Wicked Problem Post #1

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Photo by John Liu used under the Creative Commons License CC-BY-2.0
Photo by John Liu used under the Creative Commons License CC-BY-2.0

“Students have been taught, both on purpose and accidentally, to fear failure. Yet the working world looks for people who can overcome failures and setbacks for their employers through critical thinking and problem solving” (McIntosh, 2012).  Learning from failure is just as important as learning from success.  Yet it seems that many of us, myself included, intrinsically fear failure.

The New Media Consortium (NMC), has recently defined five different challenges in education as wicked problems (2013, p.1).  According to NMC, wicked problems are defined as, “issues that are extremely difficult and even seemingly impossible to solve because of the complex or ever-changing environments in which they arise” (2013, p.1).

One of the projects for my MAET courses, requires that we attempt to come up with the best solution to one of the five wicked problems defined by the NMC.  Chelsea, Rosie, Taylor, and I are working to find a solution to the challenge, “Allow failure to be as powerful a learning mode as success” (NMC, 2013, p.1).

So far, we have had a lot of great conversations about ways to tackle this problem.  We are proposing that inquiry based learning is the best way to allow failure to be a powerful learning experience.  In inquiry learning, the student works through multiple trials to find the solution.  It is evident that failure is a part of this process, and it is with these failures in mind that students learn to change their thinking and try a new strategy to solve the problem.  While inquiry based learning isn’t the perfect solution to this wicked problem (as these challenges are seemingly impossible to solve) it does offer a learning mode where failure is at the heart of the instruction.

There is a fine balance that is needed between this type of failure learning.  The teacher needs to work as a guide, constantly questioning the students’ thinking and conclusions in order for the failure to be productive.  In his book, The Anti-Education Era, James Paul Gee (2013) calls for these types of twenty-first century teachers in schools (p.187).  “…A teacher in the sense not of telling people what to do, but in the sense of encouraging and resourcing their own creativity and productivity” (Gee, 2013, p.187).

One way to allow for inquiry based learning is to use a flipped classroom approach which puts the student much more in charge of their own learning.  This process allows them to inquire, devise and test their own strategies, examine results, and try again.  Students are often working through this at their own pace.  With that in mind, we have also suggested using standards based reporting (SBR).  This allows students to master skills at their own pace and not be penalized for not mastering it within a certain time frame.  SBR allows the teacher to meet each student at their level.

This type of instruction can be daunting to any teacher.  For this reason we propose teachers have professional development opportunities where inquiry based learning is actually practiced rather than just discussed.  Teachers putting themselves in the seats of their students is a key learning experience.  By providing professional development in this way, teachers will be able to see first hand, the benefits of inquiry based learning.  They will feel more confident to tackle this way of teaching in their classrooms.

Our group is still in the process of putting together a healthy solution to allowing failure to be as powerful a learning mode as success.  We believe that we have a good start and are continuing the discussion process.  According to Gee (2013), “A Mind is what you get when you plug minds and tools together in the right way (p.165).  We are using Zoom meetings, Voxer, texting, Google docs, and Blendspace to collaborate with one another and therefore, plugging minds and tools together to come up with the best solution.  Check out our Blendspace to see our progress so far!


Gee, J. (2013). The Anti-Education ERA: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning (First Ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

McIntosh, J. (2012). Failing to get an A. Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers (J3), 87(7), 44-46. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.msu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1322240803?accountid=12598

New Media Consortium (2013). The Horizon Project. Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/horizon-project

Photo taken from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/8047705@N02/5366637592


2 thoughts on “Wicked Problem Post #1

    Erin Dennis said:
    August 5, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    Good afternoon, Becky!
    Wow. It is apparent that your think tank has done an amazing job of gathering research, synthesizing information, and developing a plan of attack for your wicked problem. Looking through your blendspace provides excellent examples of how your team has worked together to form a cohesive set of thoughts about how educators can make failure a great opportunity for growth. Nice work.
    Your blog post is very clearly written and succinct with the right blend of context and new content. Your infographic is clean and direct. The video shows your group interaction quite well (maybe shorten it a bit?). Your brainstorming document shows how the pieces of research all came together. Your group’s approach to the white paper draft (each person taking charge of ~100 words) was a great plan.
    In all, it looks great! I’m looking forward to seeing the final product.


    Solving a Wicked Problem « Miss Whitaker said:
    August 11, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    […] other educators, Chelsea, Taylor, and Rosie.  We made quite a deal of progress that I recently blogged about.  Since then, we had more discussion and modified some of our initial thoughts on solutions […]


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