George Gray

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Todd Lilly


The purpose of this action research study is to determine the efficacy of project-based learning activities for improving students’ critical thinking skills and engagement in the classroom. South Carolina’s creation of the United States History end-of-course assessment has led many social studies teachers to design ‘teach to the test’ lesson plans, which this researcher’s students seem to find mundane and uninspiring. Although these teaching methods have helped some students perform well on the end-of-course test, these tactics have sapped their interest in social studies and have not prepared them to be responsible citizens in an active democracy. The social studies project-based learning curriculum is designed to use a student-centered instructional approach that allows the students to investigate historical events through a series of problem-solving activities, with the intention of increasing their critical thinking skills and intrinsic motivational levels in the classroom. The action research took place over a six-week period in the spring of 2020 in an AP United States History classroom with twenty-three participants at an urban high school in South Carolina. A mixed-methods approach of quantitative and qualitative data collection techniques was used throughout the research process to determine the success of the PBL curriculum. These data collection methods included pre and post intervention assessments, teacher observational notes, questionnaires, and student interviews.


© 2021, George Gray