Impact of project-based curriculum materials on student learning in science: Results of a randomized controlled trial

Christopher J. Harris, William R. Penuel, Cynthia Marie D'Angelo, Angela Haydel DeBarger, Lawrence P. Gallagher, Cathleen A. Kennedy, Britte Haugen Cheng, Joseph S. Krajcik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Framework for K-12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) sets an ambitious vision for science learning by emphasizing that for students to achieve proficiency in science they will need to participate in the authentic practices of scientists. To realize this vision, all students will need opportunities to learn from high-quality curriculum materials where they engage in science practices. We report on our study of a middle school curriculum called Project-Based Inquiry Science that has some design features that match well with the new directions in science education. To measure the impact of these materials, we conducted a randomized controlled trial in sixth grade science classrooms across 42 schools in an urban school district. We randomly assigned schools to either a treatment condition where teachers implemented the project-based science curriculum or a comparison condition where teachers implemented the district-adopted textbook. Teachers in both conditions received professional development on the Framework. Students who participated in the project-based science curriculum outperformed students in the comparison curriculum on outcome measures that were aligned to core science ideas and science practices in the Framework. Importantly, the results show that project-based curriculum materials that incorporate science practices along with disciplinary content can help students achieve next generation science learning outcomes when there is coherence with district guidance about instruction. The study findings suggest that curriculum materials, district involvement, and support for teachers' implementation of new forms of instruction are important for realizing the vision and key principles of the Framework in the context of a large and diverse urban school district.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1362-1385
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • curriculum evaluation
  • middle school science
  • project-based science
  • urban education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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