Wicked Problems: Blog update


Photo by Sigurdur Jonsson used under the Creative Commons License CC-BY-2.0

A “wicked problem” is defined by the New Media Consortium (2013) as, “issues that are extremely difficult and even seemingly impossible to solve because of the complex or ever-changing environments in which they arise” (p. 1). Gee (2013) in his book, The Anti-Education Era, discusses synchronized intelligence and affinity spaces, where a group of like minded people create a collective in order to source new ideas and solve problems, “affinity spaces have been, and will be ever more in the future, the source of new ideas, new solutions to hard problems” (p.178). Gee (2013) discusses that the collective Mind is more powerful than any single mind within the group.

The ‘wicked problem’ that our group (Alan Morrison, David Propst, & Hayley Johnson) were faced with was how to Make innovation part of the learning ethic.

“Innovation springs from the freedom to connect ideas in new ways. Our schools and universities generally allow us to connect ideas only in prescribed ways — sometimes these lead to new insights, but more likely they lead to rote learning. Why is it that when one asks a first grade class which of them can draw, all of them eagerly raise their hands, but ask the same question of a high school class, and only one or two admit to having artistic skills? What convinced those who decided they could not draw? Why do we not encourage everyone to draw, even if they do so in their own ways? Great artists break the rules — and new ground — all the time. That is how they become great artists. We need schools and universities to be places where innovation happens routinely. Instead we share stories of how the great innovators left school to allow themselves the freedom to pursue their dreams. Turning this around is not equivalent to pruning the branches of the education tree — it is akin to grafting a new root system to it, and we have yet to develop the techniques for wholesale reinvention at that level. We must innovate to even begin to understand where to start, and that recursiveness makes this challenge wicked indeed” New Media Consortium (2013, p.1).

As educators in the 21st Century we all want to create a learning environment that promotes the development of creativity, innovation and self-directed lifelong learning for our students. We want our students to be active agents in the development of their own knowledge, rather than just passive recipients of information from their teacher. The characteristics of a 21st century classroom is focused on students developing higher order thinking skills, effective communication skills, collaboration skills, adaptability with the use of technology and involved in self-directed learning where mistakes are considered a natural and valuable element in the learning process.

Being an educator in a 21st Century environment can be quite a daunting responsibility. Today, teachers are expected to be more facilitators of learning than simply providers of knowledge. They need to encourage and show students how to think critically and learn by doing, acting as a resource while their pupils discover and master new concepts. For this to happen educators need to change their mindshift. Until we make this “Mind” (Gee, 2013 p.165) shift, we do not have the capacity to shift what we do. If we do not think differently, we will never do differently!

As an administrator, I see it as an important part of my role to help provided the best learning environment in my school to ensure that innovation is part of the learning ethic. Both myself and my staff need to ensure that we do not follow the collective. Gee (2013) promotes, “School is all about little minds, not big Minds” (p.165). Our group is focusing on Genius Hour or as our group has re-named it ‘Tinker Time’, as our initiative of making innovation part of the learning ethic. Tinker Time allows the students to explore their own passions, interests and encourages creativity within the classroom. It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during the school week. Tinker Time means that the classroom teacher is interacting with the students during this time on issues that each student has identified as research worthy. But Tinker Time is only the tip of the iceberg! This kind of Mindshift really requires that innovation is applied to all aspects of the classroom and that teachers are models of change, demonstrating and allowing their students to be innovative in their learning.

Does an innovative curriculum situation mean that we ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’? Is there any longer a place for memorising and rote learning of information? Should numeracy , literacy, the Humanities and the Arts still be ‘studied’ in this new Mindset? Of course! This type of learning will always have a place in education. It is the platform of lower level thinking skills and abilities that give students the tools to be able to formulate and explore their own questions. An innovative curriculum situation simply takes this foundation to the higher order thinking skills. It no longer demands that students simply stand on the platform of information, relying on what is known and what is solid, it encourages them to jump! Only when we ‘jump’ can we explore what is ‘possible’.

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”                          John Dewey


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Gee, J.P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kesler, C. (2013, March 29). What is Genius Hour?. Retrieved from http://www.geniushour.com/

20 Time in Education Inspire. Create. Innovate. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.20timeineducation.com/

Alex. K. ( 2006, May 18). Googles “20 percent time” in action. Retrieved from http://googleblog.blogspot.com.au/2006/05/googles-20-percent-time-in-action.html

Communiqué from the 2013 Horizon Project Future of Education Summit | The New Media Consortium. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://redarchive.nmc.org/publications/2013-future-education-summit-communique