Education Has Problems, and Sometimes They’re Wicked

As educators, we are often faced with problems of practice in our field. Some of our best ideas come from the solutions to these problems. When it comes to problems, there are three types: well-structured, ill-structured, and wicked.

Well-structured problems have one best solution. Ill-structured problems involve a whole mess of complex variables that have to be considered at the same time and applied to the context to find a solution (Week 3 – Learn, 2017).

That leaves us with wicked problems. Koehler & Mishra (2008) define wicked problem as a problem that:

“…cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion because the problem definition itself evolves as new solutions are considered and/or implemented.” (as cited in Week 3 – Learn, 2017).

Solutions to these types of problems are never right or wrong. They can only be classified as better or worse, good enough or not good enough.

Our Very Own Wicked Problem

Over the last two weeks, my group (Brynlee, Jillian, & Candace) and I were assigned to a wicked problem.

Untitled drawing (1)

We worked to find not a perfect solution, but something that might be ‘good enough’. However before we could start trying to find solutions, we had to ask ourselves some important questions to help narrow our focus. Much of the world’s innovative creations are products of beautiful questions (Berger, 2016). We wanted to come up with our own beautiful questions that were ambitious yet actionable, and might spark an idea to get us moving toward a solution.

First came the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ questions. These questions were simple and curious, asked with an open mind. In our planning document, we took all of our thoughts and put them down on paper in question form. In total, we came up with fifty questions. We then narrowed it down to the three that were the most meaningful to us.

Why is failure seen as a bad thing?

Why aren’t students given more opportunities to make mistakes?

How do we convince parents, the community, and the world that failure is a good thing?

We then put in some time finding research about our wicked problem, putting together a hefty list of articles and journals that detailed why failure is seen as bad and why it isn’t more encouraged. I also found an article that encouraged failure in the workplace, and detailed how major organizations have used failure to innovate and improve. The article went on to state that we should shift the managerial mindset in a way that redefines failure away from its discreditable associations, and view it instead as a critical first step in a journey of discovery and learning. (Cannon & Edmondson, 2005)

Visualizing Our Problem

I created an infographic on Piktochart to visualize our problem a bit more, and try to help show just how wicked it truly is.


Using another method outlined in A More Beautiful Question, we started to frame our solutions using ‘What If’ questions. After some group meetings and brainstorming question, we came up with two beautiful, driving, and actionable questions.

What if teachers explicitly taught that failure is a beneficial part of the learning process?

What if we created a culture in our classrooms, communities, and world where failing was ok?

Reaching Out to Our PLNs

While brainstorming these questions, we also sent out a survey to other educators to ask them about their experiences with and opinions on failure. You can see the results and charts from our data analysis in this Google Sheets file. Using our beautiful questions and the results from our survey, we came up with what we think is a solution that is ‘good enough.’ Our Blendspace presentation below details our problem, analyzes our PLN data, and talks about some solutions that we think just might work.Blendspace Button




Berger, W. (2016). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breathtaking Ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

Cannon, M., & Edmondson, A. (2005, June). Failing to Learn and Learning to Fail (Intelligently): How Great Organizations Put Failure to Work to Innovate and Improve. Long Range Planning, 38(3), 299-319. Retrieved from

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.

Week 3 – Learn. (2017). Retrieved from

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