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


Click picture to link to our Blendspace.


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


3 thoughts on “Wicked Problems: Blog update

  1. Alan.
    I think that this wicked problem of innovation is a very important one. You are right when you say that there needs to be a Mindshift and that it won’t happen unless innovation is integrated into all aspects of the classroom. I see that with my own students. If they see you modeling the behavior then they feel safe using it as well. I love that you renamed genius hour to “Tinker Time”. The name change really gives it a feel of working to create something and build on ideas. The YouTube video that you made for your recorded sessions is fabulous, I especially love that you included students and what they want in your considerations for this problem. Well done!


  2. Alan,

    I added a few comments and suggestions below to assist in your revisions of this project! Hope they help!

    Blog Post: I wondered what your group has been going through in your process. I know you are all spread out around the world, and I am curious how you brainstorming and creating is going. It might be good to add an update here and talk about how the communication is working, and how this mindshift is playing out in your own research of the wicked problem. It might also be good to link your group members blogs to their names when you list them in the beginning!

    Evaluation of the Problem and Solution: I enjoyed reading your thoughts on Gee and the Wicked Problem. You did a nice job connecting the “Minds” idea, and I loved how you talked about a mindshift. I especially loved your comment “If we do not think differently, we will never do differently!” and I felt like that really spoke to the shift you are calling for. I also appreciate the solution you developed to create a genius hour. I think a lot of schools/educators are afraid of this approach, because it looks like a lot of undirected free time, and I am excited to read more about how you will educate teachers on how to implement it productively.

    Multimodal Representation: I like the graphic representations that you’ve used here. One suggestion would be to more clearly link that bottom photo to the blendspace. It wasn’t until I looked at it a third time that I saw the comment you made that it linked to the blendspace. It might be an issue with my computer, but your blendspace wasn’t pulling up correctly for me. Possibly something to look at? Try clicking into it from that link on your group members computers and see if it is a glitch with the URL.

    Theoretical Compass: I think there is room to talk about TPACK here, especially given that your genius hour will likely allow students to BYOD or use devices at school. Bringing in the TPACK research could really strengthen your argument for genius hour, because it looks like you want students to be on the forefront of tech and creation.

    Overall it looks like you’ve really flushed out your ideas on this project. I can’t wait to see the final product and hear from all of you next week!


  3. Alan,
    Sounds like your group has done some great collaboration on the wicked problem of making innovation part of the learning ethic. The video mash up is on point demonstrating the process of your group’s discussions as the brainstorming was happening. The idea of a genius hour is so relevant to the implementation of innovation. I think if you dig a little deeper you can address some issues that might arise around this “Tinker Hour”. For example, there is so much on the teacher’s plate, so how can they manage this and show accountability? What about supplies and space? What about the time it takes for innovation to take place; will one hour be productive enough to see gains? Because of the wickedness of this problem, can you identify the leverage that technology could possibly draw on?
    In your post, you refer to how teachers 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. I agree with this, but how are we going to get teachers to make that change? What supports or changes can be put into place to develop this idea?
    Your teams work is definitely showing progress on the process to work through this wicked problem. Continue to collaborate and keep up the great work! I am sure your wicked problem will develop nicely.


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