TORONTO – November 10, 2021
For over ten years, the Pat Clifford Award has recognized the work of emerging researchers – their research contributions, their promise, and their commitment to breaking new ground or revisiting commonly held assumptions in education policy, practice or theory in Canada. Two Pat Clifford awards were bestowed in 2021, each at the PhD level — to Oyemolade (Molade) Osibodu, currently of York University, and Amber Moore, at Simon Fraser University.
EdCan’s President and CEO, Max Cooke, congratulated this year’s winners and thanked the award jurors who worked hard to select them from an impressive and diverse cohort of applicants. “The theory and applied research of Molade Osibodu and Amber Moore have the potential to make a big impact in K-12 education, ensuring classrooms become more inclusive and responsive to students’ major challenges.”
How can teachers provide the most equitable math learning experience?
Molade Osibodu explores how K-12 mathematics can be more inclusive of racialized communities and help foster important discussions about social justice.
Dr. Oyemolade (Molade) Osibodu is currently an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at York University in Toronto. She completed her doctorate at Michigan State University. Broadly, her research lies at the intersection of mathematics and social justice. More specifically, Dr. Osibodu explores equitable approaches to ensure Black students feel seen and valued in their learning; interrogates how mathematics can be leveraged as a space to discuss local and global issues of (in)justice in the classroom; and, as Canada continues to be a hub for many African immigrants and refugees, she examines how they negotiate learning in mathematics spaces while also navigating racialization often for the first time.
In an interview with EdCan, Dr. Osibodu says that in Canada, to this point, there hasn’t been a lot of research into the experiences of math students from racialized communities, especially Black students. Her research attempts to address this shortcoming and to identify ways to improve the learning of those students whose needs and experiences have all too often been overlooked.
“One of the exercises I do with intermediate and senior teacher candidates is to Google ‘mathematician’, and while the results have started to shift very recently, what you usually see is an older white man,” says Dr. Osibodu.
Her research addresses the UN Sustainable Development Goal #4: inclusive and equitable quality education, as well as the Ontario Ministry of Education’s goal “to address policies and practices to address the achievement gap and creation of barriers for students from historically marginalized groups, such as Black students”.
One of her research interests is the teaching and learning of mathematics for social justice, often abbreviated by the acronym, TLMSJ. As Eric Gutstein has written, TLMSJ should have three goals: “helping students develop sociopolitical consciousness, a sense of agency, and positive and cultural identities.”
Research into mathematics education has traditionally focused on cognitive and psychological aspects, while overlooking social, cultural and political issues. Dr. Osibodu finds ways to engage with students more holistically. In the 2020-2021 school year, for example, through a partnership between York University and the Toronto District School Board Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement, she supported a Black Youth-led Participatory Action Research. This form of participatory research ensures community members help determine how a research project will be conducted, which typically leads to more positive results for the community.
Dr. Osibodu helped Black students to formulate research questions with the goal of finding ways to improve their learning experiences. Students surveyed their school community on various questions, including: “Is there a systemic silence on Black Canadian history in the school curriculum?” Recommendations from the students included actionable measures such as highlighting Black contributions to society in science class
“We need to go much further in supporting Black and Indigenous students,” says Dr. Osibodu. She sees opportunities, for example, in the Ontario Ministry of Education’s decision to include financial literacy in the provincial curriculum at the secondary level. She believes this could create a pathway for math teachers to discuss unequal access to finance, discrimination in the form of unfair interest rates charged to racialized and low-income communities, and predatory lending. She says math classes can even be places where students are taught to question the perceived “neutrality” of computing algorithms. Dr. Osibodu points to the Netflix documentary, Coded Bias, as having shone a spotlight on this prevalent problem.
“Math classrooms can be a space where we get to try new things,” says Dr. Osibodu. “Even if our answer is wrong, we get to think about why it is wrong. Mistakes are a window of opportunity. Classrooms shouldn’t be a space where students follow the one correct way to get to the ‘right’ answer, but rather following multiple pathways, including how different cultures address similar questions.”
How can K-12 teachers help students make sense of trauma?
Amber Moore studies and applies theory and practices that help students and teachers use literature to facilitate difficult conversations about traumatic experiences.
Dr. Amber Moore is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, a position funded by the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. During her doctorate, completed at the University of British Columbia, she worked with teacher candidates enrolled in a mandatory literacy course. She wanted to identify ways that English literature classes can be spaces of resistance to rape culture.
“The entire trajectory of my career has been focused on this issue,” she says. “When I was an undergraduate student, I was a crisis volunteer, working on the crisis hotline. That was an extremely transformative experience for me.”
Outside of her academic work, Dr. Moore is an author of poetry and nonfiction. She focused on gender and genre studies during her master’s degree and was particularly drawn to stories about trauma. (Author Michelle Balaev has defined the “trauma novel”, to take but one example, as “a work of fiction that conveys profound loss or intense fear on individual or collective levels.”) As Dr. Moore observes, trauma literature can take many forms, including graphic novels and young adult fiction, and has over the years broadened to include the voices of traditionally marginalized people.
When she became a high school teacher in Airdrie, Alberta, her prior experience on the crisis hotline was an asset that helped her to tackle issues such as trauma and violence in the classroom. The principal of her school felt her perspective and experience would be helpful in engaging with students and fostering a safer school community. For many years, Dr. Moore taught the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, about a high school freshman who is sexually assaulted. The book helped to create meaningful conversations and it was this experience that prompted her to eventually leave the classroom to explore the pedagogical potential of sexual assault narratives at the PhD-level.
“When I designed my PhD research project, I always thought back to my time in the classroom. I was thinking of the eventual students that teacher candidates would see… English teachers, because they promote the value of stories, tend to be the ones that students bring their stories to. As the writer Aubrey Hirsch has said, ‘If you’re a teacher of writing, you’re eventually going to see a rape story.’”
As Dr. Moore observes, this tendency makes it vital for teacher candidates and teachers to be prepared for fraught moments, to know how to discuss the issues and how to sensitively respond to students’ situations.
“When I was a high school teacher, I wrote an article for EdCan’s Education Canada magazine. That was one of my first publications — about a moment that shifted my perception of teaching. Winning this award is a little like coming full circle.”
About Pat Clifford
Pat Clifford was one of the co-founders of The Galileo Educational Network, which is based in Calgary, Alberta. Pat had an extensive teaching background from primary through graduate level, and was the recipient of numerous awards for both research and teaching practice. Pat passed away in August of 2008 but she left a gift to us in her teaching, scholarly writing, poetry and stories. As a teacher, Pat was steadfast in her belief that each child had the right to succeed brilliantly, and brought to them her own love of literature, writing and history. This award is dedicated to her memory.