Recent LCHC Projects

1. Torrey Pines Elementary School 

Started in 1996, The Fifth Dimension site at Torrey Pines Elementary currently consists of two programs. The first program runs during school hours with all of the 5th graders in the school, the other is conducted during afterschool hours primarily for children bused in from a lower-income, largely Latino, neighborhood south of I-5. The two implementations permit an analysis of the dynamics of activity within a 5thDimension as a function of ethnic group origins of the children and formal vs informal institutional arrangements. The Fifth Dimensions at Torrey Pines are characterized by high parent and teacher involvement and a high level of collaboration between parents, teachers, and university faculty. These networks of collaboration has made it possible to overcome a common weakness of Fifth Dimensions as research tools—we have not regularly had access to children’s academic performance. At Torrey Pines, however the relatively strong administrative structure has played a crucial role. The Principle, on his own, did the kinds of quantitative comparative analyses we ourselves required. It was he who came to us gloating about the evidence of the exceptional efficacy of the program (Lead Researchers: Virginia Gordon, Beth Ferholt, Michael Cole). 


2. Emotion, Play, and Learning: Gaming After School (Mid 2010-Spring 2012)

Jay Lemke and a group of co-researchers from LCHC documented the activities of students aged mainly from 8 - 11 years old at an urban charter school playing computer games and playing with each other and with visiting undergraduates from UCSD. Initially we were interested in how the students learned from one particular educational game, Quest Atlantis. As our observations, supported by videotaping and fieldnotes made both by the research team and the undergraduates (and occasionally by the kids), progressed we came to be more focused on the ways in which emotional engagement and various modes of play mediated opportunities to learn. At the kids’ initiative, we expanded the activities to include other computer games (educational and commercial) and other play activities more closely or more loosely inspired by the games. Data analysis is ongoing. An initial print publication in 2013 will be followed by accounts in online journals and possibly an e-book, so that video excepts can be included. 

The research site was a 5th Dimension format project (on-campus practicum and theory course with field work: close interactions of undergraduates and students from the charter school, documented by fieldnotes and term papers). The courses were taught and the fieldwork organized by Dr. Deborah Downing-Wilson and Jennifer Pond, who also assisted in the research along with LCHC doctoral students Robert Lecusay and Ivan Rosero. Ian Holaday, an undergraduate participant also produced a narrative film describing the overall project, and later Andy Rice, another doctoral student, produced a second film documenting several LCHC projects, including this one. Several other undergraduates contributed significantly to the research activities (Lead Researcher: Jay Lemke).


3. Documenting and Assessing Learning in Informal Activities (2011-2012)

In 2011-2012, Mike Cole, Jay Lemke, and Robert Lecusay of LCHC organized a research effort sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation to describe the state of the art and make recommendations on good practices for documenting and assessing learning in informal and media-rich environments. A major literature review was conducted and three invitational workshops held in San Francisco, Chicago, and San Diego for research leaders in this field to provide input and advice. A final report has been published online and is under revision as a book for MIT Press. Among the most important recommendations are that learning be documented not just for individuals but also for groups and organizations, and that learning be assessed not simply in relation to knowledge and skills but also with respect to social-emotional and identity development. The report focuses on learning in after-school programs, museums, and online communities. The project was carried out in partnership with Vera Michalchik of SRI International (Lead Researchers: Robert Lecusay, Jay Lemke, Michael Cole).


4. Development of Adult-­Child Intersubjectivity in Informal Learning Settings

This project is closely related to the work on microgenesis of culture because joint attention to objects and the ability to interpret what others are thinking and feeling appear to be at the heart of both cultural and intellectual development. In this work, which takes place in UCLinks sites we focus on the process by which adults and children develop a sufficient shared sense of the other's understanding of a given activity to be able to accomplish successful explanations and hence, enable learning. To understand this process requires that the participants communicate their experience to one another, providing access to the processes involved. Combining participant­ observation and detailed video analysis of adult­childinteractions as they seek to make a slow motion video illustrating the concepts of velocity and changes invelocity (for example), we focus on how these processes unfold through the emergence and coordination of multiple communicative modalities between the participants mediated by various objects and tools designed to promote success. Analyses draw on transcripts, video recordings of the interaction from multiple perspectives, and analysis of the products embodying participants’ changing understandings. This work is being done in collaboration with physics education groups at the University of Colorado, Boulder (Noah FinkelsteinLaurel Mayhew) and Tufts University (Brian GravelChris RogersWilliam Church) and LCHC (Michael ColeRobert Lecusay). For a published example from a Fifth Dimension see Lecusay, R., Rossen, L., Cole, M. (2008).


