Carla Peck, PhD (UBC), MEd, BEd (Distinction), BA (Combined Honours)

Professor, Faculty of Education - Elementary Education


Professor, Faculty of Education - Elementary Education
(780) 492-9623
Education Centre - South
11210 - 87 Ave NW
Edmonton AB
T6G 2G5



Carla L. Peck is Professor of Social Studies Education in the Department of Elementary Education. Carla joined the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta in 2007. Her program of research has two main foci: The first seeks to map the qualitatively different ways that teachers’ and students’ understand key democratic concepts such as diversity, and citizenship. The second area of her research is on students’ historical understandings, and in particular, the relationship between students’ ethnic identities and their understandings of history. Before moving west, Carla taught elementary school in New Brunswick.

Awards & Recognition

2023: Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal, Province of Alberta

2023: Honorary Award, Edmonton Public Teachers, Local 37 of the Alberta Teachers Association

2022: Public Education Award, The Alberta Teachers' Association

2015: Outstanding Educator in Residence, Academy of Singapore Teachers, Ministry of Education, Singapore

2013: Rutherford Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (University-level teaching award)

2013: Faculty of Education Undergraduate Teaching Award

2011: THEN/HiER English Language Publication Award

2010: Canadian Education Association Pat Clifford Award for Early Career Research in Education


Research Interests

Two complementary theoretical frameworks and one general principle guide my research. The first theoretical framework draws on constructivist learning theory, which holds that all students come to every learning situation with a store of prior knowledge. Some of this prior knowledge might be accurate but, it is equally true that students may have (and tenaciously hold onto) naïve conceptions or misunderstandings about various concepts as well (Driver & Easley, 1978). Constructivist research aims to discover and understand the nature of students’ prior conceptions in an effort to better shape curricula and refine teaching approaches, and ultimately, increase a student’s ability to incorporate new and more complex knowledge into that which they already know (Hughes & Sears, 2004). As Gardner (2006) notes, “if one wants to educate for genuine understanding, then, it is important to identify these early representations, appreciate their power, and confront them directly and repeatedly” (p. 77).  

The second theoretical framework informing my research draws on the tradition of socio-cultural studies in education. The emphasis here is on the need to understand the social, cultural and political positions from which students approach learning (Barton, 2001; Epstein, 1997; Nieto, 1999), and has strong links to my social justice teaching orientation. Knowing what frameworks students use to make sense of what they are learning in social studies is important, particularly for teachers working in schools within a multicultural society: “By understanding how young people from different racial or ethnic groups interpret history and contemporary society…teachers and policymakers can make more informed decisions about what and how to teach social studies subjects to diverse groups of students” (Epstein, 2001, p. 42). I believe that research using a combination of these two frameworks will result in a richer understanding of the variety of prior conceptions influencing students’ understanding of history and citizenship. 

The general principle that underpins my research is the importance of intertwining my research interests with my teaching and professional work. I feel strongly that the work I do at the university must be applicable to teachers and students, thus my commitment to professional development projects, workshops and publishing that communicate findings from my own and other research in a way that is both informative and useable by teachers (and teacher education students). Similarly, my work with teachers and students gives rise to other questions, which inevitably find their way into my research programmes. 

Research Foci

My first area of research is the teaching and learning of history, with a specific focus on the relationship between students’ ethnic identities and their historical understandings and uses of the past. This work is informed by theory from both sociocultural studies in history education and research on ethnic identity.  

My second area of research is citizenship education, with a focus on students’ conceptions of democratic concepts. My major projects include research into high school students’ conceptions of democratic participation, elementary students’ and teachers’ conceptions of ethnic diversity. I am currently a co-investigator on a SSHRC-funded project entitled, Democracy in Transition: Strengthening how citizenship is learned and practiced in "the city”, led by Dr. Lynette Shultz (UAlberta).


Teaching Philosophy

The foundation of my teaching philosophy is my commitment to teach for social justice. For me, social justice is about working to make our local and global societies better, through education about, and actions on, injustices and inequities around us. The late historian, Howard Zinn (2002) wrote, “I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.” My undergraduate and graduate teaching is not only guided by this sentiment, but is also infused with discussions and deliberations about respecting diversity, understanding multiple perspectives, and exploring how to work to make our world - including our classrooms - more socially just by identifying and challenging all forms of oppression. These are qualities that I work at everyday, and that I hope to instil in my students. 

The things we carry: A profile of Carla Peck and social justice in elementary education


Researcher gets $2.5-million grant to study how students learn about history

Dr. Carla Peck has secured a SSHRC Partnership Grant to lead a major pan-Canadian research study on K-12 history education. The research team includes 28 co-researchers from across the country and more than 40 partner organizations. Learn more about the research here.

Scholarly Activities

Research - Teachers’ and Students’ Understandings of Ethnic Diversity: Implications for Multicultural Education in Canada (SSHRC funded)

2010 to 2015

Principal Investigator: Dr. Carla L. Peck, University of Alberta

Co-Investigators: Dr. Reva Joshee, University of Toronto; Dr. Alan Sears, University of New Brunswick; Dr. Laura Thompson, Acadia University

The purpose of our proposed program of work is to provide a rich portrayal of how teachers and students in four provinces (Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) understand the concept of ethnic diversity. Specifically, the proposed research will enable us to: (1) Delineate conceptions of ethnic diversity inherent in educational policy and curriculum documents in Canada; (2) Map the qualitatively different ways in which teachers and students understand ethnic diversity; (3) Provide an assessment of the relationship between teachers’ and students’ conceptions of ethnic diversity and the conceptions outlined in policy and curricular documents; and (4) Theorize the nature of this relationship by contextualizing the data within a “web of interrelated, ongoing policies” (Joshee & Johnson, 2007, p. 6) that influence multicultural education in Canada.

