Kell, A. C. (2006). Effects of Using Project-Based Instruction in Increasing Student Achievement in Financial Literacy. Instructional Technology Monographs 3 (2). Retrieved <insert date>, from


Effects of Using Project-Based Instruction in

Increasing Student Achievement in Financial Literacy


Ashley Kell
University of Georgia


The traditional methods of using lectures and written assignments have been ineffective in educating students about being financially literate. Students have not been motivated to learn by these methods, and, as a result, have done poorly on assessments. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of using an alternative approach, project-based instruction, to teach financial literacy to high school students. The research question for this study is: How does project-based learning affect the teaching of financial literacy? This study employed a pre-post test control group research design. The participants in the study included 50 high school students ranging in grade level from 9 through 12 in two sections of a Banking and Finance course with both class sizes numbering 25. The results show that on post-tests, the students who were given the project-based instruction achieved higher scores than the students who were given lecture-based instruction. The project-based instruction improves students’ achievement in this research context. Further research on project-based instruction could be conducted in other business education classes or to determine which types of projects are most effective for financial literacy.


In 2002, the Washington, D.C. based Jump-Start Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy conducted its third study of 12th graders’ understanding of money, income, saving, spending, and credit. The results, based on 4,024 students in 183 schools, are not encouraging.  On average, students answered about 50 percent of the questions correctly. This is down slightly from the second study conducted by the same organization in 2000 and down drastically from the first study conducted by them in 1997. The numbers were somewhat higher for students who had participated in certain academic activities such as a stock market game. These students scored two percentage points higher than other students overall (Black, 2006).

During four years in teaching financial literacy, I have observed in my own classroom first-hand evidence of the study mentioned above. This observation has stimulated me to explore how to effectively teach financial literacy to high school students. In the past, the traditional methods of using lectures and written assignments have been ineffective in educating students about being financially literate. They are ineffective because students are not motivated to learn by these methods and, as result, do poorly on assessments. Students often have difficulty seeing the relevance of the subject matter to their lives and even find it boring.  It is vital that students become financially literate, as it will impact their lives for years to come. Investment strategies must not only be discussed in class, but also be actually applied to real-life scenarios to make strategies meaningful and relevant to the students. This need for relevancy in the instruction has caused me to look for other methods of teaching financial literacy. I wish to teach the subject matter in such a way that not only excites students about learning, but also ensures that they are getting the skills and knowledge they will need.


Project-based instruction is an authentic instructional model or strategy in which students plan, implement, and evaluate projects that have real-world applications beyond the classroom. Such learning activities that are interdisciplinary, long term, and student-centered are emphasized, rather than short, isolated lessons. Project-based instructional strategies have their roots in the constructivist approach developed from the work of psychologists and educators such as Vygotsky, Bruner, Piaget and Dewey (Blank, 1997; Challenge 2000; Multimedia Project, 1999). <P>

The purpose of my study is to examine the effectiveness of using project-based instruction to teach financial literacy to high school students. Research participants involved in this study are students of two high school Banking and Finance classes. The classes are each made up of 25 mixed ability students of varying grade levels from 9 through 12.  Students were given a specific amount of money that they had to invest in the stock market. They used several pieces of software including Excel, PowerPoint, Word, DreamWeaver and Internet Explorer to research, track, and report on selected stocks.

Literature Review

Many teachers, administrators, parents, and students agree that project-based, hands-on learning engages all students, from special education to gifted, in a way that the traditional lecture/worksheet/textbook/written test cannot. When students are given the freedom to pursue topics that interest them by doing what real scientists, special-interest groups, or business people do to solve problems, they go far beyond the minimum effort. They make connections among math, social studies, literature, and science to find answers to open-ended questions. They also retain what they have learned, are able to apply their learning to real-world problems, are absent less often, and have fewer discipline problems. In short, students are motivated to learn with a project approach (Thomas, 2000). Tesdale and Southard (2005) investigated the benefits of project-based instruction. Their research involved a five-year study of a technology-enhanced educational reform initiative that was conducted from 1999 to 2003 at a university in eastern China.  In the study, a faculty team developed several project-based courses and incorporated technology into traditional lecture courses. These courses were then examined using participant observation, interviews, surveys, and text analysis. The project-based instruction improved learning processes and outcomes by increasing authentic interaction, allowing learners greater autonomy, and providing content more relevant to students’ lives.


