Project Zero’s research proposes a performance-based conception of “understanding,” i.e. understanding is the capability to perform flexibly with knowledge in novel situations. It goes beyond having the correct mental models, and is actionable and generative in further learning and in real life. Understanding includes the capacity for transfer, as well as the ability to restructure concepts rather than just add information. It is an agentive process, an on-going quest carried by the learner. 


  • What is the nature of deep understanding and why does it matter?
  • What are the challenges to developing deep understanding?
  • What are the behaviors of learners who demonstrate adaptive expertise—knowing how to develop deep understanding?
  • In what ways can education support the development of deep understanding and adaptive 


  • Depth of understanding is more empowering than broad, superficial coverage.
  • Understanding is revealed through performances as opposed to what we know in our heads.
  • Deeper understanding involves restructuring schemas that we hold and developing a broader repertoire of schemas.
  • Learning how to learn new and challenging content—developing adaptive expertise—should be a central focus in education.

The Teaching for Understanding Guide

Published: 1998
The Teaching for Understanding Guide: What does it mean to understand something? How do students develop understanding? How can teachers know how well they understand and... Read more

Teaching for Understanding: Linking Research with Practice

Published: 1998
This book describes an innovative approach to teaching that helps take students beyond the rote memorization of facts and figures to levels of understanding that will serve... Read more

Learning Causality in a Complex World: Understandings of Consequence

Published: 2012
What do children's interactions on the playground have to do with foreign policy? How does science understanding in middle school relate to environmental disasters in third... Read more

The Project Zero Classroom: Views on Understanding

Published: 1999
What do Project Zero's ideas look like in practice? This book offers perspectives by teachers and researchers, including Howard Gardner and David Perkins, on several strands... Read more