Project-based learning improves student performance significantly according to breakthrough research
Innovative Teaching Strategy Offers Engaging, Real-world Experiences for Students that Could Prove Helpful after a Year of Learning Loss Due to Covid-19
SAN RAFAEL, CA, Feb. 21, 2021 -- Students in project-based learning (PBL) classrooms across the United States significantly outperform students in typical classrooms, according to four studies released today by Lucas Education Research, a division of the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF), along with researchers from five major universities.
In the first study ever reported on project-based learning and Advanced Placement results, research scientists at the Center for Economic and Social Research at USC Dornsife found that students taught AP US Government and AP Environmental Science with a PBL approach outperformed peers on exams by 8 percentage points in year one of a randomized controlled trial, and were more likely to earn a passing score of 3 or above with the chance to receive college credit. In year two, PBL students outperformed peers by 10 percentage points.
The yearlong curricula were developed by University of Washington professors alongside Seattle and Des Moines teachers. For example, in one of the five projects in the AP Government course, students answer the question, “What is the proper role of government in democracy?” by conducting a presidential campaign, taking on the roles of candidates, lobbyists and media. In the first of five projects in AP Environmental Science, students explore sustainability by conducting a personal environmental impact audit and developing a proposal to reduce consumption.
In a second study, researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) found that third- grade students in PBL classrooms from a variety of backgrounds scored 8 percentage points higher on a state science test than students who experienced typical science teaching methods. These effects held regardless of reading level. The third-grade curriculum offers students the chance to contribute to solving problems in their communities, such as how to help local birds survive.
"By making sense of the world and finding solutions to complex problems, students see that science is meaningful and personally valuable," said Joseph Krajcik, Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education and Director of the CREATE for STEM Institute at Michigan State University.
Another group of researchers from the University of Michigan and MSU found that second graders gained 5-6 months more learning in social studies and 2 months more in informational reading after receiving project-based instruction. The students were from low-income backgrounds and from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. The curriculum has four projects, including a civics unit where students develop a proposal to persuade government officials to make improvements to a public space, such as a local playground.
In the fourth study, Stanford University researchers found that sixth-grade students using a PBL science curriculum performed significantly better on state assessments in mathematics and English language arts when compared with students not using the curriculum. English language learners in the PBL classrooms scored up to 28 percentage points higher than their peers on a language proficiency test after completing projects, such as one on thermal energy where students engineer a solar oven so a neighborhood food truck can bake cookies or design gloves for fishermen working in frigid waters.
"These results demonstrate that well designed experiences with PBL, as well as practices that support equitable collaboration and subject-specific language development, can boost the engagement and learning achievement of historically underserved students, including English language learners," noted Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the California State Board of Education and Professor of Education, Emeritus at Stanford.
Policy makers, educators, and administrators are encouraged to consider project-based learning as a lever for increasing student learning and equitable outcomes.
"The evidence is clear, rigorous PBL results in a significant boost in academic achievement for students from many different backgrounds,” said Kristin De Vivo, executive director of Lucas Education Research.
"Education is the foundation of our democracy," said George Lucas, chairman of GLEF. "Project-based learning offers students rigorous academic experiences that take them beyond the boundaries of textbooks and lectures. In the process, they learn critical thinking skills and the competence to solve problems in the world around them."
Detailed information and videos about the research are available at Lucas Education Research and Edutopia. The curricula in each of the four studies are open-sourced and free. Lucas Education Research, a division of the George Lucas Educational Foundation funded the research.
Find Out More
Making Project-Based Learning Actionable with Ambitious Instruction
The emergence of various standards revisions in K-12 education, including the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, represent an exciting effort to reimagine expectations for teaching and learning in classrooms. Across reform efforts, multiple goals describe a different view of education than exists in many classrooms, including an emphasis on deeper learning in and across disciplines, a broad recognition that teachers need to do more to prepare learners to be ready for college, and reimagining of expectations for teaching and learning.Learn More
Project-Based Learning Digital Toolkit
New research demonstrates that students in Project-Based Learning (PBL) classrooms across the United States significantly outperform students in typical classrooms.Learn More
Rigorous Project-Based Learning is a Powerful Lever for Improving Equity
Lucas Education Research. (2021). Rigorous Project-Based Learning is a Powerful Lever for Improving Equity. Lucas Education Research. Persistent disparities in opportunities to learn between students from different socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds serve as stark reminders that our schools, which reflect what is happening in society, are not meeting the needs of all youth equally […]Learn More
The Evidence is Clear: Rigorous Project-Based Learning is an Effective Lever for Student Success
Lucas Education Research. (2021). The Evidence is Clear: Rigorous Project-Based Learning is an Effective Lever for Student Success. Lucas Education Research. Four newly released peer-reviewed research studies show that using rigorous project-based learning in U.S. public schools has strong and positive effects on student outcomes across grades and subjects. Project-based learning (PBL) is an inquiry-based […]Learn More
Enabling Conditions for Scaling Project-Based Learning
Zuckerbrod, N., De Vivo, K., and Udall, D. (2021). Enabling Conditions for Scaling Project-Based Learning. Lucas Education Research. This paper reviews the work of the Enabling Conditions Collaboratory (ECC), a team of researchers that looked across research projects to study the conditions that support the success of project-based learning. The researchers found that student engagement […]Learn More
Project-Based Learning Boosts Student Achievement in AP Courses
This brief examines the findings of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California examining a project-based approach to Advanced Placement courses.Learn More
Five Characteristics of Project-Based Learning
Four newly released, peer-reviewed research studies show that rigorous project-based learning (PBL) has a strong, positive impact on student outcomes. Although the four PBL courses that the researchers studied cover different subjects and grades and vary in their approaches, they do share common characteristics.Learn More
Project-Based Learning Leads to Gains in Science and Other Subjects in Middle School and Benefits All Learners
This research brief highlights the findings of a study looking at the impact of a project-based approach to science instruction in middle school.Learn More
Multiple Literacies in Project-Based Learning
Multiple Literacies in Project-Based Learning is a 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade science program developed by the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.Learn More
Project-Approach to Literacy and Civic Engagement (PLACE) Project
Project PLACE is a second-grade, project-based learning social studies and literacy program developed by teams from University of Michigan and Michigan State University.Learn More
Connect with us and receive news and updates!
We will send you a confirmation email shortly.