighbors looked on. Financially, I am very grateful to stay with family because it adds up quickly when you factor in hotel, travel, and meal expenses.

Sunday morning marked the beginning of my CSSE conference experience. After registering and donning my nametag, I toured around the congress expo to browse through the variety of literature for sale. Feeling a tad bit overwhelmed about what to do or see next, I decided to find a table and sit down. All the tables were occupied, so I asked a woman sitting by herself if I could join her. She was very friendly, and we started chatting about where we were from and what our research interests were. She mentioned that she recently defended her dissertation and was presenting her results at the conference. Upon explaining my interest in researching graduate student mothers, her eyes lit up! She was so excited as she described that one of her colleagues started a graduate mother support group on her campus. A group of graduate mothers would meet at a local coffee shop and would write for 45 minutes uninterrupted. Once the time expired, they would share their writing and support each other with constructive feedback. I had only been at the conference for 10 minutes, and I already developed a wonderful relationship with someone I am definitely going to keep in touch with. After saying goodbye to her, I realized the true value of relationship building while at a conference.

On Sunday afternoon, I attended a wonderful multi-paper session. I left this session feeling inspired and reassured that my topic is valid and important. I developed a great connection with a presenter who is also a graduate student mother. Her presentation and research were well articulated, and after chatting we discussed collaborating on a piece of writing down the road.

Monday morning, the day of my roundtable presentation, arrived quickly, and I ran around my Aunt’s house trying to pack up my belongings before heading to the University of Ottawa. Instead of preparing for my presentation, I was feeding my son while simultaneously trying to remove two cats off the kitchen table. After packing and preparing food for the trip home, I realized it was already time to go. Luckily the morning rush hour traffic only lasted for part of the trip, because I wanted to arrive early for my roundtable presentation.

Once I located the correct building and walked up two flights of stairs, the room was not what I had pictured in my mind. It was very small and the tables were not set up, let alone round in shape! Once all the tables and chairs were organized, most people gently nudged their way through the organized chaos. I found table #16 and met the other two presenters and the faculty and graduate student discussants. The woman I had met the previous day even came to attend my presentation, which I genuinely appreciated. The room was buzzing with energy and ideas; everyone was tightly packed into the room like a box full of crayons. Each person at my table was unique with their own research colour and contribution to the greater whole just like the crayons.

One hour and fifteen minutes was the time allotted for all three graduate students to present while leaving room for discussion. I had the luxury of being the middle presenter, so I adjusted my plan based on my observations of the first presentation. My plan was to talk for 10 minutes, and dedicate the remaining time for feedback and discussion. The first presenter was extremely passionate about her research; however, there was no time left for discussion. When my turn came to present, I started with a brief autobiography to help everyone understand what influences my work. The idea of a research puzzle resonates with me so I handed out four puzzle pieces to represent my paper with photos on the back. Overall, I felt good about my presentation, and I enjoyed sharing my paper with an academic audience.

The feedback I received was invaluable! I plan to make changes to my paper to further my thinking and improve the quality of my writing. The time flew by, and our whole table admitted that we could’ve discussed each paper for much longer. There is something to be said about interacting with other academics face-to-face. This human connection and relationship building was a very worthwhile and rewarding experience. Skype and email are fantastic communication tools, but personally sitting down with a group of people and engaging in face-to-face dialogue wins every time. If you have the opportunity to attend or present at a conference, I highly recommend taking advantage of the opportunity. You have nothing to lose; in fact, you will gain valuable relationships and feedback to help move your scholarship forward.

Happy Building!

[1] http://www.csse-scee.ca/about/


Critical Friendship

The following is a dialogue between Laura McRae and Marianne Vander Dussen, both in their first year of the Master’s program. We decided to build our blog post to capture the conversational quality that has enabled us to act as critical friends and editing partners.

MVD: In my first term, I noticed that Laura was in all three of my classes, which I thought was a fun coincidence. Initially, her posts intimidated me; she always had her responses ready right at the beginning of the week, and reflected a high level of writing ability and critical thought. After a few weeks, the isolating effect of working alone in an online program was starting to take its toll on me, and I was desperate to connect with other students. I reached out to Laura to see if she would be interested in partnering with me on an assignment for our Research Methods class, and I’ve been working with her as my accountability partner and sounding board ever since. It was a little scary… I was afraid she’d say no!

