Stranmillis University College Primary Research Conference 12th November 2014

Entitled ‘Celebrating the Role of Research in Teacher Education’, the conference featured six presentations from Primary BEd graduates, each of whom outlined their own research dissertation findings in two parallel sessions to audiences which included over 30 primary school principals, College staff, current BEd students and distinguished guests, including Mrs Sandra Brown (UTU President).

Emma Burney began by confidently presenting her dissertation entitled “The play’s not just the thing: the case for specialist Drama provision in Northern Ireland primary schools”.  Emma surveyed a total of 14 primary teachers in three schools, and conducted individual interviews with two principals and an ETI inspector.  Her study highlighted the low status of drama in many primary schools, the need for more drama training in Initial Teacher Education, and the support among teachers for having a drama specialist in primary schools, supported by an ELB Drama Service of equal status to the existing Music Service.

Thomas McCartney followed with a presentation of his research into teachers’ perspectives on primary history.  From a sample of 18 teachers across three schools, his research confirmed the popularity of the subject among primary school teachers, and highlighted the enormous potential for cross-curricularity through history teaching.  However the research also recommended that further development was needed in terms of pupils’ understanding of historical concepts and skills (Time, Evidence, Chronology, Cause and Consequence, Change and Continuity, Place).

Lisa Nicholl’s dissertation examined “Mental Methods of Mathematics Calculation and the Impact of Videos on Assisting Parents”.  A review of the literature highlighted the strong rationale for developing parental support for learning at home, but also anxiety among parents who often lacked understanding of current mental maths methods used in primary schools.  Lisa therefore developed a series of instructional videos which she made available to parents in one primary school through YouTube.  Findings showed that parents and pupils used the videos to support learning, and that the use of videos thus helped provide pupils with more consistent numeracy support at home.

Sharon Kennedy presented an insightful study of the differences between boys’ and girls’ views on the use of popular animated film as a writing stimulus.  Her research highlighted the often untapped potential of popular animated children’s films as meaningful writing stimuli.  Not only did the pupils enjoy the use of animated films, but they also produced very creative pieces of writing based on the stimuli.  While gender stereotypical views persisted in many instances (“I’d love to be a princess so I could wear the glass slippers”), others appreciated less conventional heroines such as the Disney princess Merida “because she can fight and is not scared to show anyone.”

Louise Watson’s dissertation was entitled “A play-based approach to the teaching of numeracy in the early years and foundation stage”.  Using a mixed methodological approach of classroom observations, individual interviews with teachers and focus groups interviews with pupils, Louise found evidence in each year group (nursery, year 1, year 2) of a play-based approach being successfully adopted.  Teachers commented on the opportunities offered to children by an engaging and appealing environment to develop their numeracy skills through play, while the pupils very clearly enjoyed the play-based “fun” activities.

Finally, Ashleigh Beattie critically examined the varying role of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) in Northern Ireland primary schools.  Based on a survey completed by 22 SENCOs and semi-structured interviews conducted with a further three SENCOs, the study highlighted the very wide variation across primary schools in terms of SENCOs’ prior training, the time allocated in school to their SENCO responsibilities, the status of the role within their schools, and the number of additional responsibility posts they each held.  Recommendations were made to afford SENCOs greater opportunities to devote themselves to their important role in supporting the learning needs of children with special educational needs across primary schools.

Following each presentation, there was an opportunity for the audience to ask questions.  Feedback from visiting principals was very positive, with some commenting on the “cutting edge” nature of the research, and others on the “superb quality” and “relevance” of the topics under investigation.  Students from Years 3 and 4 were also present and benefited from the examples shown of high quality undergraduate research work.

Stranmillis Conference 12 November 2014






Back row l-r. Mrs Jayne Moore (programme coordinator), Thomas McCartney, Sharon Kennedy, Dr Noel Purdy (programme chair). Front row l-r. Emma Burney, Ashleigh Beattie, Lisa Nicholl, Louise Watson.

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