STEMwork Project-Based Learning

STEMwork is based on a clear set of design principles and the 2021-22 pilot is being thoroughly evaluated for outcomes, effectiveness, and fidelity of implementation by the Friday Institute for Educational Excellence at NC State University.

Teachers will participate in teams of approximately five each, facilitated by a trained Kenan Fellow alumnus from the region. As they progress through the program orientation, site visits, and sequence of lessons, they will collaborate with team members and their facilitator to produce and implement a PBL unit that is relevant to their students and connected to a local business or industry.

Why Project-Based Learning

Research on Project-Based Learning (PBL) has shown the approach to yield numerous benefits, particularly in terms of student engagement and building competencies essential to college and career readiness. A number of studies have also provided evidence of growth in academic achievement.

  • When students in high-poverty communities participate in classrooms using PBL, they produce statistically significant gains in social studies and informational reading. In the PBL group, gains were 63% higher for social studies and 23% higher for informational reading, than the control group of students who were not in a PBL classroom (Duke & Halvorsen, 2017).
  • Compared to traditional classes, students in PBL classes performed better on assessments of content knowledge (Barron et. al. 1998; Mioduser & Betzer 2003; Peck, et al. 1998; Penuel & Means 2000; Stepien, et al. 1993).
  • A study looking at impacts of PBL on how students learn math and science found significant differences in post test scores between control groups and experimental groups in 2nd and 5th grades. In both grades, the experimental group who experienced the PBL curriculum outperformed the control group (Mida Learning Technologies 2016).
  • A causal-comparative study compared 7th and 8th students who experienced PBL with a comparison group in which PBL was nonexistent. Using outcome measures of academic achievement in mathematics and reading, multivariate and univariate analyses of the data showed that the PBL groups performed at a higher achievement level than did the non-PBL students (NCPEA Education Leadership Review of Doctoral Research, Vol. 2, No. 2, October 2015).
  • Researchers from Santa Clara University and the University of Maryland compared learning outcomes for eighth graders who completed a six-week unit on early 19th-century U.S. history using traditional instructional methods versus project-based learning. Results showed significant gains in content knowledge and historical-thinking skills for students engaged in the PBL curriculum as compared to students who received traditional instruction (Hernandez-Ramos, P. & De La Paz, S. 2009).

Student Engagement & Essential Skills


Consistently across studies, findings indicate that project-based learning enhances student performance, motivation, student engagement, teacher/student interaction and 21st Century skills such as collaboration (Boaler, 1999).


A study with high school students found statistically significant evidence that supports PBL having a positive effect on the school attendance of economically disadvantaged students (Cregan, C. & Adair-Creghan, K. 2015).


In the future, children must enter a workforce in which they will be evaluated not only on their outcomes, but also on their collaborative, negotiating, planning, and organizational skills. By implementing PBL, we are preparing our students to meet the 21st century with preparedness and a repertoire of skills they can use successfully (Bell, 2010).