Wicked Problems and What We're Doing About Them

Wicked Problems and What We’re Doing About Them

Last week, I attended a conference on the T3 Framework led by the creator himself, Dr. Sonny Magaña. He just released a book in May, Disruptive Classroom Technologies, based on thirty years of research on technology use in the classroom.  I’m in the process of beginning to read the book itself, but I took away so much insightful information. He cites Robert Marzano and John Hattie’s research into the effectiveness of technology and uses the Hattie Scale to show that the effectiveness of technology has not changed student learning in over 50 years. 50 YEARS!  That’s a hard pill to swallow when thinking about how much technology has changed and evolved and how many of us have jobs that require us to use technology or revolve around the use of technology in our lessons.


Atherton J S (2013) Learning and Teaching; What works best [On-line: UK] retrieved 21 November 2013 from http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/what_works.htm

Most fall between the 0.2-0.4 range, meaning that the technology used is mostly impacting the teacher (not the learners), but they do not often cross over into the side of being effective for student learning.

Don’t fear though, this does not mean that technology is not effective and should not be used. What he means is that technology on its own does not enhance and deeply affect learning.  What drastically improves learning in our class is excellent pedagogy (duh!) coupled with effective implementation of technology to assist learners. You cannot replace teachers, and providing good teaching with technology alone doesn’t mean you can expect to see great or even good results.  It does not even matter what technology tools are being used, if they are being used effectively in a lesson alongside great teacher instruction you will reach and even rank off of the Hattie Scale of learning effectiveness.

How do we do get there then? Well that’s what the T3 Framework is all about and is what I’m endeavoring to learn more about and try out in my own classes and, eventually (and hopefully), within my school.

Dr. Magaña explained in the conference that we should be moving away from just competitive classrooms and into collaborative classrooms. We should not be asking students, “What do you want to do/or be when you grow up?” and instead should be asking them, “What wicked problem(s) in the world do you want to solve?,” and “How are you going to solve them?”

These questions lead to collaborative work in classrooms focused around identifying problems (both local and global) and working towards solutions; ultimately creating both growth and solution-finder mindsets in our students.  Throughout the process students are able to learn and use a variety of skills that can easily match and meet most learning standards and requirements while providing an authentic task.

For my next unit in my grade 8 I.T. class I’m planning to try this out.  I want students to start with identifying a problem (local or global) as a class and then we will perform a S.W.O.T. analysis to work towards creating solutions and/or promoting awareness of the problem within our community.  Divvying up the roles, students will set individual goals for learning and using a specific technology tool that will aid in the project’s completion.

Here is my unit plan using the awesome Understanding by Design (UbD) template. I would like to see this trickle into my grade 7 and grade 6 classes as well, and I plan to test it out with them (time permitting! I only see them one semester!) after I pilot and work out the kinks with grade 8.

This unit does require some flexibility as it is based loosely on student choice on selecting a wicked problem. Depending on what the problem is and whether it is a local or global one affects some parts of the unit.  Also, as a first-time trial with this I’m having them select a problem as a class and work collaboratively on it, but in the future I could see this working better in small groups or with individuals selecting problems they find most interesting and relevant to them. I do worry about losing the interest of some who don’t necessarily care much as much about the one selected problem… though I do hope that’s not a huge issue!

Reflection on using the template: I really enjoyed using the UbD template and found it really helpful. The template provided by our school is less detailed and a lot more open (read: vague), so while I can include the various parts outlined here into it, it’s not required, which in all honesty leads myself and many others into not really necessarily thinking through all of these specific to include in the unit design. I’ve used a similar template for MYP training in Individuals and Societies and included these parts in my school’s ATLAS units, but have not transferred that learning into my I.T. units, which is now something I will change for sure!

So there you have it… my unit template on on wicked problems… we’ll see what my students are going to do about them! Do you see something similar to this framework of collaborating on wicked problems this fitting into your classroom lessons?