Early Childhood Education

Project Zero (PZ)


Project Zero (PZ) is a research organization housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. PZ’s mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity across the arts and other disciplines. At any given time, approximately ten to twenty separate investigations are underway in schools, museums, and other cultural and educational institutions in the United States and around the world. A primary focus of the research is creating communities of reflective learners and promoting critical and creative thinking for children, adults, and organizations.

PZ was founded in 1967 by the philosopher Nelson Goodman to study and improve education in the arts. Goodman believed that learning in the arts is a serious cognitive activity and should be studied as such, but that “zero” had been firmly established about the field (hence the organization’s name). In 1972, Howard Gardner and David Perkins became codirectors, posts they held into the 1990s. In 2000, Steve Seidel assumed the directorship of the organization.

Three lines of PZ research are particularly noteworthy in the field of early childhood education. The Early Symbolization and Transition to Literacy Project (1976-1989) was a group of closely related studies that looked at young children’s representational capacities. PZ researchers documented the maturation of young children’s linguistic, artistic, and musical capacities in order to develop a model of early symbolic development in different areas. Researchers also investigated the onset and growth of symbol use in school-age children.

Based on Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and David Feldman’s theory of development in nonuniversal domains, Project Spectrum (1984-1993) constructed an alternative approach to assessment and curriculum development for the preschool and early elementary years. Positing that each child has a unique profile (spectrum) of intelligences, and that these intelligences can be enhanced by educational opportunities, researchers used classroom observations to develop methods of assessing and promoting children’s linguistic, mathematical, musical, artistic, social, scientific and kinesthetic knowledge.

The aim of the Making Learning Visible (MLV) Project (1997-present) is to understand, document, and promote learning groups in schools. MLV researchers investigate the power of the group as a learning environment and documentation as a way for students, teachers, and other interested adults to see how and what children are learning. Initially a collaboration with educators from the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, the project has also worked with teachers in the United States from preschool through graduate school to explore individual and group learning in a range of classroom settings.

Research directions at Project Zero are influenced by the interests of the principal investigators and priorities of funding organizations. The primary source of financial support comes from private foundations and individual philanthropists. Research findings are disseminated through publications, Web sites, and a variety of professional development formats such as an annual institute, seminars, and online courses.

Further Readings: Project Zero (2005). Available online at http://www.pz.harvard.edu/index.htm; Making Learning Visible (2005). Available online at http://www.pz. harvard.edu/mlv/index.cfm.

Ben Mardell and Mara Krechevsky