I finished reading Standardized Test Outcomes for Students Engaged in Inquiry-Based Science
Curricula in the Context of Urban Reform
. It's a paper about a study done in the early aughts in the Detroit Public Schools. They took two groups of middle school kids and taught them science via the inquiry-based science method, a form of project-based learning.
They measured the effect of the method by its effect on MEAP, a much-criticized Michigan standardized test. They (and a lot of other people) don't believe it's a good measure of learning. However, as in most states under the "No Child Left Behind" policy, everything
hinges on that test.
They found that in the two groups, both of them did better on the MEAP in 8th grade. In 7th grade, one of the groups did better, one of them did about the same. A glance at a MEAP score guide
indicates that 23 points — the 8th grade improvement over their non-inquiry-based science peers — is a whole tier's worth of points.
I would guess that sheer engagement is what made that improvement happen, but I'm more interested in the fact that it did not harm
standardized test scores. I also don't think that standardized test scores are good as a primary measure of learning. (I was good at taking tests. I frequently used questions to determine likely answers for other questions, etc. When I got to college, I realized I didn't know things anywhere near as well as standardized tests indicated that I did.) But you know, my kid may want to go to college, so we do want to cover that base, even if we're not going to bet all of our chips on it, to mix a metaphor.
There's a few schools in our district that use project-based learning. For our guy, it seems more likely to get him involved. He hates it when we try to lecture him, but he is really interested in knowing how a thing he's already interested in works.
Then again, it's early and this could change. I was OK with teachers teaching whatever was in the textbook as a kid; now I can't really stand that sort of thing. However, we have to make our bets now, so it's good to know that this isn't that risky; project-based learning is probably going to be more engaging, while unlikely to hurt the kind of junk you have to do to get into college.