Thesis Title

Brain-Based Teaching and Project-Based Learning: Meaning Making in Three Middle School Watershed Restorations

Graduation Date

Fall 2004

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Document Form


Degree Name

Master of Science

Program Name


Program Director

Madalienne F. Peters, EdD


In an era of expanding knowledge and new needs, many proposals calls are put forth for curriculum designed to address the demanding world students will inherit. Environmental Project-Based Learning (PBL) seeks to integrate disciplines and develop skills for creating a sustainable future. In light of current brain/mind research does evidence show that such strategies fulfill criteria for brain compatible teaching?

This qualitative study investigates aspects of student meaning-making as a reflection of brain compatible instruction in three science classes where a ’’watershed restoration” model of Environmental PBL was used. Instruments include student and teacher questionnaires and pattern recording sheets. Analysis of themes uncovers aspects of meaning construction by students, feelings, attitudes and perceptions of the relevance of the project; student meaning making through patterning; and personal connections made by students. Graphed questionnaire results plus appended summarized questionnaires show students’ affective responses, sense of lesson content, etc.

Meaningfulness, patterning, emotions, and relevance are keys to lasting memory formation- essential elements of brain compatible learning. Brain-based and Brain-compatible refer here to teaching informed by current brain/mind science (neuroscience and cognitive research combined.) Selected criteria for brain compatibility are drawn from work by different researchers in the field, including a synthesis of principles distilled by researchers Renate Nummela Caine & Geoffrey Caine. The literature review looks at converging influences behind Environmental Project-Based Learning and how these relate to Brain-Based Education theories.

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