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The College Board Partners with PBLWorks to Train Teachers for New AP Courses Rooted in Project Based Learning

Courses are based on powerful new research showing the positive impact Project Based Learning coupled with great PD has on AP students’ success

PBLWorks, the leading provider of professional development for Project Based Learning (PBL), has partnered with the College Board to offer a new PBL-based professional development program for Advanced Placement (AP) courses in Environmental Science and U.S Government and Politics. The new courses use a Project Based Learning method of teaching and are based on powerful new breakthrough research just released by the Center for Economic and Social Research at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, that found PBL coupled with high-quality professional development significantly improves student performance when compared to students in non-PBL classrooms.

Specifically, the research demonstrated that high school students in AP classes who engaged in hands-on, inquiry-based projects with real-world applications performed higher than their peers on AP U.S. Government and Politics and AP Environmental Science exams. In year one of a randomized controlled trial in five U.S. cities they scored 8 percentage points higher, and in year two of the study they scored 10 percentage points higher – and they were more likely to earn a qualifying score of 3 or above which could increase their chance of receiving college credit and saving on tuition.

“We’ve seen the impact of PBL firsthand in our work with schools and now this research provides proof of its impact on students who are taking AP classes,” said Bob Lenz, CEO of PBLWorks, “That’s why we’ve partnered with the College Board to support new project-based AP courses that are relevant, authentic, and engaging.”

Students of color have historically been underrepresented in AP classes, although participation is on the rise. The new courses align with PBLWorks’ focus on educational equity by providing a more relevant, hands-on way to teach the content. “These new PD offerings will ultimately increase success for students of color in AP courses, as much as for their peers – and that achievement has an impact for young people beyond graduation. The connection to educational equity here was an important factor for us,” said Lenz.

The five school districts in the study used Knowledge in Action (KIA), a Project Based Learning approach to Advanced Placement designed by University of Washington professors in collaboration with classroom teachers. The teachers in the study received intensive professional development from PBLWorks consisting of a four-day summer institute, full-day group coaching four times during the school year, on-demand support throughout the year through virtual coaching, and access to the online teacher community and professional development provided by Sprocket, an online portal hosted by Lucas Education Research.

“Our goal is to prepare teachers to teach in this new way, and the study showed that the professional development and follow-up support made a difference,” said Stanley Richards, the program manager for PBLWorks who supported the workshop facilitators throughout the study. “When teachers participate in curriculum-aligned PD, it improves their implementation of the curriculum in the classroom, which then supports student outcomes. The teacher’s learning is an important part of the equation.”

Sam Texeira, a high school history and social studies teacher in Illinois, participated in the study, teaching the Knowledge in Action curriculum in AP U.S. Government and Politics. “I would not be the teacher I am today if I hadn’t benefited so much from the professional development that I got to participate in through PBLWorks,” he said. “As a third year teacher at the time, I had started to build my craft and classroom practices, but was looking for a sustainable structure that would allow me the flexibility I needed to challenge my students and support their needs. PBLWorks reframed the way that I think about assessment, delivery of instruction, backwards design, and accommodations and scaffolds. Most importantly, the training I utilized benefited my instruction and planning for other courses years later. I am a stronger teacher and my students are more confident because of my involvement in the PD.”

This summer, PBLWorks will be offering this online AP Project Based Learning professional development to any interested AP Environmental Science or AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher. For more information or to sign to participate, visit

“The Advanced Placement Program is committed to helping high school students earn college credits that can reduce the costs of college and the time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree,” said Trevor Packer, Head of the AP Program at the College Board. “And the research is now clear that this model for using Project Based Learning to teach AP courses can help many more students from diverse backgrounds master a college-level AP course and earn college credit. Lucas Educational Research and PBLWorks have demonstrated great vision and skill over the past decade as they have extensively developed and rigorously evaluated this approach.”

For more information about the Knowledge in Action AP curriculum, visit

Detailed information about the research findings, including video summaries, is available at Lucas Education Research and Edutopia.

About PBLWorks

PBLWorks (the brand name of the Buck Institute for Education) believes that all students – no matter where they live or what their background – should have access to quality Project Based Learning to deepen their learning and achieve success in college, career, and life. Our focus is on building the capacity of teachers to design and facilitate quality Project Based Learning, and on supporting school and system leaders in creating the conditions for these teachers to succeed with all students. For more information, visit

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