Knowledge in Action: "AP+" Project: Research on a Project-Based Learning Approach to AP
In 2008-09, researchers at the University of Washington and its LIFE Center (Learning in Informal and Formal Environments), together with curriculum specialists and teachers in the Bellevue, Washington, schools, designed and implemented a project-based version of the AP U.S. Government and Politics course. They then used students’ scores on the AP exam as well as new measures to assess students’ deeper learning to compare the effectiveness of this class with a traditionally taught course.
Release Date: 2/10/10
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More information at The George Lucas Educational Foundation research page.
A number of studies show that deep understanding can flow from project-based curricula. However, research on a wide variety of educational innovations has shown that proceeding without quality professional-development materials, implementation strategies, and continuous improvement plans can easily result in failures for students, teachers, and school systems. These materials are currently under development by the project partnership. In the meantime, we welcome inquiries about the project and look forward to future collaboration on a growing scale.
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Knowledge in Action & Trade; "AP+" Project: Research on a Project-Based Learning Approach to AP (Transcript)
Teacher: Friday we will review the AP exam.
Narrator: For more than 50 years, Advanced Placement courses have been the benchmark for top student performance in high school, but the coursework done to prepare students for the standardized AP exam is often described as being a mile wide and an inch deep.
John: One of the shortcomings with AP, especially for American government, is that it's really focused on a lot of factual recall without really fully developing a really deep understanding of how things work.
Susan: The National Academy of Science report concluded that the AP program hadn't kept pace with what's known about how people learn.
Kelsey: AP tests are good at measuring just the stuff you can memorize out of a book but not really your own thoughts.
Katharyn: I feel like it doesn't actually build on your ability to apply real-world knowledge.
Alex: I think once you're done with the test, you kind of tend to forget the information.
John: So, we feel that really students should be engaged in a much greater examination of the processes and a much deeper, conceptual understanding of how government works.
Girl: Good morning, representatives. This is the 111th Congress. I am going to...
Narrator: In Amber Graeber's project-based Knowledge in Action government class, students don't just study Congress; they become Congress, in this case debating an immigration bill.
Girl: I would like to point out only people who have been living in the United States for the last five years based on the second we pass this act will be eligible.
Amber: What we see in 111th Congress is that students took on the role of a representative. They were able to choose the party that they wanted to belong to.
Boy: And by passing this bill, it will put more tax on our system, which we can‚Äôt handle in moments...
Amber: And they really embodied some of these individuals who are actually working in Congress for us. They learned about the background of the district.
Girl: Wouldn't you agree that conditional permanent-resident status, which would put them on the track to citizenship, is comparable?
Amber: So, I think that by taking real-life events, it gives students the opportunity to problem-solve and to think critically and become intimately involved in it and understand it from a variety of perspectives.
Girl: We can't put this burden of proof on children that were probably just following whatever their parents told them.
Narrator: A number of studies show that deep understanding can flow from project-based curricula, but projects are rarely employed to study rigorous Advanced Placement subject matter, and they need to be carefully designed.
Susan: I think that anything we could do to increase the authenticity...
Narrator: To test the theory that students could learn more with a project-based learning approach to Advanced Placement courses, the Knowledge in Action research project was undertaken in the fall of 2008.
Susan: Our first research question is: Can we get more students to pass the AP test in this course? The second research question is: Can we get students who do well on the AP test to exhibit deeper understanding?
Narrator: With support from the George Lucas Educational Foundation, researchers from the University of Washington and teachers from the Bellevue Washington School District near Seattle worked together to redesign traditional AP government classes using a project-based learning approach.
Susan: ...have some overall framework of what's important, kinds of things...
Narrator: The Knowledge in Action redesigned curriculum presented five projects in a challenge-cycle format. Across the five challenge cycles, students tackled the six AP topics specified by the College Board for the course: constitutional underpinnings; political beliefs and behaviors; political parties, interest groups and mass media; institutions of national government; public policy; and civil rights and civil liberties.
Girl: I talk about the specifics of the government in writing.
Narrator: Learning activities were carefully sequenced from one project cycle to the next, allowing students to revisit key topics and questions as they progressed through the course.
