The Wicked Problem: Why so wicked? "A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize." (“Wicked Problem,” 2016, “Definition,” para. 1)
There is a wicked problem in the world of education. The findings from the NMC Horizon Project done by NMC and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) defined solvable issues and wicked challenges. Their report stated, "Teaching more complex thinking has also been problematic for schools, especially as traditional paradigms call for each subject to be kept distinct in the form of separate classes. Complex thinking requires leveraging multiple skill sets, such as problem-solving and creativity. The expert panel considers this a wicked challenge as there is not yet a common understanding around language and protocol for defining and assessing complex thinking (Johnson, Adams, Becker, Estrada, and Freeman, 2015)."
Teachers are trying to teach complex thinking or higher order thinking. According to the National Research Council, complex or higher order thinking is or involves non-algorithmic problem solving where multiple solutions are possible, effort involving considerable mental energy for problem solving, , has multiple application, and involving transferable skills to other problem solving processes (National Research Committee). Research shows that students benefit greatly in the future if they develop higher order thinking skills (National Education Association).
“Perhaps most importantly in today’s information age, thinking skills are viewed as crucial for educated persons to cope with a rapidly changing world. Many educators believe that specific knowledge will not be as important to tomorrow’s workers and citizens as the ability to learn and make sense of new information”(Gough, 1991) How right Gough was. It is now the age of Google and near limitless free information ready at a finger’s touch. Therefore, traditional methods of teaching are no longer the most effective methods. Students need to become life long learners that solve real world problem with 21st century skills. Future employers and universities are looking for people who can solve problems and have complex thinking (National Education Association). Traditional methods of teaching just do not cut it with students these days. Research shows that students retain anywhere from 5% to 30% of what they learn. (National Training Laboratories, Bethel, Maine).
So with all the different terms and definitions, what is complex thinking? What does it look like for different age groups and different populations of students? How do you know if the students have achieved complex thinking? How do teachers teach complex thinking? Questions such as these make teaching complex thinking a very wicked problem.
The Wicked Problem Defined
Complex Thinking: "Complex thinking is thinking in which people analyze information, evaluate it, and synthesis it for application or creation in familiar and/or new situations."
More Wickedness With the problem defined, whole new set of questions appear. First, the level of learning is different from age to age, so what does complex thinking look like for each age group? Further more, every situation is different, so how can teaching complex thinking be modified for each situation? Second, how do teachers teach complex thinking? What tools or techniques are most useful and effective for teaching complex thinking? Finally, once complex thinking is taught, how do teachers assess complex thinking? Knowing students have mastered a concept or skill is valuable for the next process of teaching, but measuring their mastery of complex thinking could be very wicked.
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