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Habits of Mind and the Classroom Experience

Posted by Francis Vigeant on May 31, 2017

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The ability to move from one concept to the next iteratively, using the 5Es along the way, is an incredibly valuable skill. These are, in fact, habits of mind.

“Habits of mind” is a buzzword these days, but we shouldn’t dismiss it because of that. By way of quick background, the habits of mind are a set of 16 life skills related to problem-solving, relationship building, creativity, and so forth. Without going into all of them, the habits of mind include abilities such as persisting, managing impulsivity, thinking flexibility, thinking about thinking (metacognition), striving for accuracy, gathering data with all senses, taking responsible risks, and so on.

While each of these constitutes a useful skill in the classroom, we should not get stuck on the traditional 16 habits. Rather, “Habits of Mind” as a whole means patterns of thinking that students can fall back on in unfamiliar and initially inexplicable situations, such as when a car breaks down on the side of the road. Habits include the 5Es and the science and engineering practice skills.

Habits of mind can significantly improve the classroom experience when taught correctly. Where the science and engineering practices intersect with content, and as students develop their critical thinking skills, they're actually using those habits of mind to develop and use that context to answer questions and solve problems as scientist and engineers. These habits are a powerful mechanism of learning, and it all starts with getting students dissatisfied. We're putting them in a situation where they take their idea and they test it.

Then, as a result of what they encounter, they either assimilate or they revise their framework of understanding. They are either able to take what they encounter and say “Yes, that is confirmed” or “No, my understanding must be false or incomplete. What I have just encountered now augments my understanding and changes it. I've revised it and so now my framework changes.”

This is admittedly a complex idea, that simple modes of thinking could influence so greatly how successfully students are at understanding science and engineering concepts and developing skills. While revising the mental framework is the natural human response to new information, thinking critically and using the habits of mind are not always intuitive skills. In fact, they usually aren’t, which is why it’s so important to ensure good curriculum in our classrooms.

The reason KnowAtom believes it’s important to understand constructivism to understand the 5E model, and it’s important to relate these both to the Next Generation Science Standards, is because we believe that when students are challenged to be scientists and engineers, they are actually developing the creative, evaluative, and analytical thinking skills that are useful for any college or career choice.

That's key. That's what opens a world of opportunity to any student. That's why we really see these Next Generation Science Standards as going beyond linear, two-dimensional models. This approach is not enough anymore; it is the formation of skills, and the ability to develop and use content, that is so vital to the classroom experience today.

This post was updated on Feb. 16, 2018.

Topics: Habits of Mind

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