Curriculum alternatives have been of interest to educators for years. For example, Kilpatrick (1918) contended that students should be actively involved and interested in their own education. One way to increase involvement is through projects. A project should be directed by the teacher in such a manner as to connect it to traditional subject areas (Stockton, 1920). Project-based curricula also should be thoroughly planned so that the curriculum provides a comprehensive education (Stevenson, 1921). It is important that the projects help students interpret knowledge, possibly by exposing them to background information prior to the beginning of a project (McMurry, 1921).
Katz and Chard (2000) agreed that a component of a project is to involve children actively seeking information in order to answer questions the children have formulated either alone, or in collaboration with a teacher. Project-based learning should be integrated with systematic instruction (Katz, 1994; Katz & Chard, 2000). Integration of systematic instruction with project-based learning gives children ample opportunity to acquire and apply knowledge and skills (Katz & Chard, 2000).
Advocates of the project approach to education suggest that project-based learning has the potential to build intrinsic motivation and provide opportunities to apply skills. Project-based learning can also increase self-esteem, enhance social skills and provide an environment for all children to experience success at some level (Katz, 1994; Wolk, 1994). Direct benefits of children working on projects include increased problem-solving ability as well as, research, communication, and resource-management skills (International Society for Technology in Education, 1997). Student autonomy and interaction in a project-based classroom can lead to increased usage of problem solving skills (Fry & Addington, 1984).
One of the key findings of testimonial research about the project approach is that children show a preference for this method of instruction (Liu & Chien, 1998; Wolk, 1994). Interviews with teachers have shown that they too prefer the project approach to traditional methods and observe improvements in motivation and enthusiasm among their students (Beneke, 2000; Liu & Chien, 1998). A study involving project learning in a high school showed an increase in interpreting and critically analyzing information based on subsequent interviews with the students (Peck, Peck, Sentz, & Zasa, 1998).
The current study evaluated the effectiveness of a project-based curriculum in a single elementary school. The Ecological, Futures, and Global (EFG) curriculum is a comprehensive project-based approach to instruction (Barnes, 1998). The EFG curriculum attempts to take advantage of the key components of project work that have been suggested by nearly a century of research on this method of teaching (Branom, 1919; Katz, 1994; Katz & Chard, 2000; Kilpatrick, 1918; McMurry, 1921; Stevenson, 1921; Stockton, 1920).
In the present study, the EFG curriculum was compared to the traditional curriculum currently used at the elementary school. This school followed the Tennessee curriculum model (Tennessee Department of Education). Teachers using the traditional curriculum also utilize project instruction at times but in a less structured and involved manner.
The EFG curriculum is structured in a manner to stress the same core skills and knowledge learned through a traditional curriculum. This structure allows for the utilization of standardized achievement tests to measure progress (Barnes, 1998). Although the outcomes of project-based learning may well exceed what is measured with standardized tests, the structured design of the EFG curriculum allows for a comparison with groups taught using a traditional curriculum. Therefore, this study compared the scores of Terra Nova standardized achievement tests (Fisher, 1996) for the students of the EFG curriculum with scores from the traditional method of instruction. …