The foundations of using a constructivist approach in classrooms root in both cognitive psychology research and social psychology research. The basic premise is that an individual learner must actively "build" knowledge and skills (Bruner, 1990) and that information exists within these built constructs rather than in the external environment. However, all advocates of constructivism agree that it is the individual's processing of stimuli from the environment and the resulting cognitive structures that produce adaptive behavior rather than the stimuli themselves (Harnard, 1982). John Dewey (1933/1998) is often cited as the philosophical founder of this approach; Ausubel (1968), Bruner (1990), and Piaget (1972) are considered the chief theorists among the cognitive constructionists, while Vygotsky (1978) is the major theorist among the social constructionists. Activity theory and situated learning are two examples of modern work based on the work of Vygotsky and some of his followers. Constructivism views learning as the result of mental construction; that is, students learn by constructing new ideas or concepts based on their current and previous knowledge (Karlin & Vianni, 2001).


There are a wide range of project types in project-based instruction. Some examples of project types include service learning projects and work-based projects. Both of these types are considered authentic projects and thusly consist of several defining features (Dickinson et al., 1998). Authentic projects are student centered and student directed which allows for the most accurate assessment of student learning and ensures that students are involved in the process. There should also be a definite beginning, middle, and end to the process, which helps both the teacher and the student stay focused on the end goal. This also adds to the timeliness of the project and provides structure. Projects should cover content that is meaningful to students. Some examples of projects of this type are ones that tackle real-world problems or that require firsthand investigation. Teachers should have sensitivity to local culture when assigning projects. They should be knowledgeable about their students’ families to ensure that projects are culturally appropriate. The goals of the project should be specifically related to curriculum and school, district, and state standards. The end product of the project should be a tangible one that can be shared with the intended audience.  Finally, projects should forge connections among academic, life, and work skills (Katz, 1994; Martin & Baker, 2000; Thomas, 1998).


How does project-based instruction benefit students?  This approach motivates students to learn by allowing them to select topics that are interesting and relevant to their lives (Katz, 1994).  Also, twenty years of research indicate that engagement and motivation lead to high achievement (Brewster & Fager, 2000).  Research on the long-term effects of early childhood curriculum supports the rationale for incorporating project-based learning into early childhood education and secondary education (Katz, 1994).


More and more teachers are working with students who have a wide range of abilities, come from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and are English as second language learners.  Schools are seeking ways to meet the needs of these students.  Project-based instruction provides one way to introduce a wider range of learning opportunities into the classroom.  It can engage students from diverse cultural backgrounds because they can choose topics that are related to their own experiences, as well as allow them to use cultural or individual learning styles.

Incorporating projects into the curriculum is not a new idea in education. Open education in the 1960s and early 1970s strongly emphasized active engagement in projects, firsthand learning experiences, and learning by doing (Katz, 1994).  There are many specific benefits of project-based instruction. One benefit is that project-based instruction prepares students for the workplace. Students are exposed to a wide range of skills and competencies such as collaboration, project planning, decision-making, and time management (Blank, 1997; Dickinson et al., 1998). Secondly, project-based instruction increases student motivation. Teachers often note improvement in attendance, more class participation, and greater willingness to do homework (Bottoms & Webb, 1998; Moursund, Bielefeldt, & Underwood, 1997).  Next, the use of project-based instruction helps connect learning at school with reality. Students retain more knowledge and skills when they are engaged in stimulating projects.  With projects, students use higher order thinking skills rather than memorizing facts in an isolated contest without a connection to how and where they are used in the real world (Blank, 1997; Bottoms & Webb, 1998; Reyes, 1998). Projects also provide collaborative opportunities to construct knowledge.  Collaborative learning allows students to bounce ideas of each other, voice their own opinions, and negotiate solutions, all skills that will be necessary in the workplace (Bryson, 1994; Reyes, 1998). Using project-based instruction helps increase social, communication, and problem-solving skills. Another benefit of project-based instruction is that it can easily be cross-curricular, which enables students to make and see connections between disciplines. Projects can also help students increase self-esteem because students take pride in accomplishing something that has value outside the classroom (Moursund, Bielefeldt, & Underwood, 1997).

Stewart Foster, a teacher who has used project-based instruction in math and science classes reported that students who often struggled in most academic settings found meaning and justification for learning by working on projects (Nadelson, 2000).  Foster also noted that by facilitating learning of content knowledge as well as reasoning and problem-solving abilities, project-based instruction could help students prepare for state assessments and meet state standards.


A study conducted by the Consumer Federation of America in 1991 about the financial knowledge of teens indicates that they are transitioning into the adult financial world ill prepared to function efficiently. The Consumer Federation of America and the American Express Company tested high school seniors nationally and found that teens answered correctly only 42% of 52 questions about banking, auto insurance, housing, cars, credit and food (Consumer Federation of America, 1991). This means that to thoroughly prepare students for sound financial futures, schools must take on the task of educating students in the areas listed above. Although no literature exists that illustrates the effects of project-based instruction on the teaching of financial literacy, PBL seems to be an effective way to accomplish this task because it has many attractive features for both students and teachers. Project-based instruction helps students find relevancy in the subject matter and apply real-life skills. These two factors are essential in helping students become financially literate. My study was designed to investigate the effects of project-based instruction on the achievement of students in a financial literacy unit.


