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Online Courses

Teaching Complex Thinking through Art with the National Gallery of Art

Since it launched in 2019, teachers around the world have shared how transformative the National Gallery’s first online course, Teaching Critical Thinking through Art, has been for them. Now in 2024, we’re excited to offer you a second course on the edX platform:

Teaching Complex Thinking through Art

The strategies presented in this course are adapted from Artful Thinking pedagogy developed by Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and applied in programs at the National Gallery. Artful Thinking research discovered that six thinking dispositions can be strengthened by engaging with art. 

The first course covered three of these dispositions: observing and describing, reasoning with evidence, and questioning and investigating. Our second course explores the other three: 

  • Comparing and connecting: making comparisons between different works of art and connections to oneself, curriculum content, and larger issues in society
  • Exploring viewpoints: examining the perspectives of figures in a work of art with self-awareness, respect, and empathy
  • Finding complexity: going beyond the surface of a work of art to consider its parts, purposes, and complexities

A fourth unit focuses on documenting and assessing your current thinking to help you and your students develop more complex thought about art and other topics. The course features live-action lesson videos of real teachers facilitating authentic, respectful dialogue about art with students of various grade levels in math, science, social studies, language arts, and visual arts. Working in classrooms and at the museum, they demonstrate a thinking routine—a strategy of open-ended questions centered around a thinking disposition. 

You’ll explore artworks for yourself, grappling with complex topics. You’ll hear from Harvard researchers about the benefits and challenges of teaching different facets of complex thinking through art. And you’ll be part of a global learning community in which you can document, share, and reflect on your experience integrating art and developing complex thinking with your students.

To practice what you learn in the course, you will be able to access a suite of downloadable teaching resources for your classroom, such as thinking routine instructions, templates, lesson plans, and slide decks of art images. No matter what subject or level you teach, you’ll find lessons and resources that relate to your practice.

Register today at

These online courses for teachers, produced by the National Gallery of Art, are made possible by generous grants from the Ruth S. Willoughby Foundation and J. Bruce and Alice Whelihan. Special thanks to J. Bruce Whelihan, trustee of the Willoughby Foundation.

Teaching Critical Thinking through Art with the National Gallery of Art

Based on the National Gallery of Art’s popular Art Around the Corner professional development program for teachers in Washington, D.C., this five-part, self-paced online course provides everything you need to begin creating a culture of critical thinking and collaboration for any classroom, subject, or level. You do not need an art background or museum access to successfully integrate the “Artful Thinking” course materials into your teaching. Your focused attention, willingness to experiment, and commitment to trying new discussion practices with your students is all that is required.

Teaching Critical Thinking through Art

What You Will Learn:

  • How to use Artful Thinking Routines to strengthen thinking.
  • How to facilitate meaningful conversations in your classroom using art for both artful learning and artful teaching.
  • How to help learners of all levels develop more discerning descriptions, evidence-based reasoning, and meaningful questioning habits.
  • Key strategies for using content information to push original thinking deeper.
  • Exciting, immersive activities for any type of classroom.
  • How to use learning resources from the National Gallery of Art, including downloadable Artful Thinking lesson plans.

The strategies presented in this course are adapted from Artful Thinking pedagogy, developed by Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

When you enroll, all the resources you need to strengthen critical thinking skills with art will be immediately available. We recommend that you spend a few hours learning and practicing each section before progressing to the next. The online course environment features over 20 videos and interactive tools: including a zoom tool to examine works of art at full resolution, polls to compare your thoughts with those of other participants, and discussion boards where teachers around the world will share ideas, plans, and results. Authentic lesson demonstration videos model routines led by real classroom and museum educators with students of varying ages. Interview videos provide focal points for teachers on topics like using thinking routines with emerging language learners and making accommodations for all learners. Having access to a global network of educators who, just like you, want to hone their abilities to teach critical thinking skills will be an added and enduring bonus to your course experience.

Register at

This NGA Online Course is made possible by a generous grant from the Ruth S. Willoughby Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Mr. and Mrs. J. Bruce Whelihan.

Join thousands of participants from over 130 countries. Register today at

Questions about this program should be directed to [email protected].

When contacting the Gallery, please provide a telephone number and the times of day when you can best be reached.