The Impact of Play on Students’ Learning and Engagement

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Megan Franke (

PI  Christine Lee PhD

Graduate School of Education and Information Studies

Participants: Primary students

Classrooms 9 & 10

Focus: Primary teachers and Dr. Lee co-designed a play-based science and math unit on interdependent relationships in the marine ecosystem. Students chose marine roles and created costumes to depict underwater inhabitants such as plankton, kelp, whales, sea urchins, and sea otters, and learned about their roles within an underwater kelp forest. The students then played as their chosen role in the deep underwater kelp forest to better understand their contribution to a balanced ecosystem.

Findings: Pre and posttests showed significant learning in students’ level of understanding of the interdependent nature of marine species needed for a thriving ecosystem. Students displayed learning of spatial relations skills as they used size and dimension to represent the kelp forest ecosystem depicted in drawings below. The students grew passionate about preventing humans from disrupting marine life, so they used art to create a sculpture of the kelp forest using plastic waste and created informational pamphlets to share with their school community.

Student Work Before Lessons

Student Work After Lessons