University of Calgary

Michelle Arlene Drefs

  • Associate Professor


Dr. Michelle Drefs is the Director of Training for the School and Applied Child Psychology program at the University of Calgary. She earned her PhD in Human Development and Learning and MSc in School Psychology from the University of Calgary. She also holds a specialization in Early Childhood Education from the University of Lethbridge. Michelle has 8 years of experience as a school psychologist, serving as an Educational Consultant with Golden Hills School Division from 1999 to 2006. From 2006 to 2012, Dr. Drefs served as the Academic Coordinator for the online MEd in School and Applied Child Psychology program and was instrumental in its initial development.

In addition to her background in school psychology, Michelle is an experienced educator with 6 years teaching experience at the kindergarten and elementary levels—with the majority of her teaching career working primarily with First Nation students. Dr. Drefs is a Registered Psychologist in Alberta.

Research & Scholarly Activity

Dr. Drefs’ program of research broadly focuses on issues of student (children to adults) learning. She is particularly interested in the development of early mathematical understandings and methods of assessing and intervening with disorders of learning. Related to this work is her investigations into methods of assessing young children’s development, early number concepts and effective intervention practices, and contributions of spatial cognition to mathematics achievement. Additionally, Dr. Drefs is interested in how professionals (school psychologists and allied professionals) engage in clinical reasoning and best methods for its instruction. Dr. Drefs takes an interdisciplinary approach to her research, with her major research projects involving collaborations with professionals in the fields of education, social work, and medicine.

Current Projects:

Exploring the Spatial Component of Mathematics Difficulties: Linking Specific Cognitive Characteristics to Intervention Approaches – URGC Funded Project (PI: Michelle Drefs, Co-Investigator: Jo Towers)

Working at the School Level to Transform the Culture of Mathematics Learning - Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Co-Investigator)


PhD, Human Development and Learning
University of Calgary

MSc, School Psychology
University of Calgary

BA/BEd, Early Childhood Education Specialization
University of Lethbridge

Professional & Community Affiliations

Dr. Drefs has served as a Board Member with the Psychologists Association of Alberta (2013- 2017), PACE Kids (2007-2009), and the Canadian Association of Disabled Skiing-Alberta (2007-2008). She currently serves on the editorial board for the Canadian Journal of School Psychology.


(Select) Articles:
Schroeder, M., Drefs, M. A., Cormier, D. (2017). The messiness of LD identification: Contributions of diagnostic criteria and clinical judgement. Canadian Psychology, 58, 218-227.

Fior, M., Andrews J., & Drefs, M. (2017) Promoting metacognition with early math learners. Canadian Journal for Teacher Research. Available at:

Francis, K., Bruce, C., Davis, B., Drefs, M., Hallowell, D., Hawes, Z. McGarvey, L., Moss, J., Mulligan, J., Okamoto, Y., Sinclair, N., Whiteley, W., & Woolcott, G. Multidisciplinary perspectives on a video case of children designing and coding for robotics. (2017). Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education, 17 (3), 165-178.

Bruce, C. D., Davis, B., Sinclair, N., McGarvey, L., Hallowell, D., Drefs, M., Francis, K., Hawes, Z., Moss, J., Mulligan, J., Okamoto, Y, Whiteley, W., & Woolcott, G. (2016). Understanding gaps in research networks: Using “spatial reasoning” as a window into the importance of networked educational research. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 95, pp. 1-19. doi:10.1007/s10649-016-9743-2

Kubas, H. A., Schmid, A. D., Drefs, M. A., Poole, J. M., Holland, S., & Fiorello, C. (2014). Cognitive and academic profiles associated with math disabilities subtypes. Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 20(1), 31-44.

Drefs, M., Schroeder, M., Hiebert, B., Panayotidis, L., Winters, K., & Kerr, J. (2015). Canadian Innovation: A brief history of Canada’s first online school psychology graduate program. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 30(4), 288-303.

Schroeder, M., Drefs, M. A., Cairns, S., & Donley, K. (2015). Ethical and legal considerations of teaching psychology online. Education & Law, 24(2), 79-94.

Ryba, K. A., & Drefs, M. A. (2008). Dynamic distributed learning for graduate training in school psychology at the University of Calgary. Trainers’ Forum: Periodical of the Trainers of School Psychologists, 27(1), 19-23.


Davis, B., Drefs, M. A., & Francis, K. (2015). Tracing the history of spatial cognition in mathematics. In B. Davis & Spatial Reasoning Group (Eds.). Spatial reasoning in the early years: Assertions, speculations, and principles (pp. 47-62). New York: Routledge.

Andrews, J., Drefs, M., Lupart, J., & Loreman, T. (2015). Foundations, principles, and student diversity. In J. Andrews & J. Lupart (Eds.), Diversity education: Understanding and addressing student diversity in Canadian schools (pp. 24-73). Scarborough, ON: Nelson.

Drefs, M.A., Beran, T., & Fior, M. (2013). Methods of assessing academic achievement. In D.H. Saklofske, C. R. Reynolds , & V. L. Schwean (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Child Psychological Assessment (pp. 562-585). New York: Oxford University Press.


Davis, B. & Spatial Reasoning Group. (2015). Spatial reasoning in the early years: Assertions, speculations, and principles. New York: Routledge.

Photograph of Michelle Arlene Drefs
Powered by UNITIS. More features.