Teaching Complex Thinking: A Wicked Problem

What are some challenges that educators consider solvable, complex, or unsolvable?

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From NMC Horizon Report 2016

The New Media Consortium (NMC) is an organization researching media, and technologies for education. The NMC and another organization, EDUCAUSE, share their research each year by publishing a Horizon Report. The Horizon Report identifies trends, challenges and technologies for Higher Education.

These questions and similar inquiries regarding technology are extensively researched, but there is one challenge that is what we consider unsolvable. These are called Wicked Problems.

Within the 2015 Horizon Report experts highlighted two major trends in education. “Rethinking how schools work in order to bolster student engagement and drive more innovation, as well as shifting to deeper learning approaches, such as project and challenge-based learning,” both of which are complex and enter into Wickedness (Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. 2015).

One challenge is particular stood out to me:

Teaching Complex Thinking

According to the NMC this is considered a Wicked Challenge because, those that are complex to even define, much less address, are difficult to find solutions to (2015).

This challenge made me question it’s wickedness because I assumed I knew what Complex Thinking meant, but I didn’t.

How can we strategize, and implement effective solutions?

With the brain power of two colleagues in my Professional Learning Network (PLN), and myself we decided to try to uncover the wickedness of Teaching Complex Thinking. You can follow their experience to this wicked problem too; QBCmath and teachinginNC.

Here is the process of our exploration:

Stage 1: Ask Questions – we asked over 50 questions about what Teaching Complex Thinking really means. By asking so many question were able to “step back,” and view this challenge from a naive point of view (Berger, 2014). We narrowed down our questions to 3 main ideas:

  1. What is complex thinking, and why is it important?
  2. Is complex thinking something that is intuitive and when are our brains developed enough to engage in complex thinking?

    complex-thinking-wicked-problem (1).png
    Take a closer look!
  3. Why is complex thinking something that should be taught?

Stage 2: Conduct Research about our questions.

Stage 3: Create an infographic to represent our new learning and understanding for the wicked problem.

I focused my research on Why should complex thinking be taught?

*Please make sure to check out my colleagues infographics as well!  QBGmath focused her infographic about teaching solutions, and teachinginnc goes into depth about the meaning of complex thinking.

Stage 4: Collecting data – we surveyed school employees from our own schools to gather information about Complex Thinking within our own schools.

Stage 5: Synthesize our understanding of the wicked problem, and analyze data.

Stage 6: Create a presentation to convince policymakers of the importance for Teaching Complex Thinking in schools.

By completing this process of learning, I understand why Teaching Complex Thinking is unsolvable. You can understand the Wickedness of this challenge by viewing our presentation. Ultimately, there is no right answer.


Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question. New York: Bloomsbury.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., and Hall, C. (2016). NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.




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