Complex Thinking: Wicked Problem

As I’ve been studying about Complex Thinking, it’s been, well, complex. My group members (Bridget & Earl) and I were able to come up with many questions about it. We narrowed those questions toward three main points to study. First, what is complex thinking, and why is it a wicked problem? Second, how does complex thinking effect the student? Third, what does complex thinking mean to the teacher?

We found several different definitions of complex thinking that were all centered around higher-order thinking skills such as the ability to infer, justify, compare & contrast, metacognize, synthesize, conceptualize, reason, evaluate, problem solve, make decisions, think critically and think creatively.

I found several different articles describing ways educators can get students to use any of those higher order thinking skills for lessons. This part is the hardest part, I would say, because there isn’t one way alone that demands that students use every aspect of complex thinking. Some of those the ways are presenting a story as a case study and having a discussion about it, constantly assessing students (formally and informally), dialogues of different viewpoints, question generating and questioning in general, and technology.

What makes complex thinking a wicked problem? In my mind, there are two ways it does. First is in the definition of complex thinking. There are all sorts of complexities to the definition. One could not just say, “critical thinking is complex thinking.” Though critical thinking is part of it, there is so much more. The other part that makes it a wicked problem is that there isn’t a clear answer to how to teach it. Wicked problems, by nature of what they are, will pretty much never be completely solved, but in the process of trying to get to a solution, the world is made better. There isn’t one simple way to teach complex thinking that’s going to fit every classroom but as educators work at bringing more complexity into the thinking demands on students, the better equipped student will be to be contributing humans to the world and, in a sense, the educator is making the world a little better because they taught complex thinking.


Angelo, T. A. (1995). Beginning the dialogue: Thoughts on promoting critical thinking: Classroom assessment for critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 22(1), 6-7.

Cooper, J. L. (1995). Cooperative learning and critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 22(1), 7-8.

King, A. (1995). Designing the instructional process to enhance critical thinking across the curriculum: Inquiring minds really do want to know: Using questioning to teach critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 22 (1) , 13-17.

McDade, S. A. (1995). Case study pedagogy to advance critical thinking. Teaching Psychology, 22(1), 9-10.

Puccio, G. J., Murdock, M., & Mance, M. (2007). Creative leadership: Skills that drive change. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.

Robertson, J. F. & Rane-Szostak, D. (1996). Using dialogues to develop critical thinking skills: A practical approach. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 39(7), 552-556.

Strohm, S. M., & Baukus, R. A. (1995). Strategies for fostering critical thinking skills. Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, 50 (1), 55-62.

Tharp, R & Entz, S. (2003). From high chair to high school: Research-based principles for teaching complex thinking. YC Young Children, 58 (5