Efficacy Study of Project-Based Inquiry Science

This research and development project examines the impact of the Project-Based Inquiry Science (PBIS) middle school science curriculum. The research questions explored will look into efficacy, implementation, and teacher practice. A unique feature of the study’s design is an analytic focus on the conditions needed to implement the curriculum in ways that improve student learning in light of the Framework for K-12 Science Education.

Full Description

This research and development project studies the impact of Project-Based Inquiry Science (PBIS) on 6th grade students in a large urban school district. PBIS is a comprehensive, 3-year middle school science curriculum that focuses on standards-based science content and that uses project-based inquiry science units to help students learn. NSF funded the development of PBIS over the past two decades, with major investments made in the design of materials and with associated teacher professional development designed to help teachers understand the content of the units and how to teach them. Prior small-scale studies of PBIS have shown positive impact on student achievement and motivation, and on teacher use of reform-based instruction. The research questions explored are:

1. Efficacy. What is the impact of PBIS on student learning? To what extent do students in PBIS perform better than non-PBIS students on measures of learning?
2. Enactment and teacher practice. What is the impact of the curriculum on teaching quality? What is the fidelity of classroom implementation? How does the depth and level of implementation relate to student outcomes?

The study involves both quantitative and qualitative methods; the use of an experimental design allows estimates of causal impacts when combining professional development with the curriculum materials. This is a randomized control trial to test the efficacy of PBIS in 42 middle schools and with ˜120 teachers (21 schools and ˜60 teachers per condition), and affecting approximately 8,500 6th grade students. The dependent variables for students include results on state-level achievement tests and measures of their ability to develop and use models and construct explanations in the context of the curriculum units. Mediational analysis measures the association between contextual factors such as fidelity of implementation and quality of the professional development experience and student learning, allowing a deeper understanding of results.

This work is critical to the ongoing effort to support standards-based curriculum reform in science. PBIS has enjoyed some success in urban settings with diverse groups of students, including those from historically underrepresented groups in science, and now moves to larger scale. This curriculum is among a small number of science curriculum initiatives that are at a stage in the research and development cycle where implementation efforts are focused on scaling to a broader range of schools and districts. The curriculum units are based on design principles drawn from theory and research on how students learn and are aligned with learning goals found in state and national standards. Moreover, its design reflects where the science education field is headed – teaching a few big ideas and integrating scientific practices. Project outcomes will provide evidence about the effects of a published and available inquiry-based science curriculum.


Project Materials