The scholarly contributions of this work are threefold: 1) It will enable a more nuanced understanding of the conceptions of ethnic diversity held by teachers and students in four provinces; (2) It will add to the growing body of scholarship on constructivist theories regarding the role of prior knowledge in new learning and our own smaller studies mapping students’ understandings of ethnic diversity (Peck & Sears, 2005; Peck, Sears, & Donaldson, 2008); (3) It will shed light on teachers’ understandings of ethnic diversity, which, until now, has not been studied. This is crucial because teachers are responsible for interpreting and teaching curricular outcomes related to ethnic diversity.

Research - Thinking Historically for Canada's Future: SSHRC Partnership Grant

2019 to 2026

CHALLENGES/ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED - When history education in Canada was first designed at the end of the nineteenth century, it was part of a nation-building project shaped by competing interests of Anglophone Canada and Francophone Québec. Indigenous peoples and their histories were completely omitted, marginalized, or expressed through settler perspectives. In contemporary Canada, characterized by ethnocultural diversity and efforts to usher in an era of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, the nation-building purpose of history education no longer holds. The political, social, and cultural complexities we face demand a critical grounding in the past and make history education indispensable. Sophisticated historical thinking requires well-developed facility with the concepts and processes of history, and having students actively construct and understand the past rather than passively receive prepackaged versions of it. Although history and social studies curricula in Canada have been influenced by developments in historical thinking research, we do not know how this research has influenced pedagogy, student learning, assessment, and resources. If Canada is to protect, maintain, and grow its status as a healthy democracy, it requires a well-educated, engaged citizenry with the capacity to engage in critical study of the past. The capacity to “think historically,” which involves both knowing and doing history, helps students make connections between the past and the present and is transferable knowledge that is crucial in a time of “fake news.” Thus, this partnership proposes to conduct a long-overdue, Canada-wide investigation of the state of history education.

OVERALL GOALS AND OBJECTIVES OF PROPOSED PARTNERSHIP - The overall goals and objectives of the proposed partnership are to nurture a community of interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral inquiry among academic historians, researchers based in faculties of education, Indigenous scholars, graduate students, educators in museums, archives, and historic sites, and practicing teachers to (1) map the terrain of history education in K–12; (2) ascertain to what extent history and social studies teaching helps students engage with the key issues or problems facing Canadian society today; (3) identify and develop evidenced-based practices in history teaching, learning, assessment, and resource development, and evaluate their efficacy in providing powerful and engaging learning experiences for students, particularly in terms of building trans-systemic understanding across knowledge systems; (4) with pre- and in-service teachers, cultivate communities of practice that are grounded in theoretical and empirical research on history education pedagogy to promote engaged and critical historical thinking; and (5) using findings that emerge from the research, make evidence-based policy recommendations for history curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment through proactive connections with ministries of education, faculties of education, museum educators, Indigenous organizations and stakeholders, publishers, other curriculum developers, and practicing teachers.

Research - Youth and Democratic Participation in Canada and Australia (SSHRC funded)

2007 to 2011

Principal Investigator: Dr. Alan Sears, University of New Brunswick

Co-Investigators: Dr. Carla L. Peck, University of Alberta; Dr. Ottilia Chareka, St. Francis-Xavier University; Dr. Andrew S. Hughes, University of New Brunswick

Collaborator: Dr. Murray Print, University of Syndey (Australia)

The purpose of this research is to provide a rich portrayal of how Canadian students in two regions of Canada (Alberta and the Maritimes) engage with and in democratic participation and to compare that engagement with an analogous population in Australia. Specific components of the research will: 1. Delineate of the conceptions of democratic participation inherent in policy and curriculum documents in Australia and Canada and set them in the context of theoretical conceptions of democratic participation; 2. Describe the experience and intentions related to democratic participation of a diverse sample of senior high school students in two regions of Canada and provide a comparison of these to similar findings with regard to youth in Australia; 3. Map the qualitatively different ways the Canadian students understand democratic participation; and 4. Provide an assessment of the relationship between students’ conceptions of and experience with democratic participation and expectations set for them in policy and curricula. The comparative portion of the work will help deepen our understanding of the interaction among educational policy, political engagement and youth in Canada. While the international transfer or borrowing of educational policies and practices has a very poor track record, there is considerable evidence that international collaboration in education can often enhance policy and practice.

Featured Publications

Clark, A., Peck, C.L. (Eds.)

2019 January;

Epstein, T., Peck, C.L. (Eds.)

2018 January;

Davis, I., Ho, L., Kiwan, D., Peck, C.L., Peterson, A., Sant, E. & Waghid, Y. (Eds.)

2018 January;

Andrea Milligan, Lindsay Gibson, Carla L. Peck

Theory & Research in Social Education. 2017 January;

Joshee, R., Peck, C. L., Thompson, L. A., Chareka, O., & Sears, A.

2016 January;

Chong, E.K., Epstein, T., Davies, I., Peck, C. L., Peterson, A., Ross, A., Schmidt, M., Sears, A., & Sonu, D.

2016 January;

Peck, C. L.

Theory and Research in Social Education. 2010 January; 38 (4):574-617