The Wicked Problem of Teaching Complex Thinking

Over the next few weeks, my group will be examining various solutions and attempt to answer questions related to the wicked problem of “teaching complex thinking”. How do educators effectively teach complex thinking and reasoning in order to prepare students to solve complex problems creatively and then in turn be able to effectively organize their ideas and successfully communicate them to others?

This problem is extremely challenging because it has many facets. Communication and creative problem solving are integral components of complex thinking and how educators successfully teach each of those components within the classroom may require taking a step back from traditional teaching methods and examining new ones. In A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger (2014) explains that “Upon stepping back and reexamining something you’ve been looking at the same for years, you might suddenly feel as if you’re seeing it for the first time” (p. 84).

What are the most effective methods and techniques used to teach complex thinking and what types of classroom activities are essential for teaching students to “think outside of the box” and engage in creative problem solving?
Think outside the box - Independent of the subject matter, “Students should be encouraged to be inquisitive, ask questions, and not believe and accept everything they are told” (Walker, 2003, p. 266). As educators, we have to discover the most effective ways to promote questioning in learners.

What is the most effective way to teach the valuable communication skills needed to bring a learner’s complex and creativity thinking to fruition? You can have the greatest ideas in the world but if they cannot be communicated effectively, those ideas remain in isolation “communication skills must also be mastered for complex thinking to be applied meaningfully” (NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition, p. 32).

I believe that a single strategy, technique, and method is not the solution to teaching effective communication and creative problem solving which are essential components of complex thinking – a variety of strategies, techniques, and methods are needed, “…thought develops with practice and evaluation over time using multiple strategies” (Walker, 2003, pg. 266).

As educators we need to explore new teaching methods or modify traditional methods that will allow complex thinking and all its components to flourish in our classroom. This requires educators to seek that “vuja de” moment that Berger describes happens “when you look at something familiar and suddenly see it fresh” (Berger, 2014, p. 84).

Please take a moment to share your thoughts and complete my survey related to teaching complex thinking.


Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breathrough Ideas. New York City, NY: Bloomsbury USA.

Grabowska, K. (2015, May). [Think of the Box] [Photograph]. Retrieved from

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

Walker, S. E. (2003). Active Learning Strategies to Promote Critical Thinking.Journal of Athletic Training, 38(3), 263–267.


Play, MAKE, and Learn – Personalized Learning Lesson Plan

Science Technology Education Research Digital by M. Mags:

“Personalized learning requires not only a shift in the design of schooling, but also a leveraging of modern technologies” (Wolf, 2010). As an educator working with learners that range from ages 16-65, the different experience levels, learning styles, and teaching methods that are used vary from one learner to another. Using a prescriptive approach that adopts a “one-size-fits-all” strategy where all learners are taught exactly the same despite their individual needs, does not create a unique, dynamic learning environment. Learners have their own unique needs and require a more personalized learning environment. Richard Culatta suggests that switching to a personalized learning approach and leveraging the use of technology to “reimagine learning” will create a more engaging environment tailored to the needs of each learner.

Within our classrooms, we have the amazing opportunity to work with learners to help create engaging personal learning environments and teach them how to develop confidence and use creativity to actively participate throughout the entire learning experience.  Encouraging students to be inquisitive, to engage in creative problem-solving, to think outside of the box to find solutions, and to communicate and collaborate with each other (our peers are one of our greatest resources), are essential 21st Century skills that we, as educators, can foster within our classroom(s) given that a more personalized learning environment exists.

“21C Skills” refers to a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that are important to succeed in today’s world, particularly for college and career readiness and in the workplace. Examples of these skills include collaboration, communication, creativity, and problem-solving. (Mozilla Learning Network, 2015)

The Maker Education approach to learning brings personalized learning and technology together to create an environment that encourages learners to create, play, imagine, and explore based on their individual needs and interests. Learners become invested and engaged within the learning experience when it’s personal and unique to their needs.

The Mozilla Learning Network developed a framework for “entry-level web literacy and 21st Century Skills” which I am using as a framework for the Play, MAKE, and Learn lesson plan that I created for a Computer & Information Principles course taught at the Community College. This lesson plan brings Maker Education and a personalized learning environment together through the use of technology to expose learners to basic programming techniques (through the use of Scratch) and to interact with technology by creating a computer interface (using Makey Makey) in order to help students make the connection between programming and computers.



Culatta, Richard. (2013, January). Reimagining Learning [Video file]. Retrieved from

Mags, M. (2016, February). [Science, Technology, Education] [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Mozilla Learning Network. (2015). Web Literacy 2.0. Retrieved from

Wolf, M. (2010). Innovate to education: System [re]design for personalized learning. A report from the 2010 symposium. [PDF file]. Washington, DC: Software & Information Industry Association. Retrieved from

Collaborate, Create, & Share

Let’s play, create, and share in the cloud! If I would have announced that to my students at the start of class just 5 years ago, I more than likely would have experienced complete silence in the room or may have heard murmurs of “What is she talking about? This is a Web Programming class not an Astronomy class.”

While creating a 21st century lesson plan this week, I looked to Renee Hobbs’ (2011) list of “five core competencies as fundamental literacy practices: Access, Analyze, Create, Reflect, and Act” to help me develop a lesson for my Introduction to Basic Web Programming course.

I chose to use a web-based front end development code editor and playground environment in the cloud called CodePen to acclimate students to using a programming technique called pair programming. In addition to learning about pair programming and using a web-based tool to develop a simple web page, the students will share their web page in the form of a “Pen” within a Google+ virtual community created specifically for the course and then discuss and evaluate each team’s work within a virtual environment.

Google+ Logo

CodePen is a playground for the front end web.

As I created the 21st century lesson plan for this week, John Seely Brown’s statement from “The Global One Room Schoolhouse: John Seely Brown (Highlights from JSB’s Keynote at DML2012)” played over and over in my mind: “As we move into the 21st century, we have to completely rethink the work scape and the learning scape.”  In addition to Brown’s statement, I also decided to place emphasis on two of the five core competencies described by Hobbs (2011): Access and Act. I want my students to use CodePen for problem solving as well as self-expression (Hobbs, 2011, p. 16). The students as a team, will choose a topic of their choice and create content (self-expression) to include in the basic web page that they are developing (problem solving) using CodePen (web technology) and sharing within a Google+ virtual community (web technology). I want the students to gain the experience of using web technology  to”rethink the learning scape” as Brown (2012) spoke of in his Keynote at DML2012.

In addition, one of Hobbs’ critical questions perfectly aligns with teaching the students the concept of pair programming. Hobbs asks the question “Do they recognize how to leverage the strengths of others to accomplish a common goal?” (Hobbs, 2011, p. 19). This encompasses the whole idea of pair programming! In pair programming, each member has their own strengths that they bring to the table and as a team, they work together to “accomplish a common goal” (Hobbs, 2011, p. 19).

The utilization of multiple web technologies to perform problem-solving tasks and demonstrate self-expression while “leveraging the strengths of others to accomplish a common goal” (Hobbs, 2011, p. 19), positions the Collaborate, Create, & Share lesson nicely into the realm of 21st century learning.


Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.

Brown, John S. (2012). The Global One Room Schoolhouse: John Seely Brown (Highlights from JSB’s Keynote at DML2012) [Video file]. Retrieved from