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Theses Doctoral

Reconceptualizing What it Looks Like to Enact Project-Based Science in Urban and Multicultural Settings: A Case Study

Dash II, Tyrone DeLong

Traditional views on science education focus solely on content learning in the classroom, however more contemporary perspectives harness science content to help students become active citizens and lifelong learners outside of the classroom (Daher & Saifi, 2018; Vedder-Weiss & Fortus, 2011; Yacoubian, 2018). Project-based science is a reform pedagogy that emphasizes real-world utilization of science to solve problems that are personally relevant to students’ everyday lives (Kanter & Konstantopoulos, 2010). Unfortunately, there is no uniform theory or approach to project-based science. The diversity that exists in the interpretation and implementation of the project-based learning theory and model has resulted in a variety of research and developmental issues across disciplines, often resulting in confusion about what counts as being project-based and what does not (Kokotsaki et al., 2016; McNeill & Krajcik, 2007; Yu et al., 2018). While the goal of project-based science is to positively impact all students’ motivation for and achievement in science learning, there has been little research on its use as an instructional strategy with diverse students in urban schools (Kanter et al., 2001; Krajcik et al., 2006; Panasan & Nuangchalerm, 2010; Scheneider et al., 2002; Shwartz et al., 2008). Even as newer studies are published (Fitzgerald, 2020; Nainggolan et al., 2020; Wang, 2020), the field is stagnant, and research is still needed that looks into the ways in which culture influences the way American secondary students learn science (Brown, 2020).

One of the characteristics of project-based science that makes it appealing, is its ability to drawing on the lived experiences of students, but most of the work done to date has not included or reflected the lived experiences of urban students of color. The goal of this mixed methods instrumental case study was to provide a glimpse into what it would look like to use a reconceptualized approach to project-based science that was more inclusive of urban students’ identities and lived experiences, while also being intentional about the nature of science and science epistemology. This involved the creation and use of a project-based science unit that included both implicit and explicit design features of the nature of science and science epistemology, along with pedagogical practices that were aligned with the theoretical underpinnings of project-based science (active learning, sociocultural theory, constructionist theory, constructivist theory, and situated cognition); along with the frameworks of Black feminist thought and reality pedagogy, which have not yet been considered in project-based science settings.

Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected and analyzed for trends and emergent themes. Quantitative data were collected from a diverse sample of fifty urban 9th grade New York City Living Environment students ranging in age from 13 to 15 years old. Ninety eight percent of participants had ethnic backgrounds other than White. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) repeated measures statistical tests and mixed between-within ANOVA statistical tests were used to examine quantitative data. The findings revealed that 96% of participants developed understandings of the local, state, and national level science standards and learning outcomes, aligned to the unit used in this study; and made significant gains on pre, midterm, and post multiple-choice and free response exams. While both genders made significant improvements, the male participants in this study outperformed the female participants. Qualitative data were collected from a total of 13 students, ranging in age from 13 to 15 years old, who participated in two gender-specific cogenerative dialogues. One hundred percent of cogenerative dialogue participants had ethnic backgrounds other than White. Thick descriptions and analysis were used to make sense of students’ experience with the project-based science unit. All cogenerative dialogue participants seemed to developed understandings of the nature of science and science epistemology. Implications for practice and future research are considered.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Science Education
Thesis Advisors
Emdin, Christopher
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 20, 2021