Project based learning and it’s impact to student academic performance Essay

Proposed Title of the Study

Project based learning and it’s impact to student academic performance

The proposed study is important to project-based learning, as it will demonstrate that a student’s comprehension of mathematics can be improved and their performance on mathematics tests can be enhanced through incorporating project-based learning into their mathematics studies. If it can be demonstrated that project-based learning facilitates students’ academic performance in the classroom, then it can be shown that project-based learning is an advantage over traditional teacher-centered learning in respect to mathematics instruction.


Inquiry into pedagogical theory suggests that all persons have unique strategies that they apply to the acquisition and processing of material (Allen, 2004; Schlemmer, Schlemmer, & Bratsch, 2007; Boss, Krauss, & Conery, 2008). Students have traditionally been instructed through a teacher-centered curriculum, this entails all the relevant information based on what has been planned by the teacher. In this case,   teacher-centered curriculum is more focused on giving information based on a theoretical approach other that a practical approach. By focusing on mathematics, the teacher centered approach has to be definitely practically to ensure that all the students are able to clearly follow up and understand the concepts that are being thought although this is not usually the case. (Boss et al., 2008). However, while teacher-centered learning is cost-effective and can be applied to multiple students at the same time, many students find it difficult to learn through this approach (Schlemmer et al., 2007; Boss et al).

Whereas teacher centered approach entails theoretical concepts laid forward by the teacher to the students, Project-based learning is centered in constructivist theory, which postulates that persons construct knowledge based on the acquisition of information and the application of this information in through experience (Driscoll, 2005;Yager, 2000).In the classroom, project-based learning models emphasize the role of student interaction with lesson plans and materials in order to generate functional knowledge and improve the likelihood that the student will use the new information in their studies and in a practical setting (Boss et al., 2008). The proposed study is important to project-based learning, as it will demonstrate that a student’s comprehension of mathematics can be improved and their performance on mathematics tests can be enhanced through incorporating project-based learning into their mathematics studies. If it can be demonstrated that project-based learning facilitates students’ academic performance in the classroom, then it can be shown that project-based learning is an advantage over traditional teacher-centered learning in respect to mathematics instruction.

Statement of the Problem

As information technologies continue to become more significant in the home and the workplace, it is widely recognized that students need to become familiar with these technologies in order to develop applicable, comprehensive information technology skills that will benefit them in their adult lives (Chang, 2001; Allen, 2004; Boss et al., 2008). Project-based learning is an alternative form of teaching to supplement the existing classroom curriculum and frequently incorporates information technologies as the medium through which the students interact with the curriculum material (Chang, 2001; Boss et al.). With the advent of information technologies, the cost and resources required for utilization of project-based learning have decreased (Boss et al.). However, educators, administrators and policymakers remain reluctant to implement project-based learning in the classroom (Boss et al.). The problem statement that governs this research project is therefore:

Reluctance to implement problem-based learning in the classroom deprives students of access to an effective teaching strategy that would not only benefit them in their immediate academic performance but also provide them with the opportunity to master information technology skills that would be essential to their success in the professional forum .The use of project based learning as an instructional strategy greatly impacts on the learning and achievement of students positively. There is a gap in research about the role of project based learning in approving student achievement in that the has been an increase in the number of student who continue to underachieve and by the incorporation of project based learning as an approach, achievement will be facilitated .


Students’ methods of learning differ dramatically, and these different methods are determined by the students’ individual backgrounds and educational history. Teacher-centered learning and student-centered learning form the basis of research into methods of learning (Allen, 2004). Teacher-centered learning refers to learning that is directed by the teacher, with the teacher as the focus of the classroom. Teacher-centered learning methods include lecturing and seminars (Schlemmer et al., 2007). In contrast, student-centered learning might use a teacher as a guide to the information, but the teacher monitors the students’ progress and the direction of the classroom while the students engage in activities, discussion, and project-centered learning (Schlemmer et al.); Boss et al., 2008). It is generally accepted that teacher-centered learning methods have a greater focus of control while student-centered learning methods have greater appeal for students (Boss et al.).

Constructivist theory has been proposed as a theoretical model to guide student instruction (Yager, 2000). In constructivist theory, students are introduced to information in a contextual format, which enables them to form a direct engagement with the information and understand how it can be used in practice (Yager, 2000). Honebein (1995) suggested that constructivist learning influences the student in seven key ways:

