Analyzing School-Wide, Project-Based Learning in a Middle School: From a Cultural Historical Activity Theory Perspective

Laura Ann Venegas, University of Texas at El Paso


Recognizing the importance of preparing students for the 21st century along with meeting the accountability measures, educators must continually seek those educational practices that will support both endeavors. Through the literature and during this research, project-based learning has emerged as a promising curriculum tool that answers these objectives. To implement 21st century educational experiences, project-based learning has been attempted in various capacities of specific contents, grade levels and individual teachers; however, there has been limited application of a school-wide practice. While there is potential of project-based learning as a transformative curriculum tool in education, challenges of implementation still exist. Given this information, this study is interested in exploring those challenges or tensions that impede application of project-based learning in a school-wide environment. Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) was used to explore the five activity systems of whole school, administration, teachers, students and parents that comprise Border Leadership Academy as they engaged in the school-wide practice of project-based learning. The study presents a cultural-historical context of the development of 21st century skills through project-based learning over time. This research focuses and analyzes the contradictions encountered by each of the five activity systems and presents the negotiation and transformation process as the activity systems strive towards resolution of the challenges associated with project-based learning. CHAT exposed the specificity of the contradictions in the activity systems facilitating a targeted perspective of where growth and change occurred. An in-depth look at the wholeschool application of project-based learning through the participating activity systems revealed how implementation and sustainability is possible in a middle school.

Subject Area

Middle School education|Teacher education|Science education

Recommended Citation

Venegas, Laura Ann, "Analyzing School-Wide, Project-Based Learning in a Middle School: From a Cultural Historical Activity Theory Perspective" (2018). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI10811829.