K-12 students need to learn scientific ideas – such as balanced and unbalanced forces and adaptation – to understand the world, including the pressing environmental problems they are likely to face as a result of climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the importance of evidence in making scientific claims.
Unlike a traditional elementary school science curriculum, which relies on textbooks and covering information, project-based learning students learn how to explain natural events such as why dinosaurs died out but tiny mammals survived, and why objects start or stop moving or change directions. They design solutions to engineering problems, and acquire the intellectual tools to seek out additional knowledge when needed.
The Multiple Literacies in Project-Based Learning program was designed using principles supported by research and aligning with recommendations from the National Research Council on how to support student learning, such as using engineering practices to help make sense of compelling phenomena.
We expect – but don’t yet know – that if students continue to experience the project-based curriculum in 4th and 5th grades, their knowledge of science, social and emotional learning and creative problem-solving will continue to grow. We also expect that as teachers gain experience teaching project-based learning, their students’ science knowledge and creative problem-solving will increase even more.
We are also learning ways to better capture and keep children’s attention with challenging real-world problems and compelling phenomena.
We have conducted a similar project-based intervention in high school chemistry and physics. Our findings show that it increased science achievement and interest in pursuing STEM careers for all students, regardless of ability and backgrounds. We are currently exploring how to make project-based learning usable and lasting in various environments, including virtual, hybrid and face-to-face instruction.
Joseph S. Krajcik and Barbara Schneider are professors of education at Michigan State University. This piece originally appeared in The Conversation, a nonprofit news source dedicated to unlocking ideas from academia for the public.