1.      Provide experience with the knowledge construction process

2.      Provide experience in and appreciation for multiple perspectives

3.      Embed learning in realistic and relevant contexts

4.      Encourage ownership and voice in the learning process

5.      Embed learning in social experience. Intellectual development

6.      Encourage the use of multiple modes of representation

7.      Encourage self-awareness of the knowledge construction process. (p. 5)

Constructivist theory has been directly incorporated into project-based learning, which includes these seven key principles as important and necessary components of the students’ educational processes (Schlemmer et al., 2007; Boss et al., 2008). Project-based learning is a teaching model that is applicable for all students regardless of age or background, but it has been shown that certain students are better able to recognize the content of project-based learning and apply it to their own educations than others (Yager, 2000; Driscoll, 2005). Adult students in particular have been shown to respond favorably to project-based learning because it allows them to have a greater degree of control over their education and they are allowed to make decisions that have observable outcomes (Allen, 2004). Students who are learning English as a second language respond favorably to project-based learning because project-based learning allows them to contextualize information and integrate it into a familiar knowledge base (Celce-Murcia, 2001; O’Malley & Valdez-Piece, 2003; Fotos, 2004). Secondary students also respond favorably to project-based learning because they have an existing structure of information drawn from their personal experiences and acquired information which can be used to expand this existing knowledge pool through project-based learning (Allen, 2004; Duke Corporate Education, 2006).

Public schools tend to focus on specific types of learning and typically rely upon an instructional lecture format in which information is imparted to many students at the same time by an authority figure. Although this format has been used for centuries, it is not resource-intensive. Furthermore, it is a familiar teaching strategy for educators and students. However, new research into methods of learning suggests that students respond differently to different teaching styles and that the lecture format is not the best teaching style for all students (Barell, 2006). Project-based learning, in which students engage in their education through researching, developing, and presenting projects within the classroom setting, engages students in classroom materials and helps facilitate the delivery of information (Boss et al., 2008).

In spite of its perceived effectiveness, project-based learning has historically required a greater investment of time and resources than traditional instructional lecturing. Thus, project-based learning has been used to supplement the classroom instead of serving as the basis of the curriculum (Allen, 2004). The advent of information technologies and project-based learning methods in the classroom has facilitated access to low-cost project-based learning (Boss et al., 2008). Through the use of computers and other forms of information technologies, students are able to engage in an instructional strategy that integrates classroom lessons into projects in a resource-conscious manner. In this case, the students benefit from creativity and intellectual learning since they will be able to totally carry out research themselves, a factor that enhances inventions and innovation (Barell, 2006).

Research Question

The following questions are used to guide this study:

1.      To what to what extend does project based learning impact the students’ achievement scores

2.      Are there significant differences in students perceptions of the effectiveness of project-based learned as compared to their perceptions of the effectiveness of project-based learned.

Significance of the Study

Instructional strategy is a fundamental component of curriculum development and planning within education. Instructional strategy refers to the approach taken by the educator to impart or communicate information to the student. Some types of instructional strategies appear to be well-suited to the curriculum and methods that are used within public schools, especially teacher-directed or teacher-centered learning. In public education, teacher-directed learning refers to the teacher-to-student relationship that is established within the classroom in which the teacher states information via lectures or lesson plans and the student acquires this information in the same form as it was initially imparted by the teacher. While teacher-directed learning is widely used within public education and is the dominant instructional strategy used within public schools, the reasons for its use are found in its feasibility instead of its effectiveness (Schlemmer et al., 2007). The availability of resources within public schools imposes limitations on the type of teaching strategies that can be used, and in the past teacher-directed learning has required the least number of resources (Schlemmer et al.).  Moreover, the prevalence of teacher-directed learning ensures that the teachers themselves receive instruction in this particular type of instructional strategy and that they are prepared to use it in the schools.

Recently, public schools have been required by state and federal law to demonstrate that students are capable of meeting specific academic performance benchmarks, such as achieving minimum standards on tests (Barell, 2006; Schlemmer et al., 2007). By extension, the ability of students to meet these benchmarks is applied to the school to review and assess the institution’s ability to deliver education to its students.  Many school administrators have found that the students were unable to meet these benchmarks and have sought to improve student performance through investing in alternative instructional strategies. In vocational education, project-based learning has helped students to develop an improved mastery of conceptual relationships and provides a practice setting in which students can develop a comprehensive understanding of the materials that were introduced to them via traditional teacher-directed instructional strategies (Barell, 2006). The literature indicates that students respond positively to project-based learning and that project-based learning is especially applicable for students who demonstrate difficulty in learning information delivered via printed materials.  Research on learning styles for secondary and postsecondary students indicates that project-based learning is exceptionally effective for older students (O’Malley & Valdez-Piece, 2003; Boss et al., 2008). It is necessary to demonstrate that project-based learning has the potential to improve the overall educational experience of the secondary student and that its applications are not limited to the classroom setting. The study will help show that project-based learning enriches students’ classroom experiences and improves their comprehension of the subject matter.

