Date of Award

Spring 5-22-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Marilou Ryder

Second Advisor

Myrna Coté

Third Advisor

Alan Enomoto


Purpose: The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to investigate the impact of project-based learning on K-5 students’ development of the 4Cs (Critical Thinking, Communication, Creativity, Collaboration) as perceived by elementary charter school teachers.

Methodology: A phenomenological design was selected to address the research questions for this study. Through purposeful sampling, 12 charter elementary teachers who met a pre-determined set of criteria (including the routine integration of project-based learning within their instructional programs) were selected to participate in virtual, semi-structured interviews. All teachers were employed by charter schools located in six counties within California. The interviews were conducted using a researcher-developed protocol. Artifacts in the form of student work, planning documents, and project overviews were also collected and evaluated. Once organized, the researcher coded and analyzed the data for themes.

Findings: Data analysis revealed that the participating teachers regularly integrated 4Cs skills into their instructional practice. When planning PBL (collaboratively or independently), specific skills might be targeted, but all four skills were often assumed as necessary for project success. Prior to project implementation, teachers worked to build a classroom culture so that students felt safe and understood the expectations of project work. Cycles of inquiry began with a driving question or challenging problem that students worked (primarily in teams) to answer or solve. Students then presented their learning in varied ways to different audiences. Assessment was challenging for most 4C areas, with communication being the skill most frequently assessed formally due to its inclusion in the Common Core State Standards.

Conclusions: The implementation of project-based learning supports the development of critical thinking, communication, creativity, and communication by providing ample opportunities for students to practice and build capacity. Additionally, students develop a sense of ownership, agency, and empowerment as learners and can make authentic connections to their lives. PBL also develops real-world skills that are transferable well beyond the classroom. Finally, COVID-19 eliminated PBL during remote learning with some exceptions. Communication and collaboration were most impacted.

Recommendations: Ten areas of further research were recommended to increase the body of knowledge related to these variables.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.