This quantitative study took place at high school in the southeastern United States.  It examined the results of project-based instruction versus lecture-based instruction in two sections of a Banking and Finance class. The data in this study consisted of a comparison of the scores from pre- and post-tests given to both sections. The first section received traditional, lecture-based instruction over a financial literacy unit. The second section received project-based instruction over the same unit. The participants in the study were students in two sections of a Banking and Finance course with both class sizes numbering 25 for a total of 50. The students in the two sections ranged in grade level from 9 through 12. The sections included both male and female students of mixed ability levels. The sections also included students of diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. I saw these students twice a week for 90 minutes each time. This study took place in my classroom and was meant to examine the level of student learning of financial literacy based on posttest scores after students have received either lecture-based or project-based instruction.


The first section of the class or control group, which received the lecture-based instruction, was taught using the textbook and in-class discussions that included multimedia presentations created by me. At the end of the unit, the students in this class had a culminating assignment. The culminating assignment was a three to five page paper written over the process of investing in the stock market.  


The second section of the class or experimental group, which received the project-based instruction, was taught using a brief section of the textbook and a multimedia presentation on the different types of investing along with an introduction to the stock market created by me. They were given a small amount of lecture-based instruction so that they could get the basic terms and concepts of investing but received far less of this type of instruction than the other section. Instead, they were given a four-week project that involved a stock investment simulation. In the project, the students were asked to research stocks and choose three to invest in. They were told that they could invest up to $25,000 dollars. They tracked their chosen stocks for a period of four weeks using an online portfolio. Their culminating assignment was a portfolio that detailed the project. This portfolio had several components, including: printouts of Quicken financial statements (this is the online portfolio used to track stocks), word processed descriptions of stocks and summaries of performance, Excel spreadsheets and charts of stock performance and a Web page with links to the companies for each stock.  The first section, although exposed to these components through lecture, was not required to create portfolios.


Both sections were taught in a computer lab classroom with 28 desktop computers. The computers all had Internet access and included the following programs: Microsoft Word, 

MS Access, MS Excel, MS PowerPoint, and Macromedia Dreamweaver. Both sections had time in class to work on their culminating assignments.


At the end of this research study, I gathered data measuring content mastery through the comparison of the pretest scores with the posttest scores to determine which class had the most significant improvement. The question this study answered was: How does PBL affect the learning of financial literacy?

Specifically, using pre- and post-test measures over the course of the study, to what degree do students master financial terms and concepts?

Do students who receive PBL achieve higher assessment scores than students who receive lecture-based instruction?


Data Collection Process

Before the research began, a permission form was sent to all participants as a measure to protect the individual rights. I informed students that I was conducting research over different types of instruction with them. A content-based pretest was given to the students before the instruction took place. This gave me a diagnostic look at students’ prior knowledge of financial literacy.  A posttest was also given to both sections following the completion of the unit, which allowed me to measure student mastery in relation to the teaching method used.


During the first week of the four week experiment, both groups received 90 minutes of large group instruction. This instruction covered the basic concepts of investing as well as vocabulary associated with the stock market.


The lecture-based or control group was then taught about investing in the stock market using lecture-based instruction, in class discussions, and multimedia presentations created by me.  The project-based or experimental group did not receive further instruction but was instead given a simulated stock project to complete.


The control and experimental groups were both given an Investing in the Stock Market exam as a pretest and a posttest. The pretest was given before the unit was begun about six weeks into the semester and the posttest was given at the end of the four week experiment after the culminating activities for both groups had been completed. The tests were hand scored and the score for every student for each test is expressed in terms of raw score. Then the pretest score is compared to the posttest score to determine if those who completed the stock portfolio differ on a performance variable compared to those who did not complete the stock portfolio.


Pretest and Posttest
The pretest was a 20 question multiple-choice and matching test created by me. It covered the concepts of the stock market, stock terminology, and the process of buying and selling stocks. After four weeks the same test was administered again as a posttest. The items contained in the pre and post test are equivalent.


Data Analysis

Students’ scores from the post-tests were correlated with the specific teaching method used, either lecture-based or project-based instruction. The data revealed how student achievement was affected by project-based learning in comparison to the control group. The intent of analyzing the data was to determine if PBL had a positive effect on student achievement when teaching financial literacy. SPSS was used to compute descriptive values and to conduct the t test.   

Results and Discussion

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of different types of instruction, project-based and lecture-based.  In this study, a sample of 50 high school students was assigned to two groups, each group containing 25 students.  They were required to take both a pre-test and a post-test. Figure 1 presents the means and standard deviations of pre-test and post-test for both groups. The average score improvement of the experimental group is 26.6, which is 4.2 points higher than that of the control group, 22.

Table 1: Mean scores and standard deviation for each group.


