LM: I was definitely thinking along the same lines as Marianne. Her posts were always exceptionally insightful and thought-provoking, and almost poetic in style. She is an excellent writer, which intimidated me at first! I was very happy when she reached out to me, as it gave me a chance to get to know her as a real person rather than to keep seeing her as another paragraph on my screen – a side effect of doing an online program that I am still not 100% comfortable with. Having Marianne to bounce ideas off of and to share learning experiences as well as frustrations with has definitely helped me feel more connected to my learning environment, and has helped me be accountable to more than just myself (which, personally, I need in order to remain on-task and on-time).

MVD: I agree. The accountability piece is huge. We worked together to set deadlines for each other for drafts and final pieces. Knowing that I had someone who I respected who was waiting to review my piece made me much more inspired to push through and get the work done. It meant that through my Fall and Winter terms, I was able to stay on top of my work and not allow it to pile up. It was also very helpful to have another set of eyes, in terms of catching APA errors, and noticing where there were gaps in the logic or in the supporting research. I would always look forward to her feedback, because I would much rather have a critical friend alert me to inconsistencies or areas of need than discover it after reading the grading professor’s comments!

LM: Agreed! Style was a big part of it too. Knowing Marianne would review my work without judgment made it much easier to ask about specific spots in assignments that I was having trouble with stylistically. I also enjoyed having an insider to work with – a new perspective on what our professors were after, if my work reflected the course expectations, and how she thought our professors would react to my work. Obviously we would never approach an assignment from the exact same perspective, so reading her assignments, and getting thorough feedback, helped me gain new perspectives, new ideas (which we sometimes shared) and a better understanding of course material. I wonder if we had ‘graded’ each other’s work (like we did in our Research Methods course) if we would have come out with more from the experience of working with a critical friend?

MVD: I wonder what that would look like… what we do with each other is so completely subjective. Although we both work within the context of the assignment structure whenever we’re swapping our work, our viewpoints are always tempered by the fact that it is completely and totally our own thoughts and opinions. I think that provides a layer of safety; when I’m giving my piece over to Laura, I’m not expecting her to take on any responsibility whatsoever for its academic success. Having another set of eyes is really just for my own improvement and betterment; she’ll ask questions, note areas where clarification is required. She’s incredibly thoughtful and thorough. But we’ve both released each other from any kind of responsibility about the paper’s grading once it’s been submitted. Our work is just that… our own, even though we’ve had the opportunity to share, tighten, and hone.

LM: I completely agree with this, but I also feel that Marianne’s comments and suggestions have always helped me to achieve better grades (even though I never held her accountable for my grades)! I also feel that having Marianne as a critical friend has helped me overcome a lot of my anxieties about taking Master’s level courses, specifically in relation to ‘impostor syndrome’. When I started my first semester, I felt overwhelmed and like I was not keeping up academically – when Marianne reached out to me as a critical peer, I gained confidence in my position in the program and insight into the mind of another new graduate student. I think the EGS blog offers a lot of the same social benefits of having a critical peer – in that it helps connect students to the program, but I would definitely suggest going a step further and finding a critical friend. I definitely would not have had as much success this year without Marianne’s insight and support!

MVD: As we move into the next stage of our Master’s work (we’re both pursuing the thesis route) it helps to know that we’ll both be there to empathize with each other’s struggles, and also be willing to unconditionally celebrate successes. The level of detachment that exists, since we haven’t ever met each other in person, serves us well on the more objective front whenever I want honest, clear feedback, but in many ways we’ve overcome those barriers of distance because we’re able to share our stories with each other without fear of judgment. Earlier this week, I was sharing some of the challenges I’ve come up against as a researcher; I’m nearly halfway through my data collection, and sometimes when I listen to the recordings of my research sessions, I get embarrassed or down on myself because I didn’t facilitate as well as I could have, or I allowed a conversation to drift on too long before redirecting it. Laura reminded me not to be too critical, and suggested envisioning myself as a third party listening to the research as opposed to being thrown off by my own voice. It was solid advice, and helped immensely. I think the secret to our success as critical partners is empathy. We’ve both independently selected almost identical courses (5 out of 6 were the same), we’re both choosing thesis, and we’re both pushing through our own respective life challenges. Her ability to manage her workload is an inspiration, and helps me break free from moments when I’d rather watch cat videos than do actual work.

LM: I couldn’t have summarized our partnership better! Marianne is lighting the way for me as she collects data and does field work, while I am still in the process of acquiring a thesis supervisor and team… Knowing she will be there for me as I begin to research and collect data is comforting – it will be a long process for both of us, and yes, cat videos are tempting, but we will keep our course!

MVD: Moving forward, I think anyone who needs ongoing support (and really, who doesn’t?) would benefit from finding a critical friend.

What we would personally look for is:

  • Someone who completes work at a pace that matches yours… were they the first to comment? The last? Find someone who has similar working speed to avoid frustration.
  • Someone whose writing style speaks to you and engages you.
  • Someone who is able to take a critical approach in discussion, while remaining tactful.
  • Someone whose interests parallel or complement your own – (i.e., literacy and FSL complement each other, or with a similar preference for methodology)
Avoid this problem...find someone in your area of interest!

Avoid this problem…find someone in your area of interest!

Notes – EGS meeting (April 9th, 2015)

A big thank you to all who participated in this week’s Education Graduate Student meeting!

Ellen Martin facilitated this week’s article discussion and presented the group with several theoretical frameworks representing specific levels of student-centred learning. More specifically, these frameworks were divided into three sub-categories including: learning centred on students, learning centred on teachers, and learning centred on the reciprocal student-teacher relationship. Many related topics were discussed including: the hidden curriculum, un-schooling, the importance of curriculum and standards, and several perceived unsuccessful methods to teaching and learning.

Further, the following potential pedagogical solutions were offered to ameliorate both teaching and learning:

• Offering student choice.

• Ensuring that instruction and learning is meaningful, authentic, and relevant to all students.

• Reducing class-sizes to allow for more student directed learning, project-based learning, and true inquiry.

After Ellen’s wonderful article discussion, the group’s focused shifted to gender differences in the current education system. Among many influencing factors that were brought up, the following stood out:

  1. Sex as a biologically constructed factor; gender as a socially constructed factor.
  2. Perhaps gender differences can be attributed to adults’ preconceptions of gender and gender appropriateness, not those of young children.

This week’s discussions permitted a respectful debate and a variety of perspective adding a wealth of richness to presented ideas and themes.

The next EGS meeting will take place Thursday, April 23rd from 6-7pm (EST), and will be hosted by Michelann Parr and Marianne Vander Dussen. We will be offering Skype again to accommodate all distance students. We hope to see you there!

Summary and Notes – EGS Meeting (March 26th)

This past week’s EGS meeting was facilitated by Amy Dickerson, and centred around the theme of play-based learning. The next grad meeting will be Thursday April 9th from 6-7pm EST, led by Ellen Martin. The following notes were taken by Melissa Kenney, which reflect the organic flow of conversation that occurred. We are looking forward to our next meeting (although Understanding Education students may be unable to attend as it coincides with the real-time sessions). Hope to see you there!

Link to the Article

Article discussion by Amy:

  • Dualism between work and play is the article– there should be a balance between this in the curriculum.
  • The open-ended experiences and open-ended experience (such as play and exploration)– how can we find the balance in the curriculum?
  • “Work is work and play is play” as opposed to integrating; this is seen with older kids in particular. I do school and then I get free time; the free time is their play. This is the dualism; we need academics over play, and this is how it is running at the moment.
  • The Doll Example (p.234); how the play itself can lead to the achievement in the classroom. How can this be carried through to higher grades?
  • Older grades play can be group based teaching; is this really what play is defined as? The definition of play is and can be different from many others.
  • Play doesn’t look the same in kindergarten and grade 7, which makes things more complex.
  • The article was very black and white; either play or no play, work or play either happens, and he does not feel that it is being done.
  • There is so much stigma around play about how aimless it is. There are so many activities in the different grades that have some sort of play in them. Transformative exploration can be linked to play and learning.
  • Developmental benefits of risky play à children who are willing to take physical risks on the playground will take similar risks in the learning environment. If they are allowed to burn out their energy in play outside, they become better learners in the classroom.
    • Adventure playgrounds being built in the U.K.
    • The benefits of letting kids manage their own risks have been shown to be great, and the adventure playgrounds seem to be beneficial
  • Because recess is a novelty or reward, will they be interested in this if it is offered the whole day? Because it would become the norm to be involved in their work, this recess would not be seen as such a big and important part of their day (their relief).
  • If you can make play authentic, meaningful, and relevant they will remember it and it will be the point of learning.
  • Kids should have a right to ask “why are we doing this?”

play based learning quote - piaget

What does it mean to socially construct knowledge from the process of learning? 

