Project-based learning sounds great: but does it work? Is there a way to find out what effects project-based learning (PBL) has on students? Admittedly, assessing PBL’s benefits can be tricky since it can be applied in a number of different ways and is often not the only form of instruction students receive. Luckily, as PBL’s popularity grows, there is also a growing body of research. Studies measuring the effects of PBL show significant benefits to students’ academic performance.
Students who participate in PBL exhibit better retention and depth of understanding than their traditional schooling counterparts.
Middle-school students who participated in multimedia-based PBL showed more significant “mastery of content” than the students in classes with traditional instruction and were better able to “create complex products that exhibited their skill”. (Penuel & Means, 2000) Another study looked at high school economics instruction and found that “students whose teachers used the problem-based curriculum in their classrooms scored significantly higher” on assessments. (Finkelstein et al., 2010)
PBL has a positive effect on student attitudes toward learning.
A 2000 research review determined that PBL instruction was just as effective, or more effective, than other types of instruction in achieving “gains in general academic achievement and for developing lower-level cognitive skills in traditional subject matter areas.” There was also evidence that PBL may help students become more capable problem-solvers. (Thomas, 2000)
The PBL model is effective at reaching students of various backgrounds and achievement levels.
Results of a 3-year-study published in 2002 found that students taught using a project-based math curriculum outperformed their counterparts receiving traditional education methods. The two schools monitored were both in low income areas and students were predominately from working class families. (Boaler, 2002)
Two groups of 7th and 8th graders in Detroit Public Schools participated in PBL science programs and, as compared to other students in the same schools, showed increased competency in science and higher scores on a high-stakes science test. The study also concluded that participating in PBL helped urban African-American boys close a gender achievement gap. (Geier, 2008)
When it comes to testing, PBL students score the same or better than students receiving traditional instruction.
A project-based approach to teaching an AP course at three high schools resulted in students achieving higher scores on the AP test than those students at the same schools who received traditional AP instruction. The PBL students also understood the course content more comprehensively than their counterparts. (Parker et al., 2011)In 2012, the West Virginia Department of Education published findings on PBL and student achievement. Students whose teachers followed a PBL curriculum performed as well on the state’s summative assessment as those students who didn’t have PBL instruction. (Hixson, Ravitz, & Whisman, 2012)