Topics in the Literature Review

The topics that are reviewed in the literature review are those on Garner’s Theories of Multiple Intelligence; the principles of Behaviorist, Cognitivist, and Constructivist learning, problem-based learning; and an assessment of information technologies and problem-based learning. The literature review incorporates information from academic publications and peer-reviewed journals. The topics that are addressed in the study include an overview of the current educational climate found within public schools and how instructional strategy functions within this climate; strengths and weaknesses of project-based learning; and the applicability of project-based learning in the public school classroom. The relationships formed between these three topics and their impact on the student achievement will help to emphasize the importance of the research study and its relevance to problems experienced within the public education system.

Barell’s (2006) Problem-based Learning: An Inquiry Approach presents a good starting point for those seeking to familiarize themselves with the basics of problem-based learning. Barell (2006) notes that problem-based learning “resolves questions, curiosities, doubts, and uncertainties about complex phenomena” and that it is especially relevant for schools as it helps give students a more comprehensive learning experience (p. 3). Similarly, Allen’s (2004) Tools for Teaching Content Literacy introduces several important arguments concerning how students learn and why a “one size fits all” instructional strategy is inappropriate for public schools (p. 5). Allen (2004) notes that different people have different approaches towards information gathering and information acquisition and those students who do not respond well to teacher-directed instructional strategy have traditionally suffered in terms of academic performance in schools. The acquisition and comprehension of information can be enhanced through isolating an appropriate instructional strategy for into the student’s preferred learning strategy.


The proposed mixed methods study will rely on the collection of quantitative academic test performance of students, in order to measure academic achievement, and the collection of qualitative data through the use of semi-structured interview for the students. The quantitative student achievement data will be gathered from the school and does not require an invasion of the students’ personal privacy .This will involve examining the test scores of students who are being taught by teachers who use project-based learning and compare to a set of teachers who do not. The End of the Year mathematics test performance will determine the degree to which project based learning impacts student mathematics achievement.  However, in order to gain an understanding of the reason for project based learning has a positive effect on student achievement, additional data shall be gathered from the students in three distinct groups of students.

It is proposed that the survey can be conducted in five groups, comprised of a minimum of six participants, for a minimum total sample of 30 participants. Thirty  subjects are considered an appropriate sample as the survey method allows the researcher to explore the subjects’ responses, and an abundance of students has the potential to confuse or complicate the focus of the research .Six  students from five  classrooms will also help to clarify commonalities and differences that emerge between the five  classrooms; the researcher is seeking to find common themes but any differences in response to project-based learning might help clarify specific functions. The courses that are the target of inquiry are already being taught within a specific public school system. Some of these courses are project-based while others are taught through teacher-directed classroom strategies.

Data collection

The test scores result obtained will base on the students performance relevance to the approach being used. Information in this case will be obtained from the pre existing database. The grades acquired by the students will be obtained. The sample will consist of 30 participants selected at random from a pool of volunteers.

A random sample is required because the study does not employ a case study methodology in which an entire classroom is surveyed for a specific duration of time; rather it employs a focus group methodology in which participants are invited to share their observations. The focus group methodology was selected because the researcher determined that a focus group would provide improved clarity of responses through a question-and-answer session. Therefore, the data yield a greater depth of information than what could be acquired from the case study method.

Volunteers will be recruited from classrooms in which project-based learning is facilitated through the use of computers and other forms of Information Technology. It is anticipated that the sample will consist of secondary students from a single high school that is located in the researcher’s community (Gestwicki, 2003).

Data Analysis

From the test scores, data will be analyzed through descriptive statistics .this will be compared to data obtained from previous research works on the issue of student’s achievement and the approaches being used to facilitate effectiveness. Once this is accomplished, the themes will be bracketed to separate them from the content from which they first emerged. The themes will be explored as unique elements, and their significance will be noted accordingly.


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Barell, J. (2006). Problem-based learning: An inquiry approach. New York: Corwin Press.

Boss, S., Krauss, J, & Conery, L. (2008). Reinventing Project-based Learning: Your field guide to real-world projects in the Digital Age. New York: International Society for Technology in Education.

Celce-Murcia, M. (2001). Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language. New York: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Chang, C.Y. (2001). Comparing the impacts of a problem-based computer-assisted instruction and the direct-interactive teaching method on student science achievement. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 10 (2), 147–153.

Driscoll, M. P.(2005). Psychology of learning for instruction (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Duke Corporate Education (2006). Staying Focused on Goals and Priorities. New York: Kaplan Business.

Fotos, S.  (2004). New perspectives on call for second language classrooms. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gestwicki, C. (2003). Home, School, & Community Relations (5th Edition.). New York: Thomson Delmar Learning.

Honebein, P.C. (1995). Seven goals for the design of constructivist learning environments.  In K. Ghottman  (Ed.), Constructivist Learning Environments. 12– 24.  New York: Standard Books,

O’Malley, M. & Valdez-Piece, L. (2003). Authentic Assessment for English Language Learners (Revised Edition).  New York, NY: Addison Wesley Publishing Company.

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Yager, R.W. (2000). The constructivist learning model. Science Teacher. 67(1). 44–45.