Problem-based learning and project-based learning provide a rich opportunity for students to deepen their knowledge, expand their repertoire of technical skills, and enhance their appreciation of thinking tools, processes, and strategies.
It is not enough, however, to understand concepts and principles and to solve that one problem, as challenging as it might be. The essential outcome is to develop and expand the dispositions of skillful problem solvers who can apply their learnings to an ever-expanding array of challenges not only in commonly taught subjects in school, but also in their communities, in their world and in their lives.
While we are interested in how many answers individuals know, we are even more interested in how they behave when they don’t know—when they are confronted with life’s problems the answers to which are not immediately known. The larger goal is for enhanced performance under challenging conditions that demand strategic reasoning, insightfulness, perseverance, creativity, and craftsmanship to resolve complex problems.
Achieving this vision requires the internalization of certain dispositions–propensities or ‘Habits of Mind.’
According to Kallick and Costa, the Habits of Mind are less about behavior and more about intent.
A ‘Habit of Mind’ means having a disposition toward behaving intelligently when confronted with problems, the answers to which are not immediately known. When humans experience dichotomies, are confused by dilemmas, or come face to face with uncertainties–our most effective actions require drawing forth certain patterns of intellectual behavior. When we draw upon these intellectual resources, the results that are produced through are more powerful, of higher quality and greater significance than if we fail to employ those patterns of intellectual behaviors.
Habits of Mind are dispositions that are skillfully and mindfully employed by characteristically intelligent, successful people when they are confronted with problems, the solutions to which are not immediately apparent. When we draw upon these mental resources, the results are more powerful, of higher quality, and of greater significance than if we fail to employ those habits.
Employing Habits of Mind requires a composite of many skills, attitudes cues, past experiences, and proclivities. It means that we value one pattern of thinking over another, and therefore it implies choice making about which habit should be employed at which time. It includes sensitivity to the contextual cues in a situation signaling that it is an appropriate time and circumstance to employ this pattern.
It requires a level of skillfulness to carry through the behaviors effectively over time. Finally, it leads individuals to reflect on, evaluate, modify, and carry forth their learnings to future applications. It implies goal setting for improved performance and making a commitment to continued self-modification.
While there may be more, 16 characteristics of effective problem-solvers have been have been derived from studies of efficacious problem-solvers from many walks of life. (Costa and Kallick, 2009). The list of Habits of Mind appears below.