Solving a Wicked Problem

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Photo used under the Creative Commons License  CCO 1.0
Photo used under the Creative Commons License CCO 1.0

Failure is a part of our lives every day.  Some of us fail to get to work on time, others of us fail make it to our child’s soccer game, and still others fail to successfully make even the most simplest of dinners.  Does that mean that we throw our hands up and never go to work?  Never attempt to make it to another soccer game?  Never cook again?  Ever?  I would venture to say that you have answered no to each of these questions.  If anything, wouldn’t this failure cause you to want to try to accomplish that goal even more?  Why then does failure have such a rotten stigma in our culture today?  Many of us have been taught from a young age to fear failure when in reality, failure is fundamental to the learning process.  

Recently, for my MAET courses, I have been tasked to attempt to solve a wicked problem in education.  According to the New Media Consortium (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).

I have not been in this process alone.  I have been fortunate enough to collaborate on this project with three 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 to the problem, “allow failure to be as powerful a learning mode as success” (NMC, 2013, p.1).

We initially proposed that teachers shift to an inquiry-based learning approach.  This method seamlessly allows for failure to take place, and more importantly for those failures to be the driving forces behind the decisions of what to try next.  “If we do not encourage students to make mistakes within the controlled environment of a classroom, we might find that they will never attempt great things outside that environment” (McIntosh, 2013).  Because of the proposition of shifting to inquiry learning, we encouraged the use of a flipped classroom approach and standards based reporting.  With any new change, teacher resistance is often found.  Therefore, we proposed professional development opportunities on these topics that teach through inquiry learning.  Check out our original content here and then read further to see how our ideas developed.  

Taylor and I were able to attend a roundtable Zoom meeting to share these ideas we had and receive feedback from our peers outside of our own wicked problem group.  We received compliments as well as constructive suggestions.  One of the biggest take-aways we had was revamping our flipped classroom approach into a more hybrid or flexible flipped method.  When done correctly, this flexible approach can allow for great inquiry.  It also has the potential to allow students to collaborate, affords time for peer to peer feedback, encourages extension activities, as well as teacher guided support.  It enables the educator to determine which content to flip rather than all instruction taking place outside of the classroom.  In essence, allowing for much more flexibility but also inquiry-based learning.  Often times, when teachers hear flipped, they think it’s simply recording their lectures and having the students watch them at home.  This is why we have now proposed a more flexible flipped approach.

“Within a supportive classroom learning community, failure is not a roadblock but an opportunity for success” (Fouche, 2013, p. 49).   In his book, The Anti-Education Era, James Paul Gee discusses that “grit” is needed to attain success (2013, p.202).  Gee writes, “Grit is an invented term that means perseverance and passion of the sort necessary for persistence past failure through long hours of practice” (Gee, 2013, p. 202).  Grit is a necessary skill that twenty-first century learners today must develop.  As educators, it is our job to help this come to fruition.  We must encourage and require this kind of persistence.  Inquiry-based learning, that naturally allows for failure and multiple trials, can be an excellent method to teach this perseverance or grit.

As an end product, in response to this wicked problem of, allowing failure to be a powerful learning mode, we have created a final Blendspace to share our work.  Here you will find an infographic to give you a quick synopsis of our proposal, a white paper policy document with our proposed solution grounded in research, and a multi-media mash-up video showcasing our thought process throughout the project.  Failure is not the end, but rather, a new beginning.


Fouché, J. (2013). Rethinking failure. Science Teacher, 80(8), 45-49. Retrieved from

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

New Media Consortium (2013). The Horizon Project. Retrieved from


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