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by • April 22, 2015 • Collaboration, Design Thinking, Integrative ThinkingComments (0)1483

Fully Equipped for Wicked Problems

If I was to pick one word to describe how learning unfolds in my classroom, I would say ‘deliberate’. There is a deliberate process, built from the exploration of pedagogy, inquiry, knowledge building, design thinking,  and integrative thinking which is supported and encouraged by an incredible, global professional learning network that willingly tests ideas and shares ideas.  I start the school year with the goal of equipping students with a thinking and problem-solving toolkit.  Each experience adds another tool or process to the kit until students have the skills and strategies for embracing wicked problems.  Today I had the privilege of observing the culmination of this work in my grade 6 students.

They are working through the pro-pro model process of integrative thinking.  This method is useful when faced with either-or-choices where the idea of accepting trade-offs or making compromises is unappealing.  The process leads problem-solvers to create something new that is better than the choices they were originally considering.  It isn’t easy work.  Students work in teams and grapple with a way of thinking that does not feel natural.  At points along the way they experience confusion and frustration as well as laughter and ah ha moments.

We are into day 2 of the process. Yesterday ended with one class feeling frustrated and confused, mostly due to my having poorly explained some of the steps.  I texted Nogah Kornberg at Rotman this morning for assistance on how to identify benefits within each model.  With her guidance I was able to put the class back on track.

I created an anchor chart to make explicit what we are trying to accomplish.  Students found this extremely helpful.

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As they went at it again, it wasn’t long before magic began to happen.  The tension disappeared; the energy level in the room picked up.  Groups began to experience breakthroughs.

Then, in the buzz of business,  something remarkable happened.  Students without prompting opened up the tool kits.  Every group drew upon different tools and processes to make their thinking about the solution to the problem explicit. It became obvious that the learning has been internalized – they are equipped with strategies.

They came to me using problem-solving terminology.

“Can we do rapid idea generation?”  These students then clustered and identified themes in their ideas.

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“Can we build a model?|

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“Our idea isn’t really a solution like what we did for the MRI machine… can we do an experience journey?”


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Another group created a causal model of their solution, finding connections between ideas.


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Another group asked, “Can we take some time and just dive into and explore what our key words really mean?”

It was all so natural.  So natural that one group felt comfortable enough to come to me and say, “When you shared your idea of a possible solution to the problem … that wasn’t helpful.  We’re having a hard time getting it out of our head.  Next time you shouldn’t share that.”  The students understood it was their job to provide feedback to improve the process. If those who have taught me integrative and design thinking could have been in the room, they  would have been cheering.  This is what we’ve been working towards – building students who are equipped to dive deeply into complexity – who have myriad strategies to frame, explore and find solutions to really challenging problems.

Also significant?  Students are demonstrating their thinking in ways meaningful to them.  Each group’s work is very different – all of them demonstrate complexity of thought and creativity in process and solution finding.

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