Brock grad student a finalist in national storytelling competition

Can you imagine taking years of complex research and not only making it understandable, but also making it rhyme?

Brock student Stephanie Beni added poet to her resumé with her entry to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Storytellers contest — and the bold move paid off.

Beni, in the first year of her PhD in Applied Health Sciences, was recently announced as a Top 25 finalist in the national competition. The Storytellers contest challenges post-secondary students to share SSHRC-funded research, conducted by either themselves or their supervisor, in a three-minute video or 300-word submission to show Canadians how social sciences and humanities research is affecting lives, the world and the future for the better.

With the help of her tech-savvy brother, Beni created a video of a pop-up storybook depicting her research on providing meaningful experiences during physical education for elementary school students.

The attention-grabbing entry earned her a finalist spot, which also includes a $3,000 prize and a trip to Vancouver to present her research in front of a panel of judges at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2019. The Storytellers Showcase will be broadcast on Facebook Live June 3 at noon. Five students will advance to present at SSHRC’s 2019 Impact Awards this fall.

“I’m very honoured to be representing Brock, our research team and the field of physical education research on a national stage,” Beni said. “While it’s a tremendous opportunity and a great honour, it’s meaningful to me because I think it represents collaboration with and support from so many people.”

She began develop a real interest in sharing her research in less conventional or traditional ways and was drawn to the competition as a result.

“While I saw the value in journal articles and conference presentations, I was also becoming really aware of how inaccessible those platforms can be to many people and wanted to share my findings with a broader audience,” she said.

Beni’s research, which she began as an undergraduate student at Brock, explores ways of incorporating meaningful activities into physical education for children. Meaningful experiences in physical activity are those that provide features such as social interaction, fun, challenge and learning that is personally relevant to the child.

Her video begins with the opening of a storybook and launches into a catchy rhyme about the importance of physical activity for children.

“In light of the competition being called Storytellers, I loved the idea of doing a play on a storybook in my video,” Beni said. “The submission is a tribute to the research I did with my own elementary school students, so I wanted to present it in a way that honoured their very important role in the process. I wanted it to be something that they would understand and enjoy.”

The physical education teacher used her own classroom to test these theories and found that when provided meaningful experiences in physical activity, students were more engaged and willing to participate.

With her PhD now underway, Beni is focused on testing her approach with elementary school teachers at research sites across Canada and in several other countries.  

“Stephanie is an outstanding student and colleague who has shown a commitment to sharing her research in ways that are going to be accessible for the ultimate users; in her case, teachers of physical education in primary and elementary schools,” says Beni’s supervisor Timothy Fletcher, Associate Professor of Kinesiology. “We are already seeing teachers from around the world put her ideas into practice. From our engagement with teachers (many on Twitter) we know of some in Canada, Ireland, China, the U.K., U.S., Saudi Arabia and Norway, who are implementing the approach she has developed. This is what so many of us who are researching education strive to do, but often without the success that Stephanie has already achieved in the beginnings of her very bright and promising research career.

“Hopefully the SSHRC Storytellers competition will allow her work to reach an even broader audience than it already has.”

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