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


The Bubble has Burst! My Information Diet

Bubble Burst by Rodger Evens 2014 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Bubble Burst by Rodger Evens 2014 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

“There always has been more human knowledge and experience than any one human could absorb. It’s not the total amount of information, but your information habit that is pushing you to whatever extreme you find uncomfortable.”
Clay Johnson

James Paul Gee in his book The Anti-Education Era, writes that “affinity spaces” are places of “synchronized intelligence” that combine “multiple tools, different types of people, and diverse skill sets” in a way that makes “the space itself a form of emergent intelligence. The sum is more than its parts; the collective is smarter than the smartest person in it” (Gee, 2013, p.174). I now see these affinity spaces as valuable sources of learning as well as a means of gaining expertise by interacting with the knowledge shared by others within the space. Whilst this is true and I can see the benefits of using affinity spaces as discussed by Gee (2013), as an administrator I must take off the ‘rose colored’ glasses and view all perceptions from aspects that both support and challenge my beliefs.

The first of the readings that both confronted and challenged some of my views on technology in education came from the blogs, Education Stormfront: Forecasting the coming storm in Education, and Debate.org. Both blogs discuss the fact that technology is moving too fast in schools and we are simply chasing technology for its own sake, instead of mastering its use in the classroom and applying it to achieve our desired goals? Westsyde principal, Sean Lamoureux, is quoted as saying, “I see the technology in the classroom as the wave of the future”. I can honestly say that I agree with Lamoureux (despite the fact that he was being quoted to show erroneous fundamental technology beliefs). I can, however, see the point made in the blogs that educators must be careful in their endeavors with digital technologies in the classroom. I found this thinking challenging because I too have focused on the technology rather than content and I can now see the need to ascertain why we implement certain aspects of technology. Gee (2013) discusses “freeze thought” (p.93), where we are sometimes afraid to take the next step, break down the barriers, move out of our comfort zone. The question we must ask ourselves is, who are we doing this for, ourselves or our students? I have always introduced technology for the students’ benefit, but after reading these blogs I question whether that is fully true or whether there is an element of chasing technology for my own and for the school’s gratification?

Eli Pariser’s TED talk (2011) discusses “filter bubbles” describing them as our own online personal universes. He goes on to discuss that it is important that we need a balanced information diet and if we don’t get this balanced diet then we are just surrounded by “information junkfood”. Just as in a dietary sense we cannot eat only what we ‘like’ we must also eat what is ‘good for us’, in a technology sense we cannot only engage with what is comfortable but must also be open to that which provides nourishment of thought for growth. After viewing Pariser’s TED talk (2011) and reading Gee’s (2013) chapter on Institutions and frozen thought, it struck me that Gee is correct and that, “We humans sometimes fear thinking – it might lead to results we don’t like – and, as we have seen, soothe ourselves with comfort stories” (p.93). It’s not that I fear thinking it is just that I like my comfort zone! But I cannot claim to hold an informed opinion if I only interact with those who agree with me.

While attending #Flipcon15 @flipcon15 at Michigan State University, I met and spoke with Jon Bergmann @jonbergmann, one of the founders of the flipped classroom and was truly inspired with this idea and the potential benefits for students. Although I believe in theory that flipping a classroom would have many benefits, I must take into consideration all the pros and cons of flipping a classroom before I introduce it into my school. While searching the internet I stumbled across a blog called, The Flip: End of a Love Affair posted by Shelly Wright @plpnetwork. Initially a strong advocate for flipped classrooms she has changed her opinion stating, “It simply didn’t produce the transformative learning experience I knew I wanted for my students”. Within this blog, Shelly provides valid reasons as to why she removed flipped lessons from her class. With my bubble now well and truly burst, this post made me stop and reconsider whether flipped classrooms would really benefit the staff and students at our school. Maybe a question for a ‘wicked problem’? Either way, the process of discernment is a good challenge for the introduction of any technology into a school.

In reading the blog talentlms @TalentLMS, I find myself having to critically re-evaluate my thinking on the use of digital media and elearning. I understand the theory and research behind elearning, but need to ask myself if this is the best way for me, or my staff, or my students to learn. Turrof (1995) puts forward the idea that, “Once we free ourselves from the mental limits of viewing this technology as a weak sister to face-to face synchronous education, the potential to revolutionize education and learning become readily apparent” (p.211). I have always been an advocate for elearning and have encouraged my staff to participate in elearning as part of their professional development. Yong Zhao (2015) @YongZhaoOU in his blog, A World at Risk: An Imperative for a Paradigm Shift to Cultivate 21st Century Learners discusses that, “Technology has advanced so much that it is a reality that one can learn anything, at anytime, with anyone, from anywhere”. The challenge that I face with the sheer volume of elearning is: Does it really work? Do our students learn better with constructivist learning (elearning) versus the traditional classroom?

In education, especially as an administrator who provides direction in education, we are constantly bombarded with the latest and greatest digital media available and what needs to be done to dramatically improve a school’s academic results. I can appreciate that to ensure the health of my infodiet, it is important to ‘burst the bubble’ and view all the aspects of given issues, not only those that sit comfortably with me. Gee (2013) states, Collective intelligence…allow people to be creative even when working on problems…do not always have clear-cut or rigorously testable answers” (p.179). This also applies to the infodiet. We have to be creative and open to alternative viewpoints in order to make fully informed decisions about educational direction and goals.


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

Jenkins, H. (2011, August 4). Media Scholar Henry Jenkins on Participatory Culture and Civic Engagement. Retrieved January 30, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgZ4ph3dSmY

Turoff, M. (1995). Designing a Virtual Classroom. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 1(2), 245-262. Charlottesville, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved August 1, 2015 from http://www.editlib.org/p/15162. (p.211)

Pariser, E. (2011, March). Eli Pariser: Beware Online “Filter Bubbles” [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles

Zhao, Y. (2015, April 6). A World at Risk: An Imperative for a Paradigm Shift to Cultivate 21st Century Learners[1]. Retrieved from http://zhaolearning.com/2015/04/06/a-world-at-risk-an-imperative-for-a-paradigm-shift-to-cultivate-21st-century-learners1/

Technology in the Classroom Is NOT the End Goal | Education Stormfront. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://educationstormfront.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/technology-in-the-classroom-is-not-the-end-goal/

Does Technology Move Too Fast for Schools? | Education Stormfront. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://educationstormfront.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/does-technology-move-too-fast-for-schools/

Johnson, C.A. (2011). The Information Diet. Retrieved from http://www.informationdiet.com/