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.

Reinventing education is a wicked problem. But what does that really mean? A wicked problem is one that really does not have a solution but more of a trial and error process. It is also something that has many facets, many different pressure points. For instance in education we have policy makers at several levels of government, we have textbook companies providing what they think is the material educators need. At the local level there are parents who offer their opinion on what should be done, as well local level administration creating guidelines for their schools. In essences there are many groups coming from many directions to provide a course of action for a wicked problem such as this one. When tackling a wicked problem such as this, the stakeholders need to share understanding about the problem and share commitment to the possible solutions. Shared understanding means that the stakeholders understand each other’s positions well enough to have intelligent dialogue about the different interpretations of the problem, and to exercise collective intelligence about how to solve it.

Keeping in mind the changes in technology and the tools that became available along the way, one might expect the classroom to look and feel a bit different. But does it? Students are still being told what to learn and how to learn it. Teachers are still in charge of the delivery of the information and how they want to deliver it. The cafeteria schedule and the bus schedule still run the school day. And instruction is still delivered in isolated blocks of time. US education has not made any significant restructuring even though the workforce needs have change dramatically.

The workforce looks significantly different than the last 50 years and technology advancements have caused many of the changes.
Assembly lines do not need many people, just one to press the button. Cashiers at grocery stores are disappearing; you can scan and pay by yourself. But when you look into a US school for the most part you see rows of desks with an adult in the front of the room delivering instruction and the students sitting in their desks filling out worksheets. Why no change – because this is a wicked problem, solutions are hard to implement when there are so many social forces resistant to change or wanting the solution to be theirs. It is going to take a total restructuring to change the US educational system, jobs might be lost, new jobs will be invented.

This brings me to my point, can we really change education by adding something and taking something else away or do we need to restructure, redesign, what we do? I say we need to do things differently. We need to rethink the fundamental education principles.

  • How do you identify school success?
  • How would you describe an educated person
  • What does a successful person need to be able to do in the real world?

My plan of action comes in two stages one for teachers and one for students. I propose for teachers the need to go back to kindergarten and experience learning with no fear. Do not think about the time constraints, the daily requirements for curriculum mastery. Take a step backwards and commit to becoming a facilitator of knowledge. I want teachers to embrace the possibilities of change, rather than work within the constraints of the system. I want teachers to commit to actively working on creating a Personal Learning Environment. I want them to connect to strangers, leaders in education, people who can support their ideas and passions. I want them to have a virtual presence where they share information and they receive information. I want them to be followed and follow. I want them to become digital citizens, and then and only then, will they be comfortable to challenge and educate their students They will experience the “Who can teach” and soon realize it takes more than one person to sort through and know all of the information of today and tomorrow.

In the second stage is the need for students to relearn school. methnking2Think about it, by the time kids get to middle school they know how do to school. They show up and watch the teacher give the information. A few days later the students give back the same information in some test format. Schools are very structured and students have learned the structure. Ask a student to think to solve a problem and the real work begins. The whining, they many, many questions, and of course the big question “what do I need to do to get and A?”

We have not been requiring the students to think or problem solve. There are many reasons for that, but in my opinion the biggest one is the state assessment test. We teach factual knowledge to pass the test and we have not spent the time that is needed for application of knowledge.
I propose that students take charge of their learning. This is something that needs to start when the child enters kindergarten. We need to ask the students what do they want to learn and how are they going to do it. What tools will they use to assess their own learning? How will they demonstrate their leaning and whom will it be shared with. This is an entirely different scenario than showing up to school and being spoon fed information someone else thinks they need. Remember, we are driven by passion and desire to know something, young people are no different.

I propose that students make their own map for learning. Of course it requires adult interaction. But if you ask a kid what they want to learn more about or what they are interested in and call in the experts… the ones who can teach and guide, this can work. This is how you can create learning for what the child is ready for. Kids begin school at all different readiness levels; some are reading very well, others are still recognizing their abc’s. How can we expect to advance all of them at the same rate, collective strengths?

In summary the plan is this: Educate the teachers to see and experience the need to collaborate, share, to be followed and to follow in order to create a Personal Learning network that benefits them. Once the feel the power, they can move into Stage 2 of this plan. We need to prepare students for the challenges they will be confronted with after their formal education is over. Problem solving, collaborative work, virtual learning, content producers, digital citizenship, and critical and creative thinking, just to name a few of the skills that will be needed no matter what work road they travel.
In my experience teachers or schools are afraid to use social networking technology. This is a paradigm shift that will support student centered learning and career readiness skills. How else are we going to know what to do when we are not sure of what to do? Rethinking the fundamental principles of education and pondering, “What needs to be learned” will now happen with a purpose, a desire to learn, as well as a need to learn.

We have all the tools to do this and more tools will be available every single day. My question to you is – Who can teach? One person in charge of the content is just not an option anymore…there is too much content. One person cannot understand and know all there is to know about any one topic in today’s world. Reinventing education is our task, it is a wicked problem which needs a possible solution now. So I ask you “Can you teach?”