Day in and day out, there are problems that pop up in our school day… students aren’t getting along on the playground, the copy machine is jammed, a student misses the bus. As teachers, solving problems is part of the job. But, what about those problems that are bigger than us? What about those problems that are… dare I say… wicked?
What is a Wicked Problem?
“Wicked problems, they argue, cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion because the problem definition itself evolves as new solutions are considered and/or implemented” (Koehler & Mishra, 2008). Wicked problems are not the ones that can be brainstormed and solved like regular problems, because the wicked problem is always changing. Wicked problems are a bit more complicated. “Solutions to wicked problems are often difficult to realize (or maybe even recognize) because of complex interdependencies among a large number of contextually bound variables” (Koehler & Mishra, 2008).
Our Wicked Problem
A group of my MAET colleagues and I were given the task to learn about a wicked problem in education. We were all interested in allowing failure to be as powerful a learning mode as success. So, what’s the problem?
Failing at something and learning from that failure is a powerful way to learn. In fact, many careers are encouraging people to fail. “We need digital age learners to be comfortable with failure. And we need learners who know how to fail better” (Long, 2012). All other avenues are encouraging people to take risks, fail, and learn from that… except for schools.
It’s easy to want to immediately jump into creating a solution. However, that’s exactly what we did not do. What we did first was try to understand the problem.
My teammates and I started out by asking questions about our problem. As Warren Berger states in A More Beautiful Question, “Question-storming can be more realistic and achievable than brainstorming. Instead of hoping that you’ll emerge from a meeting with ‘the answer’ (which almost never happens and thus leaves people feeling frustrated), the goal is to come out of it with a few promising and powerful questions—which is likely to provide a sense of direction and momentum” (2016, p. 154). We did just that.
After we came up with some questions, we took on the viewpoints of other people involved in this problem. We looked at failure as a learning mode through the eyes of a parent, an administrator, a policy maker, and a student. We tried to understand the problem and how it may impact others differently.
We also consulted our Personal Learning Networks (PLN) to get their attitudes and viewpoints on learning from failure. Our results were similar to what we anticipated, and solidified some of the viewpoints we had on why failure as a learning mode is such a wicked problem.
Taking everything we had researched and discovered into consideration, we came up with some questions that would help drive our solutions: What if we created a culture in our classrooms where failure is okay? What if teachers explicitly taught that failure is a beneficial part of the learning process?
While we know that the solutions we have come up with may not be perfect, we know that they are a start to moving in a different direction. We have created a presentation which includes our problem, the data we collected from other teachers, as well as our suggestions for solutions to this wicked problem.
Scan the QR code to view our presentation. If that doesn’t work, click here.
Knowing what I know now, I plan to go into this upcoming school year with a changed mindset. Even when I think about myself personally, I can be afraid of failure as well. However, when it comes to our learners, “…when learning a new concept and its associated procedures, we seem to learn better from our own failed solutions…” (Kapur, 2014). My plan is to start off the school year creating the culture in my classroom where failure is okay, and encouraged. I want my students to feel comfortable trying new things and not being afraid to fall, because that’s how they learn best. Taking one small step in the right direction and starting by changing the culture in my classroom, makes this problem feel tiny less wicked.
Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2008). Introducing TPCK. In AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology (Ed.),Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) (pp. 3–29). New York: Routledge.
Long, C. (2012, February). Teach Your Students to Fail Better with … Retrieved August 16, 2017, from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/509c0d15e4b058edb8f35a86/t/50f49750e4b0c7661ad2efc5/1358206800803/FailBetter_DesignThinking ISTE article.pdf
Kapur, M. (2014). Productive Failure in Learning Math. Cognitive Science: A Multidisciplinary Journal. Retrieved August 16, 2017, from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cogs.12107/full
Berger, W. (2016). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.