Project Zero

Project Zero, a leading educational research organization at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, has had a decade-long relationship with WIS.

The very first Project Zero conference held away from the Harvard campus was co-hosted by WIS and the National Gallery of Art in November 2010. Since that time, WIS teachers have presented workshops at off-site conferences in New York, Atlanta and Clarkston, Michigan.

Our teachers now regularly lead in-house workshops with their colleagues and parents on how they are using Project Zero ideas in practice.

For the 2010-11 academic year, WIS received a matching grant from the EE Ford Foundation to establish a consultant-in-residency program featuring Project Zero researchers Veronica Boix Mansilla and Ron Ritchhart. Contributions from the community ensured WIS met the match. In the 2011-12, WISPA awarded a grant that sustained this work for another year.

Throughout these two years, the Project Zero consultants worked with teachers and administrators to develop the skills, knowledge, and understanding connected to a relevant global issues curriculum and its delivery. Their work entailed, but was not limited to:
  • Leading workshops for teachers;
  • Observing classes and engaging the faculty in explorations of teaching and learning issues related to building a relevant curriculum for the 21st century;
  • Organizing and advising professional learning groups of teachers;
  • Consulting with groups of teachers in subject area and grade level groups to build interdisciplinary approaches to various topics;
  • Training teachers to be trainers, so they could lead workshops and symposia as outlined above; and
  • Consulting with the school’s Academic Council and administrators on strategies to ensure success of this project.
As a result of these initiatives, the entire WIS faculty has engaged deeply with Project Zero ideas over the past two years. 


As stated on its website, “Project Zero's mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as in humanistic and scientific disciplines, at individual and institutional levels.” Project Zero was founded at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education 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 years of research to help create communities of reflective, independent learners; to enhance deep understanding within and across disciplines; and to promote critical and creative thinking (read this article from the Harvard Gazette on the benefit of developing better thinking skills). Among the many important projects led by researchers at Project Zero are the three described below.

Multiple Intelligences

Multiple Intelligences: a theory developed by Howard Gardner that challenges traditional notions of intelligence and posits that we all possess many intelligences that should be valued in educational settings.

Teaching for Understanding

Teaching for Understanding: a framework for ensuring that teachers guide students on a path toward deep understanding in the various disciplines. Grade 5 teacher Vaija Wagle, who first attended a Project Zero conference at the urging of former Head of School Dick Hall, cites learning about this framework as a moment of epiphany: “I realized that I am teaching because I want my students to deeply understand the world around them.” Instead of pursuing the theory that more knowledge (in the form of names, dates, formulas, etc.) would bring students greater understanding, she realized that her responsibility was to ensure students understood the big conceptual idea behind what she was teaching. Once they got the big “why” or “what” the kids would be able to apply an idea or theory to their own lives. As an example, she spoke about teaching students about the process of photosynthesis; once they got the “big picture” idea that there could be no life on earth without plants, the little details fell into place.

Cultures of Thinking

Cultures of Thinking: a series of projects connected to the idea of making learners’ thinking visible by establishing routines for thinking deeply about topics at hand. Dolores Virasoro, who teaches 4th grade, echoed Vaija’s enthusiasm about Project Zero, recalling that her teaching changed dramatically after attending a Project Zero conference at Harvard in summer 2009. She cited the “I See, I Think, I Wonder” approach, discussed in workshops about making learning visible, as a process that enables students to make connections more readily and makes them teachers as well as learners. Middle School teachers Rita Adhikari and Kusum Waglé are equally keen about this thinking routine and now use it in their classrooms as well. At the November 2010 conference held in conjunction with the Center for Advancement and Study of International Education and Project Zero, Rita and Kusum were among the WIS teachers offering workshops.