The effect of project-based learning on academic achievement in a freshman biology classroom
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Biology is a required course for freshman students at my school and the majority of these students will not go on to a future career in science. As such, most do not see the value in taking the class and are unable to make connections between what we learn and occurrences in their everyday lives. This classroom research project focused on the implementation of project-based learning instruction to increase student attitude towards science, increase academic achievement, and reinforce the connection between biology and the real world. Lessons for two treatment units focusing on Mendelian Genetics and Molecular Genetics were taught using the principles behind project-based learning. In each unit, students worked in collaborative groups to solve an overarching problem that tied together all aspects of the unit. At the end of the unit, a project-based learning artifact or final product produced by the group is presented to school, family, and community members. Data was collected in various formats throughout project implementation. Students completed surveys prior to the start and at the end of the project-based learning units. In addition, nine students were interviewed at the mid and end point of the project. Student scores on assessments, such as quizzes and tests, were compared between students in the treatment group taught via project-based learning and students from the 2014-2015 school year who were taught in a more traditional setting. Results showed that while project-based learning did not significantly increase student achievement it also did not negatively impact achievement. This showed that project-based learning instruction was equally effective when compared to the traditional, teacher-centered classroom. Regardless of the lack of achievement gains, students preferred this method of instruction. They found instruction via project-based learning more engaging and thought that it offered a level of flexibility they did not have in previous instructional units. This instructional method works for a large variety of students, in particular, students who prefer hands-on learning experiences.