Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning is an approach to instruction in which all lessons and activities are organised around a single complex enquiry or project. For example, pupils might study the development of water-mill technology (combining history, physics, and applied mathematics), or create a presentation on whether a local business should expand during a recession (a task involving English, economics, and mathematics). By integrating different subjects and tying learning to real-world problems, the approach aims to make school more engaging and meaningful for pupils. The approach also seeks to make students more accountable (by requiring public displays of finished work) and to improve the quality of feedback that pupils receive (by requiring multiple iterations with a formal review after each). This programme is being delivered by the Innovation Unit, with input from partners at High Tech High and Buck Institute.

Why are we funding it?

Project-based learning has been widely implemented and shown to be effective in higher education. There have been fewer studies in schools, but the approach has nonetheless shown promise at this level. A recent experimental study in California and Arizona high schools found that taking a project-based approach to teaching economics generated significant improvements in economic literacy and problem-solving skills. The study was well-designed and well-powered, with 128 classes randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. The EEF-funded trial is seeking to test whether the approach can be replicated in the UK.

How are we evaluating it?

The programme is being evaluated by a team from Durham University and the York Trials Unit as an efficacy trial. Efficacy trials aim to test whether an intervention can work under ideal conditions (e.g. when being delivered by the intervention’s original developer) in greater than 10 schools.

24 schools will be recruited, and half will be randomly allocated to use a project-based learning approach with their Year 7 pupils. The other schools will form the control group. The intervention schools' teachers will be trained and coached in the method, and will commit to using project based learning for a fifth of teaching time. Pupils' attainment and engagement, in both control and intervention schools, will be measured at the end of Year 7 or Year 8.

When will the evaluation report be due?

The evaluation report is due to be published in Spring 2017.