Dr. Ron MacDonald, a researcher and associate professor of education, along with high school science teachers David Ramsay and Jennifer Halupa, and PhD student Selvi Roy, presented their findings in a study that piloted a project-based learning approach to teaching high school science curriculum in a classroom setting. Project-based learning steps away from the traditional top-down, teacher-centered learning in a traditional classroom and gives students problems and scenarios that must be solved by groups of students.
“Often, in a school environment, a project is seen as an add-on to supplement the learning that happens from lectures and tests,” said Dr. MacDonald. “In project-based learning, students engage in a question. The amount of formal instruction time is reduced, and students spend the bulk of their time working to accomplish something together. It shifts the motivation from external to internal: rather than doing this project because their teacher wants them to, they’re doing it because they want to accomplish something over which they feel ownership.”
The study was carried out in a Grade 10 science classroom at (school), taught by David Ramsay. For one semester, Ramsay used a project-based learning approach to deliver the outcomes laid out in PEI curriculum.
“I divided the class up into groups of four, and these groups were asked to invent a new planet,” said Ramsay. “There was certainly a creative element to it, in that they were able to use their imaginations to determine the size and name of the planet, the type of star it orbited, and so on. But the planets had to follow the natural laws of science. They had to make it work in a practical way, demonstrating the knowledge they had gained along the way.”
Dr. MacDonald notes that, “What is unusual about this project-based learning approach is that the student-centered project runs the full length of the semester, and 100% of the Grade 10 science curricular outcomes in chemistry, ecology, meteorology, and physics are able to be attained by students, while most proponents of project-based learning suggest that 80% of the outcomes are typically attained.”
The study took feedback from students and measured results at several points along the way. Among the team’s key findings: