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.

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.