Harkness Teaching

Established in 1936 by Edward Harkness, an innovative and visionary educational philanthropist, the Harkness method of education sought to bring the benefits of the House System to the classroom by providing an intimate environment for intellectual discourse.

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Students who are used to a traditional classroom with rows of individual desks may be surprised at first by Lawrenceville’s conference-style classroom, as students and teacher sit around an oval table known as the Harkness Table. The configuration of the classroom reflects a philosophy of education that values discussion and debate.

Around a Harkness Table, eye contact—between student and teacher, and student and student—is unavoidable. Students are therefore challenged to be well-prepared and to participate in the discussion. Classes become personal, alive, and creative. Students express themselves in a friendly setting, challenging teachers and each other, gaining in personal and academic confidence as they do so.

Seventy-five years later, Harkness teaching has reached new heights as faculty bring an array of educational technology to the classroom, which facilitate effective collaborations, offer compelling visual aids, and create even more meaningful conversations. From Smartboard technology, to the use of YouTube videos and Google Docs, to a radio-controlled overhead projector in conjunction with a laptop, faculty continue to maintain the integrity of Harkness teaching while reaching today’s students on a new level.