5. International Playworlds: Mixing Adult and Child Fantasy Play

The Playworld projects explore a historically new form of play, one in which adults and children enter into a common fantasy, often using folk stories recorded in books as a key organizing artifact.  Playworlds are dramaturgical classroom interventions that focus on emotional experience and aesthetic relation to reality through involving children and adults in staged as well as spontaneous pretend play.  These interventions are grounded in the theories of L. S. Vygotsky of Russia, G. Lindqvist of Sweden and Pentti Hakkarainen of Finland, and are designed to enable adults and children to engage in joint pretense as a means of promoting the emotional, cognitive, and social development of both children and adults. In 2003 playworld researchers from Finland, Japan, Sweden and the United States were able to work together for several months at LCHC. We staged the first U.S. playworld together, and applied for funding for future collaboration.  In November, 2005 we held the first international playworld conference, Cross­cultural Perspectives on Learning and Development Through Art and Play, at LCHC, with funding provided by the Pacific Rim Research Program.  The first resulting international joint publication will be in a special issue of Mind, Culture and Activity, devoted to varying cultural approaches to Playworlds. It will be edited by two members of the LCHC playworld project.  During the 2005 conference the Playworld group completed a detailed, joint analysis of data comparing our international set of playworld projects.

This collaborative work enabled us to continue our joint data analysis through regular email exchange and video conferencing.  The use of telecommunication exchanges engendered additional individual visits to foreign sites based upon locally available funds. In January, 2008 two playworld researchers from Finland, one from Sweden and one from Japan, are coming to LCHC for several months to complete publication plans and to initiate a new round of research covering the 2008-­2011 period based upon the lessons of our prior efforts.

For country ­specific descriptions of the various playworlds projects visit our Playworlds Page.


6. Microgenesis of Culture and Cognition

A growing literature is documenting the processes of idioculture formation using meaningless stimuli which subjects are asked to learn to categorize in small group problem solving settings. This approach represents one, useful, end of a continuum of needed studies on the microgenesis of culture. What it under­represents, however, is the strong emotional attachments that are a part of normal culture formation and enculturation processes. To begin to bridge between quasi­-naturalistic approaches to culture formation and enculturation that are observable in Fifth Dimensions and activities in which subjects categorize ink blots or number patterns, a team of LCHC researchers is initiating a study that takes as its starting point materials that have been developed in inter­cultural sensitivity training programs and courses on intercultural communication, but which have not been subjected to rigorous and detailed analysis. A major issue we confront in this work is to be able, through a combination of daily diary keeping by participants, audio and video recordings of activities to be able to document the interweaving of cognitive and emotional changes that occur more or less simultaneously in the group and its members and that are believed to be at the heart of culture formation (Lead Researchers: Michael Cole, Deborah Downing-Wilson).

For more information, see Deborah Downing-Wilson’s dissertation

Also see a paper on Social Simulations by Deborah Downing-Wilson and Michael Cole: Social Simulations as a Tool for Understanding Individual, Cultural, and Societal Change


7. Engaging Russian and American Youth in Joint Activities Using the Internet

This project, conducted between 2004 and 2005, was called "The Wizard of Internet City."  It was supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development under the auspices of its Foundation for RussianAmerican Economic Cooperation (FRAEC). The main partners were The Institute of Education in the Siberian city of Ussirisk and LCHC, working with local community youth organizations. The project was focused on a joint search for new forms of informal education that would induce teenagers including at­risk teens to get involved in productive social activities, to increase their knowledge of the technology, foreign language ability, and to broaden their professional potential. In addition to experimenting with a variety of ways to get youth in both countries engaged with each other, the research explored the development of new methods of incorporating the twiki technology into the educational process.

It proved possible to motivate teen participation and to use the twiki technology, although the short (1 year) duration of the program made it impossible to develop what we considered deep international collaboration  among the youth involved. The project was positively evaluated by FRAEC, but AID's funding priorities changed and all projects in this program were halted. (Lead Researchers: Alexander Chizhik and Michael Cole; a summary of Professor Chizik's visit to the Ussirisk site can be accessed here. Sample web pages constructed by the student participants: Cultural LifeRussian LibraryChildren's Art School,Ussuriysk State Pedagogical InstituteFeng ShuTravelling in RussiaVDV 75.)


8. Primary Education, Culture, and Cognitive Processes of Yucatec Mayan Children   

This project links researchers and students from six different colleges and universities in Mexico and the United States. The basic focus of the research is to determine if there are ways to leverage the indigenous linguistic and cultural resources of the residents of a Yucatecan Mayan village to enhance the education of their children in a school system where Spanish and the uniform national curriculum of Mexico are standard. The US researchers include experts in the Mayan language and local culture in Illinois and an expert on leveraging indigenous funds of knowledge for promoting education in Arizona , as well as the researchers at LCHC. The researchers and students in the Yucatan carry out investigations in a local village where Cole conducted related research 30 years ago to better understand the linguistic practices in the children's classrooms and homes and the attitudes towards Mayan language and culture characteristic of the children's parents and teachers. The Mexican team participated in regular seminars with researchers and students from four different U.S. universities (Lead Researchers: Michael Cole, Juan Carlos and Mijangos Noh. Collaborators: Suzanne Gaskins, Virginia Gordon, John Lucy, Luis Moll. Graduate Students: Patricia Azuara, Robert Lecusay, Luis Cerveto Robles and Fabiola Romero).

For more information, see the UC Mexus Report 


9. Francis Parker Research Scholars Mentorships (Fall 2012)

In Fall 2012, Green STEAM Communities joined forces with UCSD Extension’s Research Scholar’s Program and Francis Parker School. The program provides opportunities for high school students to pursue independent research in the natural and social sciences under the supervision of PhD candidates. Two Green STEAM Communities doctoral students supervised four Francis Parker high school students in designing and constructing garden moisture sensors in conjunction with the telemetric scheme to transmit the readings from the sensors for reading online in real time. Additionally, the Green STEAM Communities students collaborated with the high school students to produce a documentary short about the research and experiments they conducted, and summarizing some of the key issues that motivated their work.


10. Inducing Theoretically Guided Practice Among Undergraduates

All UClinks activities, by virtue of their core structure, involve undergraduates in the process of educating younger people. This involvement goes far beyond the usual role of observer or teacher’s assistant, because the undergrads play a central role in constructing the activities that they then engage in with the children. They are taught to document their work in professional detail. This arrangement appears to induce a unique form of theory-­practice education marked changes in undergraduate’s conceptual grasp of the materials, greater ability to mediate activity at the sites through a theoretical lens as a tool of their own, a marked change in attitude toward economically less fortunate and unfamiliar ethnic groups, and greater focus on their own educational goals in relation to work,  are all major topics of study. In the past few years we have been able to document these kinds of changes through a qualitative analysis of undergraduate field notes and special reflection papers that they themselves write on the basis of their field notes.

Pre and post tests of undergraduate development in these classes based on Q­sort methods that yield a quantitative profile of each undergraduate’s understandings and attitudes toward issues that we know, on the basis of prior analyses, arise routinely in the practicum classes. An immediate goal for this work is to replicate the initial results, in which the quantitative results appear to converge with the qualitative self evaluations arrived at by narrative techniques. If the replication is successful, we will be in a position to conduct a true experiment with pre and post test measures on students attending practicum and non­practicum style classes focused on the same intellectual content. (for preliminary results see Deborah Wilson's paper on using Qsort to assess attitude changes in undergraduates who participate inFifth Dimension projects. For a related paper examining border work in the Fifth Dimension.) (Lead Researchers: Michael Cole, Deborah Downing-Wilson).