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Investigating learning in secondary science students engaged in project-based learning



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Dobrin, Jessica Rose 


This thesis explores the nature of learning in students engaged in project-based learning (PBL) projects based in secondary science subjects. The literature review first establishes a working definition of learning, and then goes on the characterise project-based learning both in terms of its aims and associated methods. This gives rise to two research questions- how do students learn while engaged in project-based learning, and what effects to different aspects of project learning have on the learning taking place. The methodology then provides a rationale and description of the case study method selected to answer these questions. The cases themselves are three students, pseudonymed Hamish, Hannah, and Jane, who were at the time of their participation Year 12 students at the local University Technical College (UTC), a school specialising in STEM subjects. The students were observed during weekly sessions of their Challenge projects, which represent PBL projects in a STEM subject completed with the collaboration of a local employer. Hamish’s project focussed on the management and preservation of a local waterway, while Hannah and Jane worked on a Computer Science project featuring data visualisation and marketing. Each of the participants also completed a series of interviews about their experiences within the project, both in terms of the content knowledge and skills and in terms of their attitudes towards their projects.
What was revealed through these interviews was that even within the same projects, student learning and experience was variable. While all three participants met the objectives of their projects, they did so in different capacities, and appreciated the chance to do so. They also each had different responses to the delivery of their projects, based primarily on their own (reported) learning style. This was due primarily to the nature of the projects, and the autonomy students were encouraged to show throughout the project.





Taber, Keith


Project-based learning, Learning, Science Education, Secondary education, Case Study


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge