Project-based Learning in Science Education

How Project-Based Learning Can Improve Elementary Science Education

Remember when phones were attached to the wall, and were used only to call people?

As STEM fields continue to advance at a rapid rate, elementary school science becomes an important foundation that children can build their future careers on. Research shows project-based learning can help elementary schools improve their science instruction so students gain a solid understanding of scientific concepts.

What Is Project-Based Learning?

Project-based learning (PBL) is a teaching method designed to deepen students’ knowledge through projects centered on real-world problems. In PBL, the teacher presents students with an open-ended question or problem then asks them to find a solution using the knowledge and skills they’ve developed in class. The teacher can then ask students to reflect on their work and make revisions before presenting their final projects to the class.

Project-based learning science lessonImproving Scientific Literacy

A 2019 study from the Journal of Primary found project-based learning improved fifth-graders’ scientific literacy and increased student learning outcomes. Greater scientific literacy — the ability to understand and use natural laws to conduct experiments — can build children’s self-confidence while increasing their STEM skills.

Honing Scientific Processing Skills

Researchers compared one group of fifth graders who engaged in conventional learning with another group who were taught using PBL. The results showed that PBL coupled with electronic media improves students’ scientific processing skills and learning motivation. Gaining scientific processing skills — which include communicating, classifying, measuring, inferring, and predicting — can help children improve their grades, score higher on tests, and enjoy learning science.

Developing Problem-Solving Skills

Two Indonesian researchers observed 30 fourth-grade students doing a project-based learning activity on energy resources. After surveying the students and teachers, they found using the PBL model increased the students’ ability to solve scientific problems. This skill can not only help students do better in school but also resolve conflicts outside the classroom.

Project-based learning science lab activityIncreasing Student Engagement

A Saudi Arabian researcher surveyed 124 educators who used the PBL teaching method and found it increased engagement because it allowed students to share and discuss what they learned. It also gave students the opportunity to come up with their own learning requirements, thus turning them into independent learners who feltl connected to the lesson material. 

“One recent Gallup study including 128 schools and more than 110,000 students found that student engagement and hope were significantly positively related to student academic achievement progress (growth) in math, reading, and all subjects combined,”

Mark Reckmeyer explained in his 2019 Gallup article.

Tips for Implementing Project-Based Learning in Your School

Studies Weekly’s chief science curriculum architect, Clayton Chamberlain, recommends school leaders take the following steps when implementing project-based learning into science education:

  1. Make sure projects align with state standards. You can ask teachers to specify in their lesson plans which standards their projects meet.
  2. Ensure teachers find an appropriate sequence of units so students have the knowledge and skills they will need to complete each project.
  3. Give teachers the flexibility to teach units in a different order or multiple units in one week so students have time to complete each project.

Project-based learning is a great way to improve elementary science education. As students’ engagement, scientific literacy, and problem-solving skills increase, they’ll develop the confidence and educational foundation they need to succeed in middle school and beyond.

For more PBL tips to share with your teachers, read: Thinking on Education: The Importance of Project-Based Learning.


Learn more about our hands-on, standards-based K-5 Science curriculum by visiting our website.

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