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Reflections on Three Years of Project Zero Workshops

The Grandview Heights School District is beginning a third year of participation in the ESC of Central Ohio’s Project Zero (PZ) workshops. By the end of this school year each of our building principals, as well as teachers representing each grade level and content area will have taken part in the series.
For those of you who are new to PZ, it’s a research center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education that investigates the development of learning processes in children, adults, and organizations in its mission to understand and enhance human potential at the individual, group, and institutional levels.[i]
I first became aware of the work of PZ years ago, as a teacher in Upper Arlington’s Informal Program. The research, tenets, and practices of Project Zero rang so many bells for me and gave voice to my beliefs about thinking, learning, acquisition of understanding, and creativity. The next time I crossed paths with Project Zero was through the Columbus Museum of Art’s(CMA) Creativity Summit, and subsequently through its Summer Creativity Institutes. 
I’m currently involved in Cultivating Creative and Civic Capacities (C4), “a 3-year research-practice collaboration between the CMA and Project Zero to investigate and document ways to catalyze young people’s capacities for creative and critical thinking and a sense of community with room for divergent perspectives, and the conditions that promote young people’s curiosity about complex issues, openness to engaging multiple, often divergent, viewpoints, and a sense of social responsibility about actions they may take.”[ii]
In addition to participating in the C4 program at CMA, I’ve participated in the ESC of Central Ohio PZ workshops and cohorts with my fellow Grandview colleagues. These workshops have given our teachers (and in turn our students) tools for examining and documenting thinking. They provide us with a framework for leaning into the often ambiguous and fuzzy edges of thinking. They give us license to be playful and creative with ideas and to engage in wonder. Perhaps, most important, they provide tools and protocols that allow us to capture and document artifacts and evidence of thought, and to honor the process of thinking as a product of learning. 
We’ve discovered several elements that consistently empower us in our work. As our teachers participate in the Project Zero workshops, they assume the role of lead-learners. They share their knowledge and experience with fellow teachers by designing and conducting workshops during district professional development events. Through Grandview’s coaching model, teachers work alongside district instructional coaches to co-plan and co-teach while applying tools of Project Zero. We’ve also created book studies and inquiry groups focused on the books Making Thinking Visible and Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools
Introducing and implementing new ways of thinking is not an instant process, nor should it be. We have found it is essential to allow time for incubation as we adopt practices and philosophies of PZ. The key ingredients in our work have been the adventurous spirit of our teachers, trust and support from our administration, time, and patience. 
We’ve discovered the importance of mindful and intentional use of these tools in service of thinking and learning. Otherwise, they become nothing more than interesting activities. In addition, it’s extremely important to engage learners in the habit of ongoing reflection of these experiences to deepen their understanding and appreciation of their own and each other’s thought processes.
As we continue to journey through the 2020/21 school year, we find ourselves having to bridge distance and time in a new environment. We are now experiencing school where students are not always physically in the same space at the same time. We can connect through ideas, whether it’s the act of brainstorming, sharing thoughts, or creating solutions. These circumstances provide us with some new lenses to look through and license to explore different ways of teaching and learning. What better time to embrace those fuzzy edges of thinking?

Join the Project Zero Cohort

In the fall of 20-21, we are continuing our Project Zero work with a new cohort and would love to have more teachers and administrators join us in our work. 

If you are interested in learning more about Project Zero visit their website for articles, thinking routines, and professional development opportunities. 

Learn about Project Zero at your own pace with our upcoming online book study. We will be focusing on the brand new "The Power of Making Thinking Visible" book, which provides new thinking routines and practices that engage and empower all learners.

You can join the book study anytime after October 15 and must finish before December 31.

Become involved in the new cohort this fall by emailing [email protected]

Marc Alter is the Director of 21st Century Learning at Grandview Heights Schools. He started his teaching career as an art educator and later earned an MA in instructional design and technology integration from The Ohio State University. He currently coaches teachers in the use of instructional tools and practices and he teaches a class called Explore in which students co-design and reflect upon personalized learning experiences.

Contact Marc at the following:
Twitter: @mta001