The Knowledge in Action (KIA) research is still underway. It embraces a collaborative, design-for-change philosophy to incorporate lessons learned to further improve outcomes during the project. During the 2013-14 school year, project-based Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics and AP Environmental Science courses are being offered at the following research sites:
- Washington: Bellevue (five schools), Seattle (four schools), and the Highline School District (one school)
- Iowa: Des Moines (five schools)
- California: the Envision Charter Network in the San Francisco Bay Area (three schools) and East Palo Alto High School
The team continues to refine the curricula with the goal of supporting greater engagement and learning in the discipline.
The team continues to refine the curricula, including embedding more learning supports, such as learning from text and engagement strategies within the projects, with the goal of supporting greater engagement and learning in the discipline. The project’s goal is to create courses that will help all students, including those who lack prior content knowledge and/or who struggle with literacy skills, thus giving them a better chance of success. Building learning from text strategies and other learning supports into the curricula that will also help teachers to teach those skills as part of what students need to know, rather than as extraneous items that compete with the enormous amount of content they need to cover.
In addition, researchers will conduct a school contexts study to compare how schools within and across districts implement the same curricular innovations. This project will study how certain key district- and school-level policies and practices influence the ways in which the PBL courses are taken up and implemented. Beyond a general contrast between well-resourced suburban schools and poverty-impacted urban schools, districts differ in a number of potentially important ways, such as the level of support for innovation, the curricular coherence across schools, and the nature of other reforms attempted simultaneously. Despite different histories and demographics, there have been similarities among school districts in the district-level strategies for implementation that are important to study to take the kind of courses developed in the Knowledge in Action research to scale.
Incorporating a rigorous form of project-based learning can be an important strategy for improving student learning and engagement in advanced courses.
Additional next steps for the researchers include the following:
- Testing and refining learning tools to help students become stronger collaborators, making the time they work together on projects as productively engaging within the discipline as possible
- Developing ongoing formative assessments throughout the year to maximize the effectiveness of feedback and scaffolding that takes place during the courses
- Studying more closely the different challenges that teachers face in their implementation of the courses to further guide and frame the teacher professional-development model
- Expanding the overall project by creating additional project-based courses in AP Physics and middle school physics
Overall, the research team is encouraged by the results so far, which suggest that incorporating a rigorous form of PBL can be an important strategy for improving student learning and engagement in advanced courses. We hope that others who share our quest for deeper learning and engagement will find the approach, results, and future updates of interest.