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Project-based Learning
VIEW SYLLABUS AND UNIT PLANS FOR AP Government & Politics 2018
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Defining Project Based Learning

Too often, school does not engage students and leaves them unprepared for active participation and success in college, careers, and democratic life. For students and teachers who want education to be rigorous, personally relevant and connected to authentic challenges, project-based learning is a way to deeply learn the content and skills needed to engage and empower students to lead fulfilling lives and productively contribute to creating a better world. By making learning personally and socially meaningful, students have a sense of purpose in school, and teachers are motivated to stay in the profession and help students engage with topics that matter to all of us. In a project-based learning classroom:

Students Learn Through Meaningful and Challenging Projects:
Well-designed, coherent projects integrate content and skills across multiple academic subjects when possible, and gradually build student knowledge through challenging, complex tasks.

Students Deeply Understand Content:
Deep content understanding is supported when students create high-quality, complex work by conducting research, applying ideas to real-world scenarios, revisiting concepts from different angles, generating and revising artifacts guided by feedback and reflection processes, and publicly presenting their work.

Students Interact Socially:
Social interactions that connect to who students are as people facilitate authentic scenarios where students can feel safe to productively struggle and take intellectual risks, display empathy and care for others, advocate for their beliefs, understand diverse perspectives, build relationships, and collaborate productively within a learning community.

Students are Invested:
Students are invested in their own learning because projects focus on authentic issues that they care about and that spark a genuine love of learning.

Driven by Research

Project-Based learning has its roots in prominent student-centered learning theories including John Dewey’s experiential-based philosophy and William Kilpatrick’s “project-method” approach. More recently, research from cognitive science and the learning sciences on how people learn reveals that there is evidence behind some of the core principles of project-based learning supporting the acquisition of what researchers call adaptive expertise, which is the ability to apply meaningfully knowledge and skills flexibly and creatively in different situations. In building adaptive expertise in learners, three key findings from the research point to the importance of learning environments that place learners at the center and value and support:

  • deep conceptual understanding rather than superficial learning
  • coherent and authentic knowledge rather than compartmentalized and decontextualized learning, and
  • collaborative and active learning rather than learning in isolation.

Project-based learning is the current pedagogical approach most in line with this research. By engaging students in answering driving questions and finding solutions to authentic, complex problems through sustained collaborative inquiry and investigation, project-based curricula are organized to support learners with deeply understanding core subject area content as key concepts spiral (or loop) throughout the course and are revisited in new contexts, requiring students to apply understanding in new and creative ways. This coherent organization of knowledge and the application and adaptation of content to novel situations leads to clear benefits in the classroom:

Deeper conceptual understanding and greater retention of content

Increased ability of students to problem solve, collaborate, and think critically

Increased student engagement and interest

Increased sense of community and belonging

For more information on the research behind project-based learning, see this literature review conducted by educational researchers MDRC. To learn more about project-based learning, visit our articles on our website.

What Practitioners are Saying

It has made me more aware and confident in "letting go" and making my classroom focus more on students becoming the "drivers" of their learning and me becoming more of the "coach" than the fountain of knowledge - I think this will serve them well as they transition into college where they have to take control of their learning.

- High School Social Studies Teacher in Illinois

Student engagement in my class has gone up 100%. The structure of the projects makes it impossible for a student to not be actively involved in class activities. Students have been able to take what they are learning in books and lectures and apply that information to the projects. I frequently hear student using vocabulary words and terms (not prompted by me) when discussing the projects.

- High School Science Teacher in Virginia

I can say with confidence that my students this year, after using the KIA curriculum, felt better about their performance on the AP Exam than students I have taught in the past. I've always wanted to do more PBL in my government instruction; but never really had the time to pull it together properly. KIA is ready to go, but easily adaptable.

- High School Social Studies Teacher in Illinois

KIA has allowed me to further explore and implement an approach in my class that is learner centered and focused on the voice and choice of the learners in the room.

- High School Science Teacher in California

AP U.S. Government & Politics

The Knowledge in Action project began in 2008 as a collaboration between education researchers at the University of Washington and AP U.S. Government and Politics teachers in public schools in and around the Seattle area. From the start, the course was co-designed with teachers and researchers who together created each of the five projects, tested them in classrooms, collected and analyzed data and feedback from students and teachers, and revised the projects using a continuous improvement framework. The course is an active and engaging project-based approach to the standard AP U.S. Government and Politics course. The subject matter is the same as in a traditionally taught course, but it is organized in a different way. Students use a core set of ideas, concepts, and skills to analyze facts and as a result they gain an analytical perspective on government and politics in the United States. By applying concepts, students deepen their understanding and further develop their knowledge in a way that is widely referred to as deeper learning. The driving question for the course is, What is the proper role of government in a democracy?

College Board-Audited Course Syllabus

If you are teaching this course, you can submit through the “claim identical” process using this approved syllabus along with the authorized audit ID #2091796v4.

Course Overview

The subject matter is the same as in a traditionally taught course, but it is organized in a different way. Students use a core set of ideas, concepts, and skills to analyze facts and as a result they gain an analytical perspective on government and politics in the United States. By applying concepts, students deepen their understanding and further develop their knowledge in a way that is widely referred to as deeper learning.

The Projects

This course contains five projects that are organized around the following question: “What is the proper role of government in a democracy?” Each project involves political simulations through which students take on roles that help contextualize the content required by the new College Board course framework.

Founders' Intent

In the first project, Founders’ Intent, students are delegates to the Constitutional Convention, deciding whether they would ratify the new U.S. Constitution.

Founders' Intent Unit Plan


In the Elections project, students organize and execute their own presidential campaign.

Elections Unit Plan

Supreme Court

Students then act as Supreme Court justices, petitioners, or respondents in landmark cases during the Supreme Court project.

Supreme Court Unit Plan


Students write legislation in the Congress project, exploring questions like “To what extent is Congress designed to make laws that reflect the will of the people?”

Congress Unit Plan

Government in Action

The course culminates with Government in Action, during which students are advisors to interest groups and create political action plans, synthesizing what they have learned throughout the course.

Government in Action Unit Plan


University of Washington researchers investigated whether this project-based approach to the course could result in the same or better performance on the AP Exam as compared with student performance on the exam after taking the traditionally taught AP course. Researchers also measured students’ engagement and performance on measures of deeper learning. Preliminary findings showed that students report higher degrees of engagement and interest in the Knowledge in Action classrooms and they perform equally as well on the AP Exam.

Ongoing research taking place across nearly 70 schools and five urban districts will evaluate if these results can be replicated within multiple, varied school contexts. Preliminary results from the research reveal that after implementing KIA for an entire school year:


of teachers would encourage their school to adopt KIA curriculum for all AP classes


of teachers would encourage non-AP teachers to use elements of the KIA project-based approach and also plan to use KIA the next time they teach AP U.S. Government and Politics


of teachers plan to use elements of KIA in their non-AP U.S. Government and Politics courses

Request Access

A revised AP U.S. Government and Politics Course that is fully aligned to the new College Board APGOPO framework is now available.

This curriculum is available as a free open education resource to educators, instructors, and administrators. Sprocket is designed for teacher access only and is not open to students. You may request access now and you will be notified once your account is created.

We encourage educators to adapt our curriculum to best suit the needs of their classrooms and for them to share it with other members of the Sprocket community.

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