Five years ago, Houston elementary school administrator Christian Stevenson Winn attended her first Project Zero Classroom, the annual summer conference at Harvard that helps teachers learn innovative educational practices and become better educators.
Winn, who is the elementary assistant principal at the T.H. Rogers School, not only learned new strategies to engage students, but she also gained a chance to reflect on her professional practice and explore dilemmas and challenges educators face in their daily work.
“Professionally, it was a life-changing experience,” said Winn, whose school is among Houston’s top 10 elementary schools. “Project Zero Classroom gives you the opportunity to develop your own questions around teaching and learning that present a challenge for you. It could be around curriculum, pedagogy, or a professional aspiration that you want to dive into to improve and grow.”
Inspired by that first conference, Winn created the Houston Learning Network to share some of the lessons learned at Project Zero Classroom. She said one of the innovations that teachers have put in practice has been to open their classrooms to colleagues so they can visit, observe, and provide feedback.
Winn will attend this year’s program as a study group leader, joining more than 360 educators who have signed up to participate. It will be held July 22‒26.
Since it was founded 23 years ago under the umbrella of Project Zero, an influential, research-based project at the Graduate School of Education (GSE), Project Zero Classroom has drawn more than 7,000 educators from all over the world.
It’s not a typical conference, said Daniel Gray Wilson, director and principal investigator of Project Zero Classroom. Participants learn about the latest research studies in the field of education conducted by more than 30 Project Zero researchers studying key questions such as how teachers can design learning experiences that unleash students’ full potential, how to help students become complex thinkers, and how schools can personalize learning for a diverse student body.
“We want to create a learning community for teachers, where they can learn about the latest educational research and learn from one another,” said Wilson. “The program operates at two levels: First there is a deep conceptual shift in the assumption about what it means for humans to learn and think, and then there’s the practical level about tools, practices, and tips they learn to support learning and thinking.”
Wilson said one of the new strategies teachers learn involves finding ways to help students move beyond rote memorization. For example, if a class is learning history, students may be asked to write a musical piece or an essay comparing a historical event to a current one.
“In today’s world, memorization is less and less important,” he said. “It’s about using that knowledge or information in responsible and critical ways. Educators are faced with the challenge of how to no longer just simply be the person who’s transmitting information and instead be the curator of a more creative application of information.”