Project Zero at Harvard University: Information and Strategies Every Educator Needs

Harvard’s Project Zero: Part 1

I had the privilege of participating in Harvard University’s Project Zero Classroom last summer. We (the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence) were able to send 6 local teachers to participate in the institute thanks to the generosity of Presbyterian Day School here in Memphis. It was undoubtedly the best professional development in which I have ever been involved. I took notes, gathered resources, and spent time documenting my thoughts and reflections with the intent of sharing some of it with you here on this blog. The experience impacted my beliefs about learning and teaching and has been a catalyst for the redesign and enhancements I’ve made in the graduate courses and professional development that I teach and facilitate. In the midst of implementing those instructional modifications, and balancing my work and personal lives this school year, I just haven’t had much time to share much of anything on the blog.

This past February Harvard invited me to be a Project Zero Faculty Fellow. I’m excited for the opportunity to work more closely with “the experts in learning” and look forward to all the ways that I will grow and all that I will learn. With the school year behind me and the summer before me, I’ve begun to steer my mind towards all-things-Project Zero. I’ve been reading and watching videos about learning, teaching for understanding, making thinking visible, thinking routines, cultures of thinking, multiple intelligences, making learning whole, and more. These are just some of the components of the work that the Project Zero research group has produced in it’s more than forty year existence. I intend for this to be the first in a series of Project Zero related posts in which I hope to introduce you to some of PZ’s research, frameworks, strategies, terminology, and big ideas, while sharing some of my own experiences, ideas, and classroom connections. With that in mind, let’s start at the beginning.

Project Zero

“Project Zero is an educational research group at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University” (Source). “Project Zero was founded in 1967…by the philosopher Nelson Goodman to study and improve education in and through the arts. Goodman believed that arts learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but that “zero” had been firmly established about the field; hence, the project was given its name.

“Today, Project Zero is building on this research to help create communities of reflective, independent learners; to enhance deep understanding within and across disciplines; and to promote critical and creative thinking. Project Zero’s mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels.

“Project Zero’s research initiatives build on and contribute to detailed understandings of human cognitive development and the processes of learning in the arts and other disciplines. They place the learner at the center of the educational process, respecting the different ways in which an individual learns at various stages of life, as well as differences among individuals in the ways they perceive the world and express their ideas. Many of these initiatives involve collaborators in schools, universities, museums, or other settings in the United States and other countries” (Source).

Learn more about the history and research of Project Zero.

Project Zero Classroom

Participants in this week-long immersive institute will learn to “create classrooms, instructional materials and out-of-school learning environments that promote deep learning and understanding…The Project Zero Classroom details various frameworks that enable you to look at teaching analytically, develop new approaches to planning and make informed decisions about instruction. You will learn to recognize and develop students’ multiple intellectual strengths; encourage students to think critically and creatively; and assess student work in ways that deepen learning. In a Project Zero classroom, teachers are also learners who model intellectual curiosity and rigor, interdisciplinary and collaborative inquiry, and sensitivity to the ethical and aesthetic dimensions of learning” (Source).

The institute addresses fundamental educational questions, such as:

  • How can we best inspire and nurture creative thinking and problem solving in our students and ourselves?
  • What is understanding, and how does it develop?
  • What are the roles of reflection and assessment in student and teacher learning?
  • How can participants continue to share and pursue their understanding of Project Zero’s ideas with others after the institute?

The Project Zero Faculty Chair is comprised of Howard Gardner, David Perkins, and Steve Seidel.


Published by


Clif Mims is a Christian, husband, father, teacher, cancer warrior, and fan of the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Memphis Grizzlies.

2 thoughts on “Project Zero at Harvard University: Information and Strategies Every Educator Needs”

  1. Thanks for the comments, Mike. From its inception Project Zero has focused on learning and I think this is one of the reasons that their research, frameworks, professional development opportunities, and more are so powerful. Everything about PZ seeks to put thinking and learning at center stage and and they have a relentless and unrepentant attitude about it — and I adopted the same attitude almost immediately. I think we’d see a radical change for the better in classrooms if PZ thinking about education was the norm. I’ll have more to say about that in forthcoming posts in this series.

    Hope all is well with you and your family.

  2. Excellent post, Clif! I love PZ’s stuff and have used Thinking Routines with teachers. Bena Kallick introduced me to them, and a colleague from Australia, Wilma Kurvink, uses them often and is currently writing about curriculum considerations that include them. Such important and worthwhile work being done!



Comments are closed.