Making Schools Work

Bringing the Science of Learning to Joyful Classroom Practice

By Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Kimberly Nesbitt, Carol Jasperse Lautenbach, Elias Blinkoff, and Ginger Fifer

This is a book we’ve been waiting for! Making Schools Work transports the science of how children learn directly into classroom practice. This accessible, culturally flexible, and impactful book reimagines education for our time, showing how we can empower teachers and prepare children for a life of learning in this 21st-century global world.”

Carol Dweck

Lewis & Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology, Stanford University

Co-Construct & Reimagine

Optimal Education

If we teach in the way that human brains learn, both students and their teachers will thrive! This book aligns evidence from the learning sciences on how and what students need to learn with classroom practice (pre-K–12). It demonstrates, with hands-on examples, how a change in educational mindset (rather than in curriculum) can improve student outcomes on both standardized tests and a breadth of 21st century skills. Written collectively by classroom teachers, administrators, parents, and learning scientists, this book shows readers how to co-construct and reimagine an optimal educational system. Making Schools Work offers three case studies of schools, including a statewide system, that are all implementing a 6 Cs approach to learning focused on collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence. The text documents the ever-evolving implementation process, as well as outcomes and the ongoing work of stakeholders within the district. Readers can use this resource to create an education for all children that is culturally responsive, inclusive, effective, and fun.

Book Features:

Helps educators teach in the way that human minds learn.

Jointly written in accessible language by teachers, administrators, parents, and learning scientists.

Offers hands-on ways to reimagine classrooms without investing in new curricula.

Puts teachers in the driver’s seat, reminding us why we teach.

Provides culturally responsive, inclusive, effective, and fun strategies.


“In Making Schools Work, scientists, teachers, and administrators bring deeper learning to life. Inclusive and culturally responsive, this book takes big ideas like 21st-century skills and shows what they look like in practice. A critical guide for those interested in understanding how to transform our industrial-era structures into next-generation schools and systems that bring passion, purpose, play, and deep learning for students and adults.”

– Jal Mehta, professor, Harvard University

More Praise…

The 6 Cs are both common sense and utterly revolutionary. This authoritative guide not only synthesizes the modern science of learning and motivation but also shows how it can be put into practice now. A must-read for any educator who has wondered whether there is a better way to make schools work.”

Angela Duckworth

Rosa Lee and Egbert Chang Professor, University of Pennsylvania

Making Schools Work shows how to apply the science of learning to prepare young people to navigate uncertainty, shape meaningful careers, and solve the increasingly complex challenges facing our planet and society. It is a wonderful resource for educators looking for guidance and examples about developing students who can shape a better world for themselves and all of us.”

Wendy Kopp

CEO and co-founder, Teach For All; founder, Teach For America

For too many students in too many schools, the learning experience is broken. This book can help fix it. A team of experts has produced an evidence-based, actionable, and timely guide to rethinking the design of classrooms and reigniting the joy of discovery.”

Adam Grant

Saul P. Steinberg Professor of Management and professor of psychology, University of Pennsylvania; host, WorkLife podcast

Yes, schools can be more rigorous, more equitable, and more fun at the same time. This joyful, engaging, and practical manual is just what educators need to transform schools and young people’s lives for the better.”

Anya Kamenetz

writer and education reporter

The authors connect the dots between a remarkably broad and interesting array of studies and bring to life vivid concrete examples of real classrooms. Making Schools Work shows what can happen when children like what they are learning and teachers know what they are doing. This book provides a blueprint for anyone who wants their classroom to flourish.”

Susan Engel

senior lecturer in psychology, Williams College

The authors of Making Schools Work have put together an invaluable guide to supporting rich, meaningful, playful learning in our children. Teachers, administrators, and everyone else who is invested in students’ emotional well-being and intellectual development will find much to feast on in this deeply researched and beautifully written book.”

Annie Murphy Paul

science writer

In Making Schools Work, scientists, teachers, and administrators bring deeper learning to life. Inclusive and culturally responsive, this book takes big ideas like 21st-century skills and shows what they look like in practice. A critical guide for those interested in understanding how to transform our industrial-era structures into next-generation schools and systems that bring passion, purpose, play, and deep learning for students and adults.”

