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Purposeful Engagement in Science Learning

The Project-based Approach

Kabba E. Colley

Purposeful Engagement in Science Learning provides a blueprint of how teachers and their students can engage in science learning that mirrors the way science is practiced. It is written for K–16 science educators as well as those in the informal science education sector. The framework for this book is based on the project cycle, which is consistent with the process of scientific inquiry. Chapter One reviews the historical, philosophical and psychological foundations of project-based scientific inquiry (PBSI) and the evolution of this approach in the U.S. Chapter Two examines and synthesizes the research on PBSI. Chapter Three explores how to plan PBSI and offers practical strategies for veteran and novice science educators alike. Chapter Four presents different strategies for implementing PBSI with particular emphasis on factors to consider, including the roles and responsibilities of teachers and students. Chapter Five provides selected case histories of successful PBSI. Chapter Six deals with the different methods of evaluating and assessing students’ learning in PBSI environments and provides examples of performance-based assessments suitable for evaluating students’ learning. Chapter Seven examines the relationship between PBSI, after-school programs and community involvement. Finally, Chapter Eight identifies and describes relevant resources that could be used to support and enhance PBSI. This book is organized in a way that allows science educators to address the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), while at the same time, helping students learn science in ways that are relevant to their lives.
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The history of projects is as old as the history of human society. Wherever humans have lived, projects have existed. Humans are constantly engaged in activities such as building homes and shelters, constructing roads, and inventing transportation systems. In addition, humans are constantly engaged in farming and food production, and exploitation of the earth’s natural resources. All of these activities are purposeful acts, which is what projects are. Projects are defined as “purposeful acts that are conducted within a social context.”

Over the last century, the teaching and learning of science from K–16 has been implemented mostly through the use of the lab and lecture method. Although this approach has served the science education community well, it could be argued that this approach has outlived its usefulness. In order to get students excited about science, increase their participation in science and engineering careers, and promote scientific literacy among ordinary citizens, a new approach is required. When we look at the scientific enterprise and how science is conducted in the real world, we find that science, or the practice of science, is dominated by purposeful activities or projects. Science, as is practiced in the real world, is characterized by complex social activities ← xiii | xiv → and relationships that involve scientists engaged in a cycle of knowledge theorizing, construction, testing, validation, and sharing.

To encourage students to learn science and to promote scientific literacy, the way science is conducted in K–16 must change to reflect...

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