  • Give kids the tools and they will make meaning of it.
  • Constructivism will make it authentic, meaningful, and relevant.
  • If you don’t make it relevant, they’ll forget it. Kids can also Google anything; they need to learn how to critically think, how to conduct research, etc. Why should they have to remember dates since we have access to all the information?
  • Self-organized learning environments– throw your kids into a computer lab and tell them to figure things out. Kids will mingle and group together, and the depth of understanding they will have will be phenomenal.
    • You can do more in less time by letting the kids organize their own learning.
  • Kids know and order themselves according to how they learn and their own level of learning.
  • Nurturing acceptance of failure as a process!
  • Kids shouldn’t feel scared to get the wrong answer.
  • Students may blame their disability if they have one which leads to the question: Labeling them that early– is it doing them a disservice?
  • Shouldn’t judge students by their peer group either
  • High schools in particular are stigmatizing students based on their choice in friends, and it is incredibly silly.
  • You are influencing lives right from the get-go; these students will listen to what you have to say and take it to heart.
  • We seem to be reflecting after everything we do now, and there is hope that the younger generations reflect on what they say to these kids in order to catch anything that they say that isn’t appropriate.

Simple Tricks for Kicks

The following post was written by Samantha Van De Wal, a Master of Education student who is also currently obtaining her Certified Nutritional Practitioner designation and naturopathic medical degree.

Like many students, you’ve probably fallen into your winter rut, and had ample opportunity to develop some pretty gnarly habits that you didn’t have Summer 2014 (thanks, grad school). Have no fear, I’m here to give you five simple tricks to kick the unhealthy habits, rid or reduce the stress, and get a clearer mind:

1.  Eating low fat is a thing of the past.

Think you’re doing yourself good by grabbing the low fat yogurt and fruit? Have you ever asked yourself whether you’re truly satiated after eating it? My guess is… you’re not. That’s because it’s loaded with sugar but has relatively no or very low fat. And while you think all fats are bad, I’m here to tell you that they’re actually the good guys that keep you fuller, longer! In fact, fats are essential macronutrients; fats are essential for us to function optimally.

  • Have a long day ahead? Fats are a source of short term and long term fuel. By adding in a tablespoon of fat (like olive oil or coconut oil) into your meal or smoothie, you’re actually preventing yourself from over-indulging later. They keep you fuller longer because they take longer to digest.
  • Trying to retain some knowledge and keep your brain healthy? (You’re in grad school, of course you are.) Fats are integral for brain function, and are a major contributor to your brain’s structure. Try increasing your daily Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) intake by taking 1-2 tablespoons per day of high quality fish oil.
  • Fats act as a synthesizer for vital hormones in your body. Improper fat intake could lead to hormonal issues, including your adrenal hormones, which are impacted by stress.
  • Beware though that there are some bad fats like saturated fats that have negative impacts (e.g., weight gain, cardiovascular disease, etc.), but only when consumed in large quantities.

2.  Rev up your water intake.

Water is our life force. We’re made up of 60%+ water, and all of our physiological processes require it. Vitamins, minerals, and nutrients rely on water to dissolve and transport the material to the cell. In saying this, water plays a major role in our energy production. It increases our mental alertness and prevents us from getting headaches by sending oxygen to our brain (the same reason why working out helps us have greater clarity).

While getting 2L of water is said to be the gold star standard, my suggestion would be to aim for 3L, if you can. Take into account your vegetable intake and other water sources (included in that amount).

Not only do green juices offer an amazing amount of vitamin and mineral benefits, but they also contribute to 500mL to 1L of water intake (depending on the size of course). A simple green juice would include: a handful of greens (your choice), sprinkle of fresh parsley, juice of a lemon, half a cucumber, and half a banana to sweeten (optional). So refreshing and regenerating, and the perfect swap for your 2pm coffee.

What would Captain Vegetable do?

What would Captain Vegetable do?

