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The Impact of Scaffolding and Student Achievement Levels in a Problem-based Learning Environment

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This study examined how scaffolds and student achievement levels influence inquiry and performance in a problem-based learning environment. The scaffolds were embedded within a hypermedia program that placed students at the center of a problem in which they were trying to become the youngest person to fly around the world in a balloon. One-hundred and eleven seventh grade students enrolled in a science and technology course worked in collaborative groups for a duration of 3 weeks to complete a project that included designing a balloon and a travel plan. Student groups used one of three problem-based, hypermedia programs: (1) a no scaffolding condition that did not provide access to scaffolds, (2) a scaffolding optional condition that provided access to scaffolds, but gave students the choice of whether or not to use them, and (3) a scaffolding required condition required students to complete all available scaffolds. Results revealed that students in the scaffolding optional and scaffolding required conditions performed significantly better than students in the no scaffolding condition on one of the two components of the group project. Results also showed that student achievement levels were significantly related to individual posttest scores; higher-achieving students scored better on the posttest than lower-achieving students. In addition, analyses of group notebooks confirmed qualitative differences between students in the various conditions. Specifically, those in the scaffolding required condition produced more highly organized project notebooks containing a higher percentage of entries directly relevant to the problem. These findings suggest that scaffolds may enhance inquiry and performance, especially when students are required to access and use them.

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Correspondence to Krista D. Simons.

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Simons, K.D., Klein, J.D. The Impact of Scaffolding and Student Achievement Levels in a Problem-based Learning Environment. Instr Sci 35, 41–72 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11251-006-9002-5

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  • problem-based learning (PBL)
  • middle school
  • scaffolding