Std. Deviation







T test on improvements from pretest to posttest



To detect the group difference between the experimental group and the control group, the t-test was used to analyze and compare both groups’ gain in achievement between pre to posttest. The T test for group differences between the experimental group and control group is t (49), p=.043, which is significant at .05 level, therefore, we can conclude that there is significant evidence to reject null hypothesis. That is, the students in the project-based learning group outperform their peers who had traditional instruction. The use of project-based instruction in teaching financial literacy leads to higher student achievement.


It is imperative that all students become financially literate, as it will impact their lives for years to come. The ideas and concepts associated with financial literacy must be applied by students to allow them to find relevance in the subject matter. The result from the quantitative study has shown that the students who were given the project-based instruction achieved higher scores than the students who were given lecture-based instruction. The results indicate that using project-based instruction to teach financial literacy improves student achievement. This approach works in my classroom because of the relevancy that it provides. The skills taught in business education are the same ones that students will use in their daily lives after high school. Because of that fact, it is vital that all lessons are simulations of what students will face in the real world. Project-based instruction gives students the chance to apply what they’ve learned and to practice these life skills in an authentic context. It has been my observation that motivation is improved when students are engaged in activities that allow them to simulate real-world events. 

Two limitations have to be acknowledged here. First, students’ prior financial knowledge might affect the accuracy of the treatment. My quantitative study involved students from a Banking and Finance class who had some prior knowledge of financial matters due to their attendance in the class from the beginning of the term up to the point that the study took place. Because the students already had prior knowledge, the findings could generalize only to students participating in the two classes. Second, as both the instructor for this class and the researcher for this study, I was potentially biased. I had a strong belief in project-based instruction and found it to be very useful in teaching business type skills. I also knew what the students in the study had achieved in the past in my class and that may have caused me to expect certain results from them. To both ensure accuracy in my research and to decrease the potential bias, all instruments completed by students were anonymous (students were given an identification number that they used so that pre- and post-test scores could be evaluated).


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Appendix A: Pretest/Posttest

a. private corporation

b. public corporation

c. income stock

d. defensive stock

e. capitalization

f. current yield

g. total return

h. primary market

i. over-the-counter market

j. market order

A.  Match each definition in the left column with the key term in the right column.  Write the letter of the term in the space provided.


_____1. The annual dividend paid by an investment and divided by the investment’s current market value expressed as a percentage.


_____2. A network of dealers who buy and sell the stocks of corporations that are not listed on a securities exchange


_____3. Sells its shares openly in stock markets where anyone can buy them


_____4. Pays higher-than-average dividends compared to other stock issues


_____5. A request to buy or sell the stock at current market value


_____6. A market in which an investors to purchases securities form a corporation through an investment bank or some other representative of the corporation


_____7. Its shares are owned by a relatively small group of people and are not traded openly in stock markets


_____8. Remains stable during periods of decline in the economy


_____9. The total amount of stocks and bonds issued by a corporation


____10. A calculation that includes the annual dividend as well as any increase or decrease in the original purchase price of the investment


B. In the space at the left, write the letter of the choice that best completes the statement or answers the question.


_____1. A legal form that asks stockholders to transfer their voting rights is called a

            a. security                     c. preemptive strike

            b. proxy                       d. stock split


_____2. Preferred stock offers investors all the following advantages EXCEPT


a. dividends before common stockholders receive any

b. a higher yield than common stock

c. more potential growth than common stock

d. less risk than common stock

_____3. A participation feature provides preferred stockholders with


  1. safety and the possibility of greater returns
  2. a share in the earnings that remain after required and stated dividends  are paid
  3. omitted dividends at a later payment
  4. dividends before common stockholders receive any


_____4. Financial professionals consider shares in AT&T

a. blue-chip stocks              c. cyclical stocks

b. growth stocks                 d. defensive stock


_____5. Stock that has steady earnings and continues paying dividends even during economic declines is known as

a. cyclical stock                  c. small cap stock

b. growth stock                  d. defensive stock


_____6. An example of a financial magazine the provides information about specific companies is

a. AMEX                            c. Barron’s

b. Yahoo                           d. Stocks


_____7. What is the formula for calculating total return on a stock?

a. annual dividend / current market value

b. current return + capital gain

c. dividend x number of shares x years held

d. net earnings / common stock outstanding


_____8. Most over-the-counter stock is traded through

a. IPOs                              c. AMEX

b. the NYSE                      d. NASDAQ


_____9. A stop order requests that a stockbroker

a. buy a stock at the best possible price       c. buy or sell a stock at its current value

b. decide when to sell a stock                     d. sell a stock for a specific amount


_____10. An example of a short-term investment strategy is

a. the buy-and-hold technique                     c. dollar cost averaging

b. buying stock on margin                           d. a dividend reinvestment plan