3.  Cut the refined sugar

Low glycemic load (that is, meals that don’t cause sugar spikes) prevent sugar crashes, reduce mood swings (the highs and lows of the day), reduce fatigue (we all need that), and help in weight regulation. My suggestion is stick to a plate that looks like this:

  • 1/8 protein (e.g., chicken)
  • 1/8 starch and/or starchy veg (e.g., sweet potato)
  • 3/4 non-starchy veg (e.g., leafy greens)
  • 1 tbsp good oils (olive, coconut, avocado)

Tip: Stick to a whole foods (unprocessed) nutritional plan and avoid foods with consumer labels. You won’t have to worry about refined sugar if you’re committing to whole foods with high nutrient intake!

4.  Take a high intensity workout hiatus:

Let’s face it… we’re all stressed beyond our capacities (thanks, Modern Day Life). Our adrenal glands are one of the major glands in our bodies that try to regulate our stress hormones, but the reality is that many of us are suffering from adrenal fatigue.

When planning your exercise regime, my advice is to do several moderate exercises at least 3-4x a week. This can range from a light jog to interval training, and definitely includes the addition of yoga into your routine.

Apart from increasing your circulation, increasing your flexibility, and improving your memory, yoga will make you sit still and relax… something we’re not used to doing! Finding five minutes to breathe, meditate and get into your own headspace will help you reduce your stress and maintain focus for future tasks on hand.

Lastly, if nothing else…

5.  Take a high quality multivitamin:

The Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) lacks many of vitamins and minerals that we need in order to be our healthiest self. Let’s be honest… we don’t always have the time to prepare great, healthy meals (we just need to get that paper in). And, even if you are eating great, you may be eating a narrow diet (aka, a diet that doesn’t consider the amazing varieties of nutrients this world has to offer). A good multivitamin will contain every vitamin and mineral in the usual recommended doses. It’s likely that your stress will reduce, your memory will strengthen, your fatigue will minimize, and your sleep will improve.

So, if you’re feeling sluggish and stressed, try these five tricks to kick the bad habits that may have got you feeling crummy. You may start feeling the changes quickly, or it may take a couple weeks – this all depends on your current state of health.

Disclaimer: The above material is for your informational use, only. Always consult a healthcare practitioner (e.g., medical doctor, naturopathic doctor, holistic nutritionist) before taking any vitamins or supplements.

Rite of Passage – the PhD Comps Exam

This post comes to us compliments of Melissa Corrente. Melissa is a part-time instructor of Health and Physical Education studies at the Schulich School of Education at Nipissing University, North Bay. We’d like to thank Melissa for shining some light on the comprehensive exam, and for demystifying the PhD rite of passage with such humour. 

For those who are unfamiliar with the PhD comprehensive exam, allow me to briefly explain the process involved. In order to apply for the exam, a student must complete all three core courses and two consecutive summer residencies in addition to three elective courses taken at the students’ leisure. The exam itself consists of two written responses to questions surrounding a student’s theoretical framework(s) and methodologies. As a student, you want to demonstrate knowledge of your intended research area and how it fits inside the bigger picture. Understanding the connection to educational sustainability is important as well, because conducting research across disciplines helps one become educated. Once you have defined your area of research and completed the required reading in the areas covered by the questions, it is time to register a PhD Supervisory Committee. Supervisory committees will consult with, and advise, students to help them determine when they are ready to write.


The exam has been weighing heavy on my shoulders for the last few months as I try to wrap my head around what is being asked of me. It feels overwhelming to focus on the 4000 word count for each question, and I feel this has stopped me from just sitting down and writing. If I wait for the perfect writing conditions to appear, I will never start, let alone finish. The idiom a penny for your thoughts provides me with some comfort because the graduate studies committee is asking me to explain my thought process. In reality, I shouldn’t be allowed to write a dissertation if I can’t clearly articulate my theoretical framework(s) and methodologies. While writing this piece, I received some very helpful tips and advice from those who have already passed their comprehensive exams. I would like to share with you the suggestions I received and personally thank Dr. Michelann Parr, Dr. Carlo Ricci, Dr. Carole Richardson, Glenn Hanna, and many others who anonymously provided tips.

Tips for the Comprehensive Exam:

  • Meet with your supervisory team to ensure that you are ready to proceed.
  • Ask questions prior to writing your comps.
  • Attend to the questions – do what you are being asked to do.
  • Write one question at a time.
  • Circulate a detailed outline of each question (complete with references) for feedback
  • Spell check, grammar check, and APA check not once, but twice!
  • Don’t leave anything up to the imagination – say what you mean, and be as explicit as possible.
  • Don’t make assumptions about what your reader should know; assume they don’t
  • Consider the use of headings to guide the reader through your paper.
  • Make sure you use references wisely and avoid sweeping generalizations that are unsubstantiated by research.
  • Keep to your 4000 words.
  • Be clear about your topic, why you picked it, and what you are looking to do
  • Understand what other people have said about your topic and make that clear in the literature review.
  • Make sure you are clear on the theoretical framework.
  • Be clear on why you picked your methodology and why it is best for your topic
  • Offer an idea of what each section will consist of.
  • Say something about ethics re: the methodology question—show you understand the implications.
  • Address your theoretical framework in the methodology section because two different people mark the questions.
  • Research the history of your methodology, don’t only focus on recent sources
  • The comprehensive exam is not your dissertation. Don’t go deep into theoretical areas that are peripheral to your research. The learning was in figuring out what to let go of when writing.
  • Regarding methodology on the other hand, go as detailed as you can. Go from higher-level concepts, right down to the micro, all space permitting of course.
  • The other thing is the benefit of just starting to write. Start writing and it will show you where you are good to go and where you need to do more reading. Writing provides a focus.

If you are preparing to write the comprehensive exam in the near future, I hope you find the above tips useful. To finish off, I’d like to share a poem I wrote one night after my baby boy was sleeping peacefully in his crib. Enjoy!

‘Twas the week before comp writing, when all through the house

my baby was crawling, and trying to play house.

The journal articles were filed in my office by name,

In the hopes that Michelann Parr would help me reclaim.


The APA guide was memorized in my head,

While I had sticky notes stuck to my bed.

And Dada in his uniform, and I in my jeans,

Had just settled our bums for our nightly reading routine.


When upstairs in the nursery, there arose such a farting,

I sprang from the couch to see what was starting.

Away to the staircase, I flew like a bird,

Tore open the diaper, and threw out the turd.


My MacBook on the office desk open wide

gave the appearance that the battery had died,

when, what to my sleepy eyes should appear,

but a power cord that will certainly help me persevere.


With a little bit of energy, luck, and good food,

I knew in a moment, I would feel gratitude.

More rapid than owls, my ideas started flowing,

And I wrote them all down as my face started glowing:


“Now APA! Now Framework!

Now, Dewey and Experience!

On, Narrative! On Inquiry!

On Discourse and Research!

To the top of the library!

To the online database!

Now search away! Search away!

Search away all!”

(Adapted from ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ by Clement Clarke Moore)


Summary and Notes – EGS Meeting (March 12th)

This week’s notes were compiled by Jessica Perronour lab group coordinator.

A big thank you to all who participated in our fourth Education Graduate Student meeting, we had six in-person attendees and one Skyping in.

This week’s article was facilitated by Robin Potts and focused on the use of a conversational method in research involving Aboriginal populations. Our meeting unfolded into a rich discussion encompassing several underlying topics, including: the sensitivity of conversations involving residential schools and intergenerational effects; the importance of allowing the story of others to be told; and the benefits of using a collaborative process between researcher and participant. Further, several benefits of the conversational approach were thoroughly examined, such as giving voice, understanding context, respect for culture, and the importance of being prepared when working with vulnerable populations.

In addition to discussing the importance of this article and of the conversational method, several questions were raised:

  • What subjectivities (often referred to as biases) are present when you identify yourself within your research? Does all research involve bias? (The short and long answer: YES, even if you’ve controlled a range of variables.)
  • How does reducing the predetermined parameters of the conversational method benefit research findings?
  • Is our focus on the limitations of a study related to the Western perspective and to a more quantitative/empirical paradigm? Why is less attention given to successes?

After the article facilitation and discussion, our focus shifted towards issues surrounding the difficulties that teachers may face when trying to motivate and engage students, especially in the upper-grades. Several perceived issues of our current education system came to light. These include: a lack of student choice, teaching to the test, and the first-step-fallacy (students have difficulty when they are given learning choices due to the fact that these choices have typically been predetermined by teachers in the past).

The next EGS meeting will take place Thursday, March 26th, from 6-7pm (EST). We will be offering Skype again to accommodate all distance students. We hope to see you there!

For those interested in the topics of this week’s article discussion, Robin Potts recommends the following two resources:

  • Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts, by Margaret Kovach.
  • Decolonizing Methodologies, by Linda Tuhiwai Smith
  • Conversational Method in Indigenous Research by Margaret Kovach (link to article)