Over the last several years, we have reviewed hundreds of science materials aligned to state standards, Advanced Placement frameworks, and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Over the last two years, we have observed a significant design shift in science products. Using the 5E model and Project Based Learning (PBL), publishers are designing science instruction to engage students in doing science, rather than learning about science. Where traditional instructional materials might present information and ask students to respond through short-answer or multiple-choice questions, newer materials provide teachers with resources to facilitate inquiry-based science instruction. 

We first observed this shift in the instructional design of NGSS-aligned materials. However, we recognized the same shift during our recent re-review of a material aligned to the streamlined Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science. That material allows teachers to select from among three different instructional models, one of which is PBL.The PBL activities required students to engage in higher order thinking while demonstrating their learning. For example, students plan investigations, make inferences, construct models, solve problems, communicate their findings, and explain how their findings connect to the big ideas of science. Our review of the PBL content resulted in an increase in the material’s alignment percentages by approximately 30 percentage points in each grade level.

The inclusion of PBL activities does not only have the potential to increase a product’s alignment. We have also observed that PBL activities bundle standards based on big ideas of science, thus providing instruction on several standards simultaneously and creating opportunities for students to dig deeper into scientific concepts.  

While we have seen publishers use PBL activities with increasing frequency in science materials, we anticipate that publishers will use the same strategy in designing materials to engage students in learning other subjects, as well.