Effects of Project-based Learning on Collaborative Skills in Elementary-Aged Children

Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2019

Document Type

Project (696 or 796 registration)

Degree Name

Master of Science in Curriculum & Instruction


Graduate Studies

Committee Chair

Renee Harmon


project-based learning, PBL, collaborative skills, collaboration, 21st century skills



The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of Project-Based Learning on students’ collaborative skills. The research participants consisted of seventeen fifth grade students from an elementary school in a Midwestern town. Of the seventeen students, sixteen students were Caucasian, and one student was of Pacific Islander descent. The classroom was made up of 9 boys and 8 girls ranging from age ten to eleven years of age. Two students were on Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s), and one student was just dismissed from Speech Intervention. Two Project-Based Learning activities were conducted during a two-month period in the Spring of 2019. Each activity was spanned over one - two weeks depending on the time available for students. Students were given open-ended questions and a goal to reach regarding the topic/standard being addressed during each activity. Collection of data was done in a variety of ways throughout these activities. Students were assessed using a rubric in regards to their collaborative skills. Students also completed a self-assessment of their collaborative skills before and after each activity, as well as an assessment on their group members. Alongside these assessments, observations of student interactions were noted by the research facilitator.

According to the results of this study, providing elementary students with opportunities to work through Project-based Learning activities together has increased their collaborative skills. Bloom’s study in 2017 added to the research base regarding project-based learning and gave valuable insight into using this teaching method. Their study concluded that using PBL activities increased students’ 21st century skills, behaviors, and attitudes through a PBL pilot summer program.

During the weeks involving this study, the researcher visibly saw a change in the way that students talked to one another. Prior to this study, the students had engaged in several projects together throughout the school year, but they were never being observed on collaborative skills. There was a noticeable shift from miscommunication, to meaningful conversations, which decreased the amount of tension between students and increased student engagement. The researcher found that making students more aware of what collaborative skills they should be working on, increased the student’s self-awareness along with holding each other accountable.

Results compiled from the use of student surveys, as well as collaborative observations showed an increase in student engagement and their overall collaborative skills. When comparing the number of occurrences from PBL #1 to PBL #2, items related to collaborative skills increased significantly. Off-task occurrences decreased slightly from the first PBL to the second PBL. In conclusion, Project-based learning activities increase the collaborative skills in elementary students. These results have led the researcher to develop an action plan going forward within the elementary school the study was conducted it.

Project-based learning activities should be available for elementary students to participate in throughout each school year. This study showed the positive effects of using PBL’s within the classroom. Project-based learning activities increased the way in which students collaborated with each other. Students were able to further develop collaborative skills such as supporting each other’s ideas, communicating assertively, listening to each other, and participating in meaningful conversations. The researcher plans to use PBL activities not only as a way to develop collaborative skills, but also as a way to engage their students. When conducting PBL activities within the classroom, it is important to teach and model what these skills look like prior to introducing the PBL activity.

The researcher found it to be very helpful to display the collaborative skills rubric throughout the activity as a reminder to students. Students need to know what they are working towards and reminders often when further developing collaborative skills. PBL activities need to be chosen methodically and be actively monitored by the teacher. After seeing the results from only two PBL’s where students were aware of what collaborative skills to be working on, the researcher is interested in seeing the difference it would make when done throughout the entire school year, once or twice per month, time permitting.

Abstract only: No full text available.