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Faculty & Research

David Perkins

Professor of Education, Emeritus

David Perkins

Degree:  Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (1970)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]
Phone:  617.495.4376
Vitae/CV:   David Perkins.pdf
Office:  Longfellow 425


David Perkins is a founding member of Harvard Project Zero, a basic research project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education investigating human symbolic capacities and their development. For many years, he served as co-director, and is now senior co-director and a member of the steering committee. Perkins conducts research on creativity in the arts and sciences, informal reasoning, problem solving, understanding, individual and organizational learning, and the teaching of thinking skills. He has participated in curriculum projects addressing thinking, understanding, and learning in Colombia, Israel, Venezuela, South Africa, Sweden, Holland, Australia, and the United States. He is actively involved in school change. Perkins was one of the principal developers of WIDE World, a distance learning model practitioners now embedded in programs at HGSE. He is the author of numerous publications, including fourteen authored or co-authored books. His books include; The Eureka Effect, about creativity; King Arthurs Round Table, about organizational intelligence and learning; Making Learning Whole, a general framework for deepening education at all levels; and Future Wise, about what's worth teaching for the contemporary era.

Areas of Expertise

Cultures of Thinking


The WIDE World Initiative (Wide Scale Interactive Development for Educators)


LILA (Learning Innovations Laboratory), an inquiry project and four-times-yearly forum process for corporate and government representatives (2001-present)

Sponsored Projects


Catalyzing Creative and Civic Capacities (2019-2022)
The Martha Holden Jennings Foundation/Columbus Museum of Art

Creativity – or using imagination and critical thinking to generate new ideas of value – has always been valued in human societies as critical for fulfillment and success for individuals, communities, industries, and countries. As our contemporary world grapples with the complex opportunities and challenges of human diversity, technological advancements, environmental sustainability, etc., developing the disposition towards creative problem solving, nuance, imagination and empathy is more pressing than ever. Through the Catalyzing Creative and Civic Capacities project, the Columbus Museum of Art (CMA) and Project Zero (PZ) will explore the following questions:• How might we catalyze young people’s capacities for creative and critical thinking and a sense of community with room for divergent perspectives? • What conditions 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?More specifically, we will investigate and document how catalyzing young people’s creative and civic capacities might prompt:• shifts in the ways students and teachers see themselves in relation to others and/or consider the past and possible experiences of other people;• shifts in attitudes and perspectives about the role of the imagination in conceiving civic change; and• new thinking about creating with a sense of the civic and applying creative impulses to civic challenges.PZ will support CMA’s efforts to build on and extend its Teaching for Creativity framework; to design productive ways of examining the role of creativity in developing civic capacities; and to enhance and track the impact of the framework on teachers.


Idea into Action (2017-2021)
Independent Schools Victoria

Idea into action refers to the quest to translate ideas (principles, plans, good intentions, etc.) into action on the ground. It applies to individual behaviors, such as achieving regular exercise or productive leadership styles; to group and organizational behaviors, such as fostering team coordination or a culture of creativity; and to general population phenomena, such as getting people to vote or obey traffic laws. The challenge of idea into action takes on its most familiar and widespread form in what we might call the "middle ground," where the problems of action are neither technically (e.g. perfecting a golf swing, learning a musical instrument, or developing sophisticated skills of mathematical modeling) nor clinically (e.g. addictions, phobias, compulsions) difficult. The middle ground of idea into action ranges across innumerable everyday situations where we generally feel that the idea should translate into action readily enough with a bit of guidance, attention, and resolve, but it often doesn't.The proposed program of investigation addresses the middle ground of idea into action, centering on two key questions: (1) Why does idea into action so commonly prove so hard to accomplish? (2) Are there significantly more reliable ways to achieve idea into action, including attention to the trade-offs in time and other costs involved and how they might be addressed in practical settings?Idea into action is of prime concern to Independent Schools Victoria (ISV), a membership-based organization comprising 220 independent schools in Victoria, Australia, dedicated to developing and supporting good leadership and teaching practices. It is also a concern to Project Zero (PZ) in its collaborative work with organizations that seek to change practices in schools and other settings. The project will focus on contexts of interest to both ISV and PZ: settings of organizational development, organizational and school leadership, and student learning for action.


Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching can Transform Education (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass)

Learning at Work: Research Lessons on Leading Learning in the Workplace (Wilson, D., Perkins, D., Bonnet, D., Miani, C., Unger, C., Cambridge, MA: Harvard Project Zero)

King Arthur’s Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organizations (NY: Wiley)

Archimedes’ Bathtub: The Art and Logic of Breakthrough Thinking (New York: W. W. Norton)

The Thinking Classroom: Learning and Teaching in a Culture of Thinking (Tishman, S., Perkins, D. N., & Jay, E., 1995. Needham, MA: Allyn & Bacon)

Outsmarting IQ: The Emerging Science of Learnable Intelligence (The Free Press)

Software Goes to School: Teaching for Understanding with New Technologies (Perkins, D. N., Schwartz, J.L., West, M., & Wiske, M. S., Eds. NY: Oxford University Press.)

The Intelligent Eye: Learning to Think by Looking at Art (The Getty Center for Education in the Arts)

Smart Schools: From Training Memories to Educating Minds (The Free Press)

The Inventive Mind: Creativity in Technology (Weber, R. & Perkins, D. N., Eds., 1992. NY: Oxford University Press.)

Informal Reasoning and Education (Voss, J., Perkins, D. N., & Segal, J. W., Eds. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.)

Block--Getting Out of Your Own Way: The New Psychology of Counterintentional Behavior in Everyday Life (Lipson, A., & Perkins, D. N. New York: Lyle Stuart Press)

Teaching Thinking: Issues and Approaches (Swartz, R., & Perkins, D. N. Pacific Grove, CA: Midwest Publications.)

Art, Mind, and Education (Gardner, H., & Perkins, D. N., Eds. Urbana-Champaign and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.)

A Practitioner's Series on Teaching Thinking (Swartz, R., & Perkins, D. N., Eds. Pacific Grove, CA: Midwest Publishers.)

Thinking: The Second International Conference (Perkins, D. N., Lochhead, J., & Bishop, J., Eds., 1987. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.)

The Teaching of Thinking (Nickerson, R., Perkins, D. N., & Smith, E., 1986. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum)

Knowledge as Design (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.)

The Mind's Best Work (Harvard University Press)

The Arts and Cognition (Perkins, D. N., & Leondar, B., Eds. Baltimore:Johns Hopkins University Press.)

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