The Smart Schools principles for good education, developed by David Perkins and colleagues at Harvard Project Zero, are based on the two guiding beliefs:

  • Learning is a consequence of thinking, and good thinking is learnable by all students.
  • Learning should include deep understanding, which involves the flexible, active use of knowledge.

These principles provide a structure for schools with a vision of a learning community that is steeped in thinking and deep understanding, that engenders respect for all its members, and that produces students ready to face the world as responsible, thinking members of a diverse society. This vision of good education serves as a foundation for consultative relationships between Project Zero and school systems with similar goals.

There are seven key principles in a Smart School.

  1. Generative knowledge. Schools must examine carefully what disciplinary and interdisciplinary content will most benefit students. Identifying and structuring content which has the greatest potential for students' development is an important starting point for the Smart Schools model.
  2. Learnable intelligence. Contrary to a psychological tradition that tends to view intelligence as a fixed quantity, much of the research of Project Zero and others' indicates that students can and do learn ways of thinking that can boost their performance. The integration of the teaching of higher order thinking into subject matter instruction and the creation of a school culture that champions and scaffolds such thinking can have a significant effect on students' own views of their abilities and on their learning.
  3. Focus on understanding. While there are many legitimate goals for students, often a focus on deep understanding gets lost in the day-to-day life of the school. In the Smart Schools model, we place an emphasis on student work that builds and demonstrates deep understanding in contrast to rote or narrowly defined outcomes.
  4. Teaching for mastery and transfer. A simple but powerful maxim of education is that students learn much of what they have a reasonable opportunity and motivation to learn. Teaching techniques that explicitly model, scaffold, motivate, and help students to bridge what they learn to new contexts (i.e., transfer) greatly enhance the likelihood that students will learn well and actively use what they learn.
  5. Learning-centered assessment. Assessment at its best functions as a reflective and evaluative tool for learning. It involves students as well as teachers and creates a dynamic in which students take on the ultimate responsibility for the quality of their work and their learning.
  6. Embracing complexity. Insightful thinking and deep understanding require students to be able to deal with and even thrive on complex situations and problems. The Smart Schools model involves learning situations that help students build skills and tolerance for complexity and begin to develop a sense of excitement in the face of intriguing and difficult problems. It also supports teachers in managing the complexities of new viewpoints and practices.
  7. The school as a learning organization. Just as schools are places of growth for children, they should be places of growth for faculty and administrators - places where the pursuit of intellectual interests and professional collaborations are supported and encouraged. In addition, the successful learning organization institutes structures that enable all members of the school community to collaborate in the processes of direction-setting and self-monitoring, creating a dynamic system that changes as the needs and the vision of the community changes.