Is Great Teaching and Project-Based Learning the Recipe for Boosting AP Success?

As Mass Insight honors some of Massachusetts’ best STEM & English Advanced Placement (AP) teachers this month, new research is spotlighting the benefits of Project-Based Learning (PBL) for AP students.   

In a randomized control trial, research scientists at the Center for Economic and Social Research at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, found that high school students – taught AP US Government and AP Environmental Science with a PBL approach – outperformed peers on exams by 8 percentage points in the first year. 

In year two, PBL students outperformed peers by 10 percentage points. These students were also more likely to earn a passing score of 3 or above with the chance to receive college credit.  

The AP Environmental Science students in the controlled trial explored sustainability by conducting a personal environmental impact audit and were tasked with developing a proposal to reduce consumption.  

For the US Government course trial, students conducted a mock presidential campaign, and assumed the roles of candidates, lobbyists, and media. 

Clearly, learning by doing has a meaningful impact on improving learning.  Good AP teachers know this instinctively. They create classrooms where students learn college-level content and participate in hands-on projects to develop skills for college and work.  Now, through the USC research, we have the evidence to back up this practice. 

Great AP teachers, like those that Mass Insight is honoring, know that by leveraging Project-Based Learning in their courses they are helping more students become eligible to earn college-credit while in high school. 

Sally Guadagno

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