Girl: ... take the recommendations from one and two from everyone in the group and synthesize those ideas to make the PowerPoint...
Narrator: Students received multiple opportunities for feedback and revision, designed to help them deepen their understanding and make strong connections among key course themes. Each project included background learning and a strong participatory component, using simulations and other hands-on learning techniques.
Girl: Welcome to the Model U.N. floor debates. I hope you all are doing well this morning.
Narrator: Eight redesigned classes involving two hundred and eight students were conducted for a full school year at two high schools.
Boy: I'm sure there's another country that could provide us with cotton. There's also artificial cotton now. Maybe...
Narrator: The results were compared with 106 students in 4 control-group classes taught using traditional methods. The Knowledge in Action project measured student achievement in two ways. Students in both the redesigned and traditional classes took the AP U.S. government and politics exam, given in May. Also, before and after the course students took a complex scenario test that measured their strategies for realistically monitoring and influencing public policy.
Girl: Hi, Congressman X. We would like to help you with opposing this bill, and we also think...
Narrator: For one administration of the scenario test, students took the role of congressional aides and advised members of Congress on pending legislation.
Boy: First, we must research as a team to come up with a comprehensive list against...
Susan: All of a sudden it puts them in the role of having to use and apply what they learned in a way that's much different than the AP test assessment.
Narrator: The Knowledge in Action project evaluated data from the complex scenario test, the AP test scores, feedback from teachers and in-depth debriefing sessions with students.
Girl: I think for the class it's really important to strike a balance between the readings, which we obviously are going to have to do, because we can't learn everything in class; the lecture, so we do know what we're doing; and the projects, which will help us incorporate it.
Teacher: Just to toss that out to everybody, does everybody generally believe a little more background would be helpful for the project?
Amber: When I look at the way that we've mapped our curriculum for the year, I kind of feel like there's going to be years where it makes sense to do things in a different order, and part of this...
John: In our interviews at the end with the students, you could see a dramatic change in the motivation for why they were learning what they were learning.
Girl: We're going to have to do a roll-call vote.
Michelle: Project-based learning actually helps you to apply it to life, because when you read things out of a book, you kind of wonder, "When am I ever going to use this?" and it‚Äôs a question that students ask almost every day.
CJ: The learning style in this class is completely different, as opposed to any of the other classes I've taken in that it wasn't so much as being taught by a teacher as that we taught each other.
Girl: This bill has been passed.
Jack: I think the hands-on learning rather than just listening to lectures and book learning the whole time, at least for people like me, was a huge improvement, and of the APs I've taken, when I went in to take this one I felt best about this, and I came out feeling best and I knew this stuff better than I‚Äôve known any other AP.
Narrator: Two studies were conducted during Year 1 of the project. In Study 1, researchers compared Knowledge in Action's students from a high-achieving school to traditionally taught AP students also from a high-achieving school. The findings were that the Knowledge in Action students performed significantly better on the AP U.S. government and politics test. Note the higher numbers of project-based students scoring 4's and 5's on the AP exam. Knowledge in Action students also performed significantly better on all four dimensions of the complex-scenario test. The Knowledge in Action students rated their own engagement with the AP course higher on two of four dimensions of classroom community. In Study 2, Knowledge in Action students from a moderately achieving school were compared to the traditionally taught students from Study 1. On the AP test, the Knowledge in Action students performed as well as the traditional students from the higher-achieving school. The Knowledge in Action students also performed better on all four dimensions of the complex-scenario test. In Year 2 of the study, the project-based AP U.S. government and politics course will again be given in Bellevue, and a second course on AP science will be designed. For more information on what works in public education, go to edutopia.org.
- Karen Sutherland
- Rob Weller
- Michael Curtiss
- Scott Macklin
- Craig Burlingame
- Juris Jansons
- Kris Welch
- Ed Bogas
- © 2010
- The George Lucas Educational Foundation
- All rights reserved.
The Knowledge in Action Project is made possible with generous support from The George Lucas Educational Foundation, Bellevue Schools Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.
© 2010 | The George Lucas Educational Foundation | All Rights Reserved