Project-based science model

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The project-based science (PBS) model is a project-oriented instructional design model from the Project-Based Science (PBS) project, an effort that began in 1991 at the University of Michigan School of Education.

According to Lin & Fishman (2006), “the five design principles for PBS curriculum units (Singer, Marx, Krajcik, & Chambers, 2000) are: (1) establish meaningful context; (2) engage in scientific inquiry; (3) collaborate to share/refine understandings; (4) utilize learning tools; and (5) create class/individual artifacts.”

See the PIViT software (also a PBS project).

The model

The design principles of project-based science curricula are according to Lin & Fishman (2006)'s interpretation of Singer et. al 2000):

Name Description Examples
Establish meaningful context Meaningful, defined problem space that provides intellectual challenge for the learner. Driving question and sub-questions
Anchoring event
Engage in scientific inquiry A set of interrelated processes by which scientists and students pose questions about the natural world and investigate phenomena Asking questions
Data collection and analysis
Communicating data
Collaborate to share/refine understandings Interaction among students, teachers, and community members to share information and negotiate meaning Small-group design meetings
Think-pair-share learning strategy
Group presentations
Utilize learning tools Tools that support students in intellectually challenging task Data collection
Create class/individual artifacts Representations of ideas or concepts that can be shared, critiqued, and revised to enhance learning Concept maps
Scientific models
Lab reports

In an earlier publication Soloway, Krajcik and Finkel (1995) link the model to learning theoretical issues. Below we reproduced the original table with minor modifications and annotated with some annotations in the column to the right.

Learning Theory Project-based Science Feature

Authentic Problems: Investigations should concern non-trivial problems that involve activities like asking and refining questions, debating ideas, making predictions, designing plans and/or experiments, collecting and analyzing data and/or information, drawing conclusions, making inferences,communicating their ideas and findings to others, and asking newquestions.




Meaningful (interesting, valuable, ...)

Driving Questions that serve to organize and drive activities. Students or teachers can create questions and activities. In any case, students must have enough room to develop their own approach to answer questions.




Science content



Active construction

Multiple representations

Applying information


Using strategic thinking


Artifact development: Activities should lead to artifacts or products that represent student's solutions and implicitly represent their emergent state of knowledge. In addition these artifacts allow actors to share and to reflect.

Community of learners


Social context

Negotiated meaning

Distributed expertise

[Collaborative learning]]

Students, teachers, society members as a community.

Establish norms

Sustain focus

Hold students accountable

Cognitive tools

Technology: based on user-centered design principles.

Teachers/students use: to collaborate, to investigate, and to develop artifacts

Soloway, Krajcik and Finkel Framework of Project-based Science



According to Timmerman et al. (2006:11), such instructional design models are appropriate for more abstract topics and/or those where students tend to have well-developed prior ideas (misconceptions): “Thus, when faced with limited time or resources for curriculum reform, we agree with Wandersee et al. (1994) that conventional teaching is sometimes sufficient and our data suggest that more "high-powered" methods such as inquiry-based curriculum reform should focus on more abstract topics or those known to be resistant to conceptual change. Indeed, we would hypothesize that it is nearly impossible to change students' conceptions of abstract topics such as evolution using only didactic methods and that inquiry-based methods which allow students to confront their prior conceptions are required for meaningful learning to occur in these areas.”

Timmerman et al (2006: 12) provided comparison of inquiry and "didactic curricula" regarding "evolution" that we slightly modified.

Elements Design Principle Reformed inquiry-based curriculum Traditional, didactic curriculum
Content Topics Evolution
Plant and Animal Anatomy and Physiology
Context Emphasizes scientific inquiry skills and application of knowledge Emphasizes reiteration or verification of ideas
Inquiry Science inquiry skills explicitly a goal
Explicit use of primary literature
Explicit, formalized peer review (emphasized as an inquiry skill, not just a process)
Focused on factual content knowledge
No primary literature
No peer review.
Collaboration Mostly collaborative; group work common Mostly individual
Assessments Summative assessments based on open-ended projects and authentic performances (oral presentation, written reports) - Multi-week assignments - Formative feedback provided Weekly quizzes, factually oriented (multiple choice or fill-in-blanks) with a practical exam at end of term.
Single lab activities with the exception of the rat dissection
No formative feedback
Learning Technologies Beguile-like environments Interactive dissection video and images



  • Hsien-Ta Lin and Barry J. Fishman (2006). Exploring the Relationship between Teachers' Experience with Curriculum and Their Understanding of Implicit Unit Structures, AERA 2006. PDF
  • Singer, J., Marx, R. W., Krajcik, J., & Chambers, C. J. (2000). Constructing extended inquiry projects: Curriculum materials for science education reform. Educational Psychologist, 35(3), 165-178. Abstract/PDF (Access restricted).
  • Timmerman, Briana E. , Denise C. Strickland, Susan Carstensen & Jonathan E. Singer (2006), Evolution Should Be A Priority For Biology Curriculum Reform, Proceedings of the NARST 2006 Annual Meeting (San Francisco, CA, United States). PDF

To move elswhere

(e.g. either inquiry learning, change management, teacher development)

  • Joseph Krajcik, Ron Marx, Phyllis Blumenfeld, Elliot Soloway, Barry Fishmann, Reforming Science Education through University and School District Collaborations. PDF. Online paper, School of Education, University of Michigan (retrieved 16:17, 17 July 2006 (MEST)).
  • Ball, D. L. and D. K. Cohen (1996). Reform by the book: What is - or might be - the role of curriculum tmaterials in teacher learning and instructional reform? Educational Researcher 25: 6-8.
  • Blumenfeld, P. C., J. S. Krajcik, et al. (1994). Lessons Learned: How collaboration helped middle grade science teachers learn project-based instruction. The Elementary School Journal 94(54): 539-551.
  • Fishman, B., S. Best, et al. (2000). Professional development in systemic reform: Using worksessions to foster change among teachers with diverse needs. New Orleans, LA, National Association of Research in Science Teaching.
  • Krajcik, J., P. Blumenfeld, et al. (2000). Instructional, curricular, and technological supports for inquiry in science classrooms. Inquiring into inquiry learning and teaching in science. J. Minstrell and E. H. v. Zee. Washington, D.C., American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  • Krajcik, J. S., P. Blumenfeld, et al. (1998). Inquiry in project-based science classrooms: Initial attempts by middle school students. The Journal of the Learning Sciences 7(3 & 4): 313-350.
  • Krajcik, J. S., P. C. Blumenfeld, et al. (1994). A collaborative model for helping middle grade science teachers learn project-based instruction. The Elementary School Journal 94(5): 483-497.
  • Krajcik, J. S., C. M. Czerniak, et al. (1998). Teaching children science: A project-based approach. Boston, MA, McGraw-Hill.
  • Marx, R., P. Blumenfeld, et al. (1997). Enacting project-based science. Elementary School Journal 97(4): 341-358.
  • Soloway Elliot, Joseph Krajcik, and Elizabeth A. Finkel (1995), The Investigators' Workshop Project: Supporting Modeling and Inquiry via Computational Media and Technology, conducted at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research on Science Teaching, April 1995, San Francisco, CA. HTML