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Research Shows Project-Based Learning Leads to Advanced Academic Growth

Project Based Learning Friday, 12 Aug 2022

North Park Elementary School’s approach to academics, rooted in inquiry, critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, self-expression, and collaboration–with a unique combination of rigorous academics taught in the context of an authentic, supportive, and inclusive community–continues to see its approach, so engaging, joyful, and meaningful for students, supported by research. The findings of three recent studies show how project-based learning like that featured in the NPES program leads to advanced academic growth for all students.

2021 studies by researchers at the University of Southern California, Michigan State University, and the University of Michigan found that students engaged in collaborative project-based learning outperformed students in more traditional settings across ability levels, grade levels, socio-economic levels, and racial groups. In one study focused on third grade science students, students in the project-based group–with an emphasis on inquiry learning, collaboration, and communication like ours–outperformed by 8 points students learning the same content and skills in a more traditional classroom. In the same study with 2,371 third graders, the performance in science went up dramatically regardless of even variation in student reading levels. Furthemore, students who engaged in project-based learning retained more of what they learned, having connected the new concepts and skills more meaningfully to their everyday lives and the world around them, an incredibly impactful finding for a child’s future academic success. It is also worth noting that students at all levels of achievement–including those struggling to learn and the highest achievers–grew more through project-based learning than their counterparts working more traditionally.

Another 2021 study, this one by Guerrero and Wiley published in the Journal of Educational Psychology (coincidentally also studying learning through the work of students in science class), found that when students believed they were learning to teach other students, they learned more than when they believed they were learning to take a test (even if they never actually taught other students what they had learned). As the authors note, “The present experiments tested for benefits when students simply prepared to teach another student and found that preparing to teach (vs. preparing to test) led to better performance on test items measuring both memory for text and comprehension from text for the “teacher.” This finding suggests to me that our notion of students “constructing knowledge” as they learn–developing and synthesizing their own understandings as they engage with purpose in interesting learning projects, invested in preparing to create something and/or share what they’ve learned with others as the culmination of the process–has great value to their academic
growth, now and in the future.

It’s wonderful to continue to see the empirical evidence behind the success of our faculty’s approach to impactful teaching, and our students’ academic achievements. This year, our Director of Teaching and Learning Emily Friend will write periodically in Shark Bites about the NPES curriculum, sharing some highlights of projects from around the school. We hope you find these pieces interesting and exciting. We’re proud of our curriculum and pedagogy, and we find the high levels of student interest and engagement in NPES classrooms affirming.

For more on the studies referenced above visit, click the following links:

New Research Makes a Powerful Case for Project-Based Learning

Expecting to Teach Affects Learning During Study of Expository Texts