Jal Mehta, professor

Harvard University

This is exactly the book we need right now (actually, we needed it years ago). Our models of schooling are simply not up to equipping students for the tasks of the 21st century. The authors make the case for schooling that is relevant, active, and aligned to what we know about the development of children and youth. The team presents what this model looks like in real classrooms in which students are fully engaged, their talents and interests recognized and developed, and their teachers energized and valued. This is truly a must-read for every educator, policymaker, and school board member.”

Robert C. Pianta

Batten Bicentennial Professor of Early Childhood Education and dean of the School of Education and Human Development (2007–2022), University of Virginia

Grounded in scientific evidence that supports joyful learning, this book provides practical guidance for educators seeking to reimagine schools and classrooms. The authors sketch an inspirational vision of teaching and learning and then show us how to make the vision a reality through vivid examples and case studies. Making Schools Work provides hope that we can catalyze this historic moment to create schools designed to help young people learn and thrive.”

Pam Grossman

Dean, Graduate School of Education and George and Diane Weiss Professor of Education, University of Pennsylvania

Educational policy for the next decades will require rethinking ‘how’ children learn and ‘what’ they need to learn to develop the breadth of skills needed for success. By recognizing that this will require a systemic approach that involves both parents and community, Making Schools Work offers one blueprint for the future of education in and out of school. Making Schools Work is an accessible and evidence-based must-read for those in global education policy and implementation.”

Rebecca Winthrop

senior fellow and director, Center for Universal Education, The Brookings Institution

About the Authors

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, is the Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in Psychology at Temple University and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her research examines the development of early language and literacy, the role of play in learning and learning and technology. She is the author of 14 books and hundreds of publications, has won numerous awards in her field and was inducted into the National Academy of Education. Vested in translating science for lay and professional audiences, her Becoming Brilliant, released in 2016 was on the NYTimes Best Seller List in Education.

Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, PhD, Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Education at the University of Delaware, is a well-known developmental psychologist who was recently elected to the National Academy of Education. She is also committed to bringing the science of learning out to the public as in Playful Learning Landscapes, that marries architectural design and the science of learning to embed physical installations in communities for informal learning. She also created the QUILS trio screeners to identify children with language problems. Her last book, Becoming Brilliant reached the NYTimes best-seller list.

Kimberly Nesbitt, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of New Hampshire. Her research focuses on the development of cognition in early childhood, with a particular focus on identifying instructional practices that enable young children from diverse backgrounds to learn and achieve in early education environments. She is dedicated to improving the quality of early childhood education through collaborations with schools and community organizations across New Hampshire, including serving on numerous early learning and childhood committees for the state.

Carol Jasperse Lautenbach, Ed.D, served in many roles in Godfrey-Lee Public Schools (Wyoming, MI) for 29 years, before retiring in June 2021, most recently as Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Design. In spring 2021, she served on the Innovation and Redesign subcommittee for Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Student Recovery Advisory Council. Presently, she is a fellow with Steelcase Social Innovation Lab and Grand Rapids (MI) Community Diversity and Inclusion Fellowship. Alongside researchers Dr. Golinkoff and Dr. Hirsh-Pasek, she is co-authoring a book on how students and educators build joyful and equitable communities together.

Elias Blinkoff is a developmental psychology graduate student at Temple University mentored by Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek. His research explores the intersection between the science of learning and educational practice and policy. Elias’ current projects focus on the implementation of playful learning principles to promote 21st century skills in the classroom. Through this work, he is eager to understand how multi-directional collaborations between researchers, educators, students, and families can foster more meaningful learning for students. Before arriving at Temple, Elias mentored middle school students in Philadelphia with City Year. He holds a B.A. in Psychology and Educational Studies from Swarthmore College.

Ginger Owen Fifer has been impassioned for decades about a learning model she lives: for children where student is both explorer and discoverer and teacher is facilitator. Over a long tenure at Friends’ Central School, located outside of Philadelphia, Ginger experienced thematic, guided play-based teaching as a Pre K through fourth grade teacher, and lower school administrator, where the daily learning experience resulted in evidence of students’ creativity, critical-thinking, collaboration, communication, and a growth in confidence.

Working with educators in PA, MI, and NH, Ginger has been a co-designer and facilitator guiding teachers in adopting this model to their classrooms. The result of playful co-designed classrooms is joyful learning and teaching, utilizing prescribed curriculum in a manner that sparks engagement for children and teachers. The early evidence suggests it is making a big difference.

Every student deserves an education which is more than a mile wide and an inch deep from the acquisition of facts that are soon lost.

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