The Effects of Project-based Learning (PBL) Approach on the Achievement and Efficacy of High School Mathematics: A Longitudinal Study Investigating the Effects of the PBL Approach in Math Education

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Vicki-Lynn Holmes, Hope College
Dr. Yooyeun Hwang, Hope College

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Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method that is significantly different from the conventional classroom teaching; however, the positive effects of PBL have not been clearly established. This longitudinal study investigates the effect of Project Based Learning on Secondary mathematics’ students in order to determine both academic skill development and motivational factors that affect learning. Motivational factors to be measured include self-regulation, self-efficacy, and learning strategies. Unlike previous studies conducted in conventional school environs, this study will be conducted on a dedicated project-based high school, where PBL is not being used as additional or supplemental teaching, but as a whole curriculum. Our study will provide the space for teachers to reflect on the effectiveness of the implementation of this pedagogical approach to mathematics teaching and learning. Because our study’s participants represent a wide range of mathematical abilities and demographic diversity, it may bring clarity on controversial issues regarding the benefits of PBL on certain populations. Specifically, PBL has been shown to work well with students who already have a deep conceptual knowledge of the subject matter, but it may be less effective with those possessing only surface knowledge (Vernon and Blake, 1993; Dochy, Segers, van den Bossche, & Gijbels, 2003). In addition, the benefits of PBL on low SES students are debated (Boaler, 2002; Delpit, 1988, Lubienski, 2000). Even though research shows that elementary mathematics students benefit from PBL, very little evidence is associated with secondary success (Petrosino, 2004; Strobel and Van Barneveld, 2009; Walker and Leary, 2009). Hence, this study provides a unique opportunity for teachers to understand the additional dimension of PBL approach on this varied population. This study follows 8th and 9th graders through high school graduation, thus providing teachers with a solid picture of the developmental process of learning secondary mathematics through PBL.


This research was supported by The Carl Frost Center for Social Science Research and Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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