Date of Award

Fall 12-2021

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)




Susan R. McKay

Second Committee Member

Alice E. Bruce

Third Committee Member

Francois G. Amar


Project-based learning (PBL) is an instructional strategy that is promoted throughout education for its use of active learning and ability to connect to real-world applications. Studies have been conducted on PBL ranging from early elementary grades through graduate courses, however little research considers the effectiveness of PBL at the secondary science level. This thesis considers the use of PBL and describes the implementation of a PBL unit in a rural Maine 11th grade chemistry classroom. The thesis aims to better understand the impact PBL has on students’ content learning and additional skills acquired through the PBL learning process. Along with the impact on student growth, this thesis considers the ability to tailor PBL to students with differing levels of achievement and motivation. Over the course of two weeks, a PBL unit around forensics was implemented through a jigsaw classroom technique to 31 honors chemistry students. The unit includes three evidence-collection assignments and the presentation of a final project by each of the groups. Students were required to collect evidence, share evidence with their synthesis groups and make connections with the evidence collected to create a final project. Along with the PBL unit, students completed a pre- and post-engagement survey regarding the unit and two self-reflections, one for each week of the study. The engagement survey encompasses overall engagement, interest, and challenges posed throughout the unit. The self-reflections have students reflect on their own abilities to participate in the group and how the group dynamic is progressing. Field notes have been collected along with the student responses to gauge student use of collaboration and critical thinking skills while working in their groups. From the data, 26 of the 31 students met or exceeded the standards addressed in the PBL unit and reinforced a strong understanding of the content by making connections from their evidence and applying their findings to the problem outlined in the unit. Students found the PBL unit to be more engaging and interesting, as well as challenging, as compared to the traditional teaching style used prior to this study. An increase in collaborative and critical thinking skills was observed throughout the unit and increased as the study progressed. Along with field observations of these skills, students were also able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses through self-reflections. Students’ metacognition and ownership of their own strengths and weaknesses drew awareness to the collaborative skills they needed to develop. The four case study students ranging in achievement and motivation levels all displayed growth throughout the study. Students of prior high academic achievement found value in having additional group members working toward a common problem while lower achieving students gained confidence and the ability to participate in group discussion. Motivation levels did not impact student engagement throughout the unit as all four of the case study students were actively participating throughout the study. Overall, 88% of students recommended that this PBL be continued for chemistry students in the future.