Studies have shown that Project-based learning stretches student’s ability to understand concepts that would otherwise mean nothing to them. The main points during a PBL approach is not to memorize facts or only gather information. It is to give students the sense of a real-world learning experience. When students go through this kind of learning experience, the final product, which is one of the elements in Project Based Learning (PBL), is only a small chunk of what they were able to experience during the process. The process, the inquiry, the collaboration is much more important than the product itself. PBL takes students to learn on a different level. Thomas (2000, p.2) defines PBL as a teaching approach that involves complex tasks, based on challenging questions or problems.
PBL is not something that has suddenly appeared and is a new teaching methodology. Many philosophers and educators have talked about it before. Socrates (470-399 BC), Dewey (1859- 1957), Carl Rogers (1902 – 1987), Vygostsky (1896 -1934) and many others. They have all stressed the importance of placing students at the center of their learning while providing them with opportunities to investigate and propose solutions to real-life problems.
It all comes down to what we today call the 21st century skills: the main objective of learning is to be able make connections between what is happening inside the schools and real life. Unfortunately, our classes today have little link to life outside the school wall, making it harder for students to engaged in real learning.
However, our main objective is to help our students become efficient problem solvers, capable of applying what they learn through these projects to real world issues around their communities and in the future, whatever their choices may be.
In order to do this, apart from developing projects, we know that one needs to develop skills and be conscious of certain habits in order to develop these skills. A “Habit of Mind” means having the agency to behave suitably to tackle a problem when confronted. To act adequately and intelligibly for a successful outcome. Skills alone are not enough. One needs to have certain attitudes and dispositions to act accordingly.
The Habits of Mind are an identified set of 16 problem solving, life related skills, necessary to effectively operate in society and promote strategic reasoning, insightfulness, perseverance, creativity and craftsmanship (Costa & Kallick, 2020). Although there are 16 of them, they are never performed isolated. One is always related to another. For example, when you listen to others—With understanding and empathy, you are also managing impulsivity and thinking flexibly. When these habits are understood by the students and referred to as behaviours that should be expected to be seen in the different stages of a project, the outcomes of our student’s learning skills are definitely enhanced.
Below are the 16 habits and ideas of how to apply them in the classroom:
Having read and understood the habits of mind, choose to work on three or four of them during different stages of the project. They can work as mental disciplines. Point out the different habits students should pay attention to while working on the project. It is an excellent challenge and students will definitely be able to notice which habit they might need working on. When they are stuck in thoughts and creativity, have them ask: What habit of mind should I work on now?