Project Based Learning for Diverse Students

The following post is a reflection of my thoughts after reading the article How Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathemathics (STEM) Project-Based Learning (PBL) Affects Hight, Middle, and Low Achievers Differently: The Impact of Studet Factors on Achievement by Sun Young Han, Robert Capraro and Mary Margaret Capraro.

 

The first item that caught my attention in the article is that the study notes that female students preferred PBL activities and demonstrated higher achievement from them.  I would not have expected this conclusion since PBL is supposed to be engaging and authentic for all students or as many students as possible.  I might have considered gender preferences to various projects depending on the subject or research that was required to align with other interests by gender, but the study makes no clarification about project topics or background.

The study focused on a group of students using PBL learning once every 6 weeks in their math and science classes over a three year period.  For analysis, the students were split into groups of low-achieving, middle -achieving, and high-achieving based on state test scores at the beginning of the three year period.  The low-level performance group had a much higher growth rate over the 3 year whereas the middle-level and high-level performance groups had about the same level of growth during the time period of the study.  Since PBL is advertised as being engaging for all students, I would have expected all students in the study to show high growth rates as compared to the control group of traditional classrooms.

The PBL school also had much higher growth rates for Hispanic students than for non-Hispanic students involved in PBL classrooms.  This could possibly be indicating that some components of PBL, such as collaboration and ill-defined problems, might be more appropriate for some groups of students than others.

The study also did a breakdown about socio-economic status.  Low-SES was not a barrier for mathematics on the initial year of testing in this 3-year study.  However, the low-economic status students had negative growth using PBL learning.  I am again questioning why this could be.  If PBL is supposed to be authentic and connect to the real-world, are the questions and scenarios unintentionally targeted towards experiences that the low-economic students may not be exposed to?

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