Examining student engagement and self-efficacy in a second-grade mathematics problem based learning unit
Boren, Rachel, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Moon, Tonya, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Brighton, Catherine, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Deutsch, Nancy, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Garofalo, Joe, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Problem-based learning (PBL) is an instructional approach that formed in medical school and holds students responsible for their learning as they solve a hypothetical real world problem. Research on this instructional approach in K-12 settings is emerging, with most of the existing literature utilizing high school students and science. Few studies have focused on PBL's possible impact on positive student outcomes in elementary students, particularly engagement and self-efficacy in math. The current study asked questions aimed at understanding this potential relationship at both the large and small scale. The questions that guided the current study were:
1. Did second grade students who participated in a mathematics based PBL unit report higher levels of engagement compared to students who participated in traditional, teacher directed instruction?
a. Were there differences in·lhe types of engagement by gender within the study groups?
b. In the PBL group, what were the characteristics of the most engaged classroom, including: teacher and student behaviors, teacher perceptions of the lessons, and quality of student work? How did these components look in the least engaged classroom?
2. Did second grade students who participated in two math PBL units report higher levels of self-efficacy compared to students who participated in traditional, teacher directed instruction?
a. Were there gender differences in reports of self-efficacy within the study groups?
b. In the PBL group, what were the characteristics of the most efficacious classroom, including: teacher and student behaviors, teacher perceptions of the lessons, and quality of student work? How did these components look in the least efficacious classroom?
The current study examined implementation of one unit of a larger grant, Project Parallax, a Jacob K. Javits project funded through the U.S. Department of Education that followed one cohort of students during 2nd and 3rd grade as they experienced math and science PBL units. The study took place in a rural school district in Southwestern Virginia. All 10 elementary schools participated for a total of 465 students across 31 classrooms. Five schools were randomly assigned to participate in Parallax and five randomly assigned to serve in the control group. Students in the Parallax group experienced a PBL mathematics unit that charged students with deciding what to purchase for their local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals organization. All students answered a survey that gauged their engagement and self-efficacy in math during the unit. Total scores of each construct were calculated to perform the first sets of analyses that answered the overarching questions about engagement and self-efficacy.
Factor analyses yielded a new model of engagement with three dimensions: Persistence, Value, and Focus; Working with Others, and Enjoyment and Interest. A subsequent Multivariate Analysis of Variance, Univariate Analysis of Variance, and Hierarchical Linear Modeling analyses revealed that there were differences between Parallax and control students in the Working with Others factor but not the other two factors or self-efficacy. Further, there were gender differences in the control group, with females reporting higher levels of all three factors and self-efficacy. To answer the final part of the research questions that focused on components of the classrooms with the highest and lowest engagement and self-efficacy, case studies. were utilized. selection of cases was based on student responses to the engagement and self-efficacy surveys, with the one classroom where students reported the highest levels of engagement and self efficacy and the classroom with the lowest student reported totals selected. Through analysis of classroom implementations of the unit and student work, components of each classroom emerged that illustrated what a classroom looked like where students were engaged and high in self-efficacy and a classroom where students are low in these constructs.
The classroom_with the highest engaged and efficacious students had a teacher who allowed them to have the autonomy necessary to become deeply invested in the material and established an environment where students felt comfortable and confident enough to ask questions and show their work. The teacher with the lowest reports of engagement and self-efficacy was more controlling in how she wanted students to complete their work and created an atmosphere where students relied on her for permission and help to move forward with the new tasks presented.
While quantitative findings did not indicate that students who experienced PBL reported higher levels of any of the engagement domains or self-efficacy, results contribute to the emerging research and understanding of itf PBL can impact student outcomes in elementary settings. Qualitative results illustrated the possible differences of implementation of the same PBL unit in two separate classrooms and the resulting impact on student engagement and self-efficacy. Implications offer suggestions for instructional practices that might help researchers further understand and evaluate engagement and self-efficacy in math in elementary classroom PBL contexts.
Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.
PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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