In Curriculum Materials Make a Difference for Next Generation Science Learning (SRI Education), researchers found that science classrooms that adopt a project-based curriculum can help narrow the science education achievement gap in children from groups that are underrepresented in STEM fields. Christopher Harris, co-author of the report, said that project-based lessons "seem to work for all kinds of kids" regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity, and that acknowledging personal engagement in meaningful classroom activities makes a difference.
While access to good science curriculum materials is difficult (most urban public schools use outdated textbooks), the U.S. National Research Council is working on revamping K-12 science education by incorporating curriculum that teaches kids the practices that scientists and engineers use. Although this will require a shift in how schools teach science, project-based learning programs can help schools transition by getting students to participate in educational projects in the same bsic ways that scientists would.
The SRI Education research team continues to analyze data from teachers who implemented project-based curriculum. Like any new program, project-based curriculum has potential barriers, such as the fact that it is resource intensive and costly and it is a huge investment and more work for teachers (requires more training). Despite these barriers, schools that have implemented project-based learning have found the "hard work pays off." Harris hopes to see more project-based learning added to science curricula, and especially in elementary schools - early exposure to good science curricula can only help kids in the long run, and can even inspire them to go into STEM careers.
Interested in learning more? Check out the original article, "Can Project-Based Learning Close Gaps in Science Education?"(MindShift) and the official report, Curriculum Materials Make a Difference for Next Generation Science Learning: Results from Year 1 of a Randomized Control Trial (SRI Education).
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