Project-Approach to Literacy and Civic Engagement (PLACE) Project

Overview

PLACE is a second-grade Project Based Learning program that integrates social studies and content literacy. Led by principal investigators Dr. Nell Duke from the University of Michigan and Dr. Anne-Lise Halvorsen from Michigan State University, this partnership allowed for the scale-up of rigorous research to examine whether the project-based pedagogy helps teachers significantly narrow the achievement gap between low-income students and those in more affluent school communities.

Principal Investigator:

Dr. Nell Duke from the University of Michigan and Dr. Anne-Lise Halvorsen from Michigan State University

Year of Funding:

2014-2015

Curriculum

Investigating the Role of Curriculum Materials and Connected Support in Learning Project-Based Instruction

The purpose of this project was to better understand the work teachers do to use guidance from curriculum materials as the basis for project-based classroom instruction. For this study, a researcher followed six second-grade teachers as they taught Project PLACE, a second-grade project-based social studies and content literacy curriculum. These teachers, who were new to project-based learning, saw the detailed lesson plans in the curriculum as an important resource for helping them transition to project-based learning, and they remained committed to using these plans throughout the year. Even so, as they taught the Project PLACE units, they commonly departed from elements of the guidance included in the plans.

Analysis of these teachers’ practices suggested that using the guidance from the curriculum materials involved a process of active translation from the written guidance to instructional designs and interactions. To translate the written guidance, teachers had to prioritize among different elements contained in plans, especially as they encountered common problems of teaching such as time constraints. The work of translating also involved selecting and employing teaching techniques that were not detailed in the plans. The Project PLACE units played out differently across the six classrooms observed; these variations were related to differences in teachers’ repertoires of instructional techniques as well as to individual decisions teachers made about what to prioritize from the lesson plans in their particular instructional situations.

This study has implications for the design of professional development connected with the use of project-based curriculum materials. Professional development can support teachers’ use of the curriculum materials by preparing them to translate the guidance in the materials, helping them think together about how to determine the significance of various parts of the lesson, anticipate and plan for issues that might arise, and consider possible techniques to use. In addition, professional development can provide opportunities for teachers to observe techniques that can be used to implement lesson plans, consider the pros and cons of these techniques, and discuss which techniques might be useful in which kinds of instructional situations.

This study also has implications for the design of project-based curriculum materials, raising questions about how curriculum developers might best communicate the priorities of a project-based curriculum to teachers while acknowledging that various instructional situations will call for different ways of prioritizing the guidance within the curriculum.

 

Related Publications

The Impact of Project-Based Learning on Social Studies and Literacy Learning in Low-Income Schools

Brief based on the following paper:

Duke, N.K., Halvorsen, A-L., Strachan, S.L., Kim, J., & Konstantopoulos, S. (June 2020). Putting PjBL to the Test: The Impact of Project-Based Learning on Second Graders’ Social Studies and Literacy Learning and Motivation in Low-SES School Settings. American Educational Research Journal. doi.org/10.3102/0002831220929638

This brief describes the findings of a study into the effects of a project-based learning (PBL) social studies curriculum, Project PLACE, on social studies and literacy achievement among second graders in low-income communities. The study by University of Michigan and Michigan State researchers found the PBL curriculum led to gains in social studies and informational reading. Students using the curriculum experienced a 63-percent gain in social studies learning, translating to five to six months of increased learning. The approach resulted in a 23-percent gain in informational reading, or an additional two months of learning for the year.

Project PLACE calls for a combination of teacher-led and student-led activities all driven by authentic purpose. An important contribution of the study is that it makes the case for the benefits of PBL in high-poverty schools. Research has shown students in low-income schools have fewer opportunities than more privileged students to engage in inquiry-based, student-directed activities.

Putting PjBL to the Test: The Impact of Project-Based Learning on Second Graders’ Social Studies and Literacy Learning and Motivation in Low-SES School Settings

Duke, N. K., Halvorsen, A., Strachan, S. L., Kim, J., & Konstantopoulos, S. (2020). Putting PjBL to the Test: The Impact of Project-Based Learning on Second Graders’ Social Studies and Literacy Learning and Motivation in Low-SES School Settings. American Educational Research Journal.

This cluster randomized controlled trial investigated the impact of project-based learning with professional development supports on social studies and literacy achievement and motivation of second grade students from low–socioeconomic status school districts.

Project-Based Learning in Primary-Grade Social Studies

Halvorsen, A.-L., Duke, N. K., & Strachan, S. L. (2019). Project-Based Learning in Primary-Grade Social Studies. Social Education, 83(1), 58-62.

This journal article examines how PBL impacts early elementary social studies education, specifically the ways in which project-based learning helped reduce the achievement gap and improve student engagement with the curriculum.

Engaging the Community With a Project-Based Approach

Halvorsen, A.-L., Duke, N. K., Strachan, S. L., & Johnson, C. M. (2018). Engaging the Community With a Project-Based Approach. Social Education, 82(1), 24–29.

This journal article discusses the pedagogical approach and benefits of Project PLACE, a Michigan-based project-based learning (PBL) initiative that examined the impact of a PBL curriculum on a group of second-grade social studies students, and how community involvement impacts classroom experience.

Project-Based Learning Not Just for Stem Anymore

Duke, N.K., Halvorsen A-L., & Strachan, S. L. (2016). Project-based learning not just for STEM anymore. Phi Delta Kappan, 98 (1).

The popularity of project-based learning has been driven in part by a growing number of STEM schools and programs. But STEM subjects are not the only fertile ground for project based learning. Social studies and literacy content, too, can be adapted into PBL units to benefit teaching and learning, the authors argue.

Project-Based Instruction: A Great Match for Informational Texts

Duke, N.K. (2016). Project-Based Instruction: A Great Match for Informational Texts. American Educator, 40 (3).

Research increasingly shows that project-based approaches-in which students build something, create something, solve a real problem or address a real need- improve students' knowledge and skills.

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