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












Using Pedagogical Documentation to Enhance Inquiry-based Teaching and Learning

Teachers from EC through Upper levels partnered with postdoctoral scholar, Nicole Mancevice, for a multi-year teacher action research project.


Focus:  “How did you solve the problem?” “Why did you use that strategy?” “What are my next steps based on what I learned today?” From EC through Upper levels, students are asking their peers questions about the process of learning, and they’re reflecting on their own learning process. Both students and teachers are documenting the students’ thinking in writing, sketches, and recordings. Teachers initiated an action research project to study the role of pedagogical documentation on student reflection and teacher decision-making as part of inquiry instruction in an elementary school setting.


Findings: Teacher and students improved on their abilities to reflect on the process of learning during inquiry. Results led to revising school “best practices” guide to address alignment between documentation and formative and summative assessment practices

Storytelling and Writing in Kindergarten STEAM Curriculum

Dr. Megan Franke (PI

Dr. Christine Lee (Co-Investigator)

School of Education and Information Science (SEIS

This year, Dr. Megan Franke (PI) and Dr. Christine Lee (Co-Investigator) will collaborate with Early Childhood teachers Kelly Peters, Eric Varela, and Arlen Vidal-Castro to research how UCLA Lab School Kindergarten students develop language, storytelling, and writing skills. As Kindergarten students are still developing how to decode and comprehend text, it is also important to continuously cultivate narrative and creative storytelling skills. Our research aims to explore how we can support students’ skills and identities as dynamic storytellers through wordless picture books. The research will include: video recordings of classroom activities on storytelling and photographs of students’ written stories. Any questions about the project can be directed to Dr. Megan Franke at or Dr. Christine Lee at

Understanding how children see complex event types

This winter quarter, Ekaterina Khlystova, a Ph.D. student from the Department of Linguistics, will conduct a study with Early Childhood I students (3-5 years) that examines how young children perceive complex events like trades. This study looks at how children of this age see different events in the world around them, as they are learning words that describe those events. In order to determine how children match new verbs to events they see in the world, we need to know whether they see those events in the same way as adults do. We will interview children ages 3-5 (Early Childhood I Classroom) for 15-30 minutes. This study consists of a single session in which the child is introduced to a “very picky” puppet. The child will then watch pairs of silent videos, with one video showing a girl and a boy playing with some toys and another with a small change to the video. By asking your child to help the puppet sort the pairs into ones that “match” and ones that don’t, we can see whether changes to some parts of the event (for instance, how the toy moves, what the toy is, who is moving the toy) are more or less noticeable than other changes. We will video record the sessions. Our hope is to examine how children perceive complex social interactions like “trading”, especially as it relates to early verb learning. Participation in this study is voluntary and will remain confidential. If you have any questions, or wish to opt out of this study, please contact the principal investigator, Ekaterina Khlystova, at