White Papers

In addition to releasing the findings of peer-reviewed studies examining the impact of project-based learning across subjects and grades, Lucas Education Research is publishing several white papers to support the implementation of high-quality project-based learning in U.S. schools. The papers provide context for the research and can help policymakers, educators, system leaders, and families deepen their understanding of rigorous project-based learning and what is needed to make it a reality for more students. See below for more information on the white papers. Each is available to download or share.

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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 often fueled the adoption of PBL and helped sustain and scale it. In addition, the researchers found strong teacher agency was essential to PBL’s long-term success in a school or system. They also noted that teachers must have sustained, high-quality professional-learning experiences and opportunities to take the student perspective on learning in a PBL classroom.

In addition to highlighting the work of the ECC, this paper features an interview with Michael McDowell, superintendent of the Ross School District in Northern California and an expert on project-based learning. He noted that project-based learning best serves students when it is rooted in core subject-matter content.

Published: March 2021

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 often fueled the adoption of PBL and helped sustain and scale it. In addition, the researchers found strong teacher agency was essential to PBL’s long-term success in a school or system. They also noted that teachers must have sustained, high-quality professional-learning experiences and opportunities to take the student perspective on learning in a PBL classroom.

In addition to highlighting the work of the ECC, this paper features an interview with Michael McDowell, superintendent of the Ross School District in Northern California and an expert on project-based learning. He noted that project-based learning best serves students when it is rooted in core subject-matter content.

Published: March 2021

Key Principles for Project-Based Learning

Baines, A.M., DeBarger, A., De Vivo, K., Warner, N., Santos, S., Brinkman, J., Udall, D., Zuckerbrod, N., Felsen, K., & Urban, R. (2021). Key Principles for Project-Based Learning. Lucas Education Research.

The shift from traditional, teacher-led instruction to student-centered, project-based learning is complex. This paper seeks to support the adoption and scaling of rigorous project-based learning (PBL) across grades and subjects by describing some of the essential elements found in high-quality PBL learning environments. These include purposeful and authentic experiences that are strategically sequenced and allow students to revisit concepts and skills over time. Projects should be relevant to learners, their communities, and the broader world. PBL also should be closely tied to academic content and disciplinary practices. High-quality PBL relies on the development of meaningful and supportive relationships. And, as described in this paper, PBL practices must be built around evidence-based approaches.

Published: February 2021

Key Principles for Project-Based Learning

Baines, A.M., DeBarger, A., De Vivo, K., Warner, N., Santos, S., Brinkman, J., Udall, D., Zuckerbrod, N., Felsen, K., & Urban, R. (2021). Key Principles for Project-Based Learning. Lucas Education Research.

The shift from traditional, teacher-led instruction to student-centered, project-based learning is complex. This paper seeks to support the adoption and scaling of rigorous project-based learning (PBL) across grades and subjects by describing some of the essential elements found in high-quality PBL learning environments. These include purposeful and authentic experiences that are strategically sequenced and allow students to revisit concepts and skills over time. Projects should be relevant to learners, their communities, and the broader world. PBL also should be closely tied to academic content and disciplinary practices. High-quality PBL relies on the development of meaningful and supportive relationships. And, as described in this paper, PBL practices must be built around evidence-based approaches.

Published: February 2021

Why Social and Emotional Learning Is Essential to Project-Based Learning

Baines, A.M., De Vivo, K., Warner, N., DeBarger, A., Udall, D., Zuckerbrod, N., & Felsen, K. (2021). Why Social and Emotional Learning Is Essential to Project-Based Learning. Lucas Education Research.

This paper looks at the connection between project-based learning and social and emotional learning (SEL). While all learning experiences benefit from a supportive social and emotional learning process and context, the collaborative and student-led nature of project-based learning (PBL) necessitates an emphasis on SEL. This paper explores that relationship and what’s needed for PBL to succeed. It also describes the ways in which a project-based approach can help a school or classroom meet its SEL goals.

The authors highlight research studies that examine the impact of PBL approaches on students’ social and emotional development. For example, they describe how an elementary science curriculum helps students reflect on and take ownership of their work, how a ninth-grade English language arts curriculum promotes empathy and self-advocacy, and how a middle-school PBL science curriculum explicitly teaches collaboration skills.

Published: February 2021

Why Social and Emotional Learning Is Essential to Project-Based Learning

Baines, A.M., De Vivo, K., Warner, N., DeBarger, A., Udall, D., Zuckerbrod, N., & Felsen, K. (2021). Why Social and Emotional Learning Is Essential to Project-Based Learning. Lucas Education Research.

This paper looks at the connection between project-based learning and social and emotional learning (SEL). While all learning experiences benefit from a supportive social and emotional learning process and context, the collaborative and student-led nature of project-based learning (PBL) necessitates an emphasis on SEL. This paper explores that relationship and what’s needed for PBL to succeed. It also describes the ways in which a project-based approach can help a school or classroom meet its SEL goals.

The authors highlight research studies that examine the impact of PBL approaches on students’ social and emotional development. For example, they describe how an elementary science curriculum helps students reflect on and take ownership of their work, how a ninth-grade English language arts curriculum promotes empathy and self-advocacy, and how a middle-school PBL science curriculum explicitly teaches collaboration skills.

Published: February 2021

High Quality Professional Learning for Project-Based Learning

Richards, S., Zuckerbrod, N., De Vivo, K., Felsen, K., Paulger, C., & Udall, D. (2021). High Quality Professional Learning for Project-Based Learning. Lucas Education Research.

This paper provides an overview of the research landscape for the kind of professional learning needed for project-based learning to succeed. The evidence is clear that such professional learning must ensure teachers are active, self-directed learners who receive support that is meaningful and relevant to their experiences and context.

The authors provide a close examination of the specific professional-learning opportunities available to teachers through the Knowledge in Action program. The KIA program, an effective PBL approach to AP courses, provides sustained support to teachers over the course of a year. That support includes intensive coaching, the chance to reflect on one’s practices, and opportunities for teachers to try inquiry-based experiences that are similar to those students experience in a PBL classroom. That particular approach helps teachers make sense of instructional practices that tend to be fairly different from those that are more commonly used in schools.

Published: February 2021

High Quality Professional Learning for Project-Based Learning

Richards, S., Zuckerbrod, N., De Vivo, K., Felsen, K., Paulger, C., & Udall, D. (2021). High Quality Professional Learning for Project-Based Learning. Lucas Education Research.

This paper provides an overview of the research landscape for the kind of professional learning needed for project-based learning to succeed. The evidence is clear that such professional learning must ensure teachers are active, self-directed learners who receive support that is meaningful and relevant to their experiences and context.

The authors provide a close examination of the specific professional-learning opportunities available to teachers through the Knowledge in Action program. The KIA program, an effective PBL approach to AP courses, provides sustained support to teachers over the course of a year. That support includes intensive coaching, the chance to reflect on one’s practices, and opportunities for teachers to try inquiry-based experiences that are similar to those students experience in a PBL classroom. That particular approach helps teachers make sense of instructional practices that tend to be fairly different from those that are more commonly used in schools.

Published: February 2021

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