Relevant Research

There are many articles that have been written about project-based learning. Here are summaries of relevant research articles. More to come soon!

Zuniga, A., & Cooper, T. M. (2016). Project-based learning: 7 ways to make it work. Educational Leadership, 73(9), 72-76.

Zuniga and Cooper highlight a high school in San Jose, California that has made the transition to project-based learning (PBL). They describe the changes that had to come about within the school structure to make PBL successful. The school wanted to provide its students with more opportunities for collaboration, creativity, communication, critical thinking, and citizenship to successfully prepare them for today’s world. This required a shift in their culture toward more student-centered pedagogical practices, which was challenging for some teachers used to a teacher-directed model of instruction. There was excitement in the first two years of implementation, but eventually this excitement waned. The school administrators, after listening to teacher feedback, intentionally designed a plan for moving forward with the ultimately successful initiative. This school identified seven lessons for a successful culture shift toward PBL: 1) clear, consistent communication from administrators, 2) district-level support, 3) identification and clarification of misperceptions, 4) a small start, 5) modeling to encourage others, 6) teacher buy-in to showcase student work, and 7) communication and collaboration among teachers. “…the keys to overcoming resistance include a systematic approach that incorporates clear and consistent communication, modeling, realistic goal setting, and demonstrations of the value of the change. But perhaps the most important component of any attempt to change the status quo is keeping student success at the center” (para 31).

Duke, N. K., Halvorsen, A., Strachan, S. L., Kim, J., & Konstantopoulos, S. (2019). Putting PBL to the test: The impact of project-based learning on second-graders' social studies and literacy learning and motivation in low-SES school settings. Teaching and Teacher Education, 84, 95-105. doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2019.04.016

Duke, Halvorsen, Strachan, Kim, and Konstantopoulos (2018) studied the impact of second grade students’ social studies and literacy achievement when receiving instruction through project-based learning (PBL). Their research was conducted in 11 schools where 65% or more of the students qualified for free and reduced lunch, and traditionally had performed below the state average on testing in social studies, reading and writing. Twenty-four teachers received a one-day training and three follow-up sessions, as well as limited coaching in PBL, while the other 24 teachers taught social studies as they normally would. The results showed that the PBL group scored higher than the comparison group on the social studies and informational reading testing measures. There was not a statistically significant difference in writing scores. Overall, teachers with more consistent implementation of PBL sessions saw more gains in their students' achievement in all four areas. As noted by the researchers, this was a first-year implementation by the teachers, and the instructional coaches had a minimal role so as not to influence the results disproportionately. Both of these issues were potential factors in the final outcomes, and it is clear from this study that a larger body of research is necessary on the impacts of PBL as an instructional strategy.