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What if teachers were also researchers?

By Team ISTE
June 28, 2016
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The best way to describe Michelle Cordy is to meet her father. The physician came home every night and read journals to stay up on current research. Cordy adopted that routine as the “professional” attitude, so when she became a third grade teacher in London, Ontario’s Thames Valley District, she, too, studied the research in her spare time.

But she didn’t see many peers taking this step, nor could she find a title that encompassed being a teacher and providing evidence for what was happening in her classroom. So she created her own: applied researcher, aka a connector between teachers and research.

Cordy, who will be a keynote speaker at ISTE 2016, has partnered on 10 projects that attempt to bridge that gap between practice and theory. Some, like a visual spatial reasoning project, took advantage of her mathematics master’s degree. She’s also studied how math can bring arts and tech together for gifted students.

Her current project involves collaborating with a psychologist at Western University to determine how a short meditation practice can influence self-regulation and conceptual abilities. Students do a small task to see how they are feeling before and after, then tackle a cognitive task when they are done.

Cordy uses what she learns – both from her reading and her research – in her classroom to help her students. She also shares the information with her research partners.

“In professional development, the theory seems detached from the practice. What connects those two together? Journal information is the research, but what happens in the classroom is the space I want to play in, and then share out the results,” Cordy explains. In other words, she wants to humanize the research. “It looks like this in theory; I want to test it out with students to determine ‘does it work in my classroom?’”

Much of her research involves technology. “I see tech as people in disguise,” she says. “It’s the obvious conduit for connection.”

Cordy dreams of the day when discussing tech integration in schools is as silly as debating the value of pencils in the classroom.

“In our daily lives, technology is a normal thing, yet it’s not yet normal in our schools," she says. “I look forward to the day when being a researcher is a normal part of classroom practice and we quit saying about tech, ‘Lock it down, it’s dangerous!’ No one worries about where the pencils are in class and how often you sharpen them. There will come a time when research and technology are embedded in our practice,” she said.

And the beautiful part of being a self-described applied researcher is that it doesn’t really require her attention 24/7 — just her passion and curiosity and the moxie to approach strangers and start a conversation.

For instance, for the mindfulness project, Cordy reached out to an expert in Ontario who was also seeking a research topic. “We know good ideas don’t come from one person working away by themselves. It’s not about me doing stuff — it’s about connecting with people and knowing that I can provide a little chunk of it, they can provide a big chunk, and together we can bring a team to get the answers.”

Attending ISTE 2016? Don't miss Michelle Cordy's keynote Wednesday at 2:45 p.m.