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The Efficacy of Project Lead the Way: A Systematic Literature Review

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Home, Parents, and Other Out-of-School Issues Related to K-12 and Pre-College Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Justin L. Hess Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis Orcid 16x16

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Justin L. Hess received his PhD from Purdue University's School of Engineering Education along with his Master's of Science and Bachelor of Science from Purdue's School of Civil Engineering. Justin is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher in the STEM Education Research Institute at IUPUI. Justin's research interests include developing pedagogical strategies to improve STEM students' ethical reasoning skills; exploring the role of empathy within design, innovation and sustainability; synthesizing the influence of societal and individual worldviews on decision-making; assessing STEM students' learning in the spaces of design, ethics, and sustainability; and exploring the impact of pre-engineering curriculum on students' abilities and career trajectories.

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Brandon Sorge Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis

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Brandon Sorge is an Assistant Professor of STEM Education Research in the Department of Technology Leadership and Communication at the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI. His research interests include all aspects of STEM education, especially the impacts of all levels of policy on the development of a STEM literate workforce. He also conducts research related to leadership and the role of corporate responsibility in employee recruitment and retention. Before coming to IUPUI, Brandon ran the day-to-day operations of the Indiana STEM Resource Network where he co-founded the Indiana Science Initiative which provides research based science materials and professional development to approximately 2200 teachers impacting over 50,000 students each year. .

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Charles Feldhaus Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis

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Dr. Charles Feldhaus is an Associate Professor of Organizational Leadership and Supervision in the Department of Technology Leadership and Communication (TLC) with the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). He is Co-Director of the IUPUI STEM Education Research Institute (SERI) and serves as Interim Chair for the TLC department. He received the Bachelor of Science degree in Radio and Television from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and the Masters of Science in Secondary Education from Indiana University. His doctorate is from the University of Louisville in Educational Administration with a cognate in urban education. Dr. Feldhaus spent 20 years as a classroom teacher, principal and district administrator in public education. His research interests include P-12 STEM education, STEM workforce education, post-secondary STEM education discipline based research, engineering technology recruitment and retention, and engineering ethics.

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Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is a non-profit organization offering project-based STEM education curricula for K-12 students. As of 2015, PLTW was by far the largest pre-engineering program implemented throughout the United States with a presence in over 6500 schools. Since its conception in 1997, PLTW rapidly expanded and today covers all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The PLTW Engineering curriculum offers a sequence of courses that students may take over the course of high school, and many university programs allow students who complete this sequence the opportunity to earn college credit. The PLTW Gateway curriculum targets students in Grades 6-8 and the PLTW Launch curriculum targets K-5 students. See the PLTW website for current program titles. They now simply use PLTW Engineering, PLTW Gateway and PLTW Launch.

This study investigates the efficacy of PLTW efforts through a systematic literature review process. Specifically, we explored the following research questions: • To what extent has PLTW been an area of scholarly investigation and what has been the nature of these investigations? • What primary strengths and weaknesses of PLTW have these investigations identified? • What gaps in PLTW literature exist and what future research is needed?

After an initial data collection and literature reduction processes, we synthesized 31 articles that collected and analyzed empirical data related to PLTW. Our gathered literature included 16 journal articles, 11 dissertations, and 4 theses. Using an emergent coding process, we found that primary strengths of PLTW curricula include motivating students to pursue STEM degrees, providing teachers with professional development opportunities and support, and facilitating student interest in STEM subjects. However, weaknesses of PLTW include minimal evidence supporting PLTW in improving students’ mathematics and science abilities, scheduling and space issues, and moderate financial costs for schools to participate in PLTW. Altogether, the literature collected varied widely and, as a result, each of these strengths and weaknesses requires further investigation. This study concludes with an identification of gaps in PLTW literature that can focus future PLTW-related investigations and, if investigated, help improve future PLTW-related interventions.

Hess, J. L., & Sorge, B., & Feldhaus, C. (2016, June), The Efficacy of Project Lead the Way: A Systematic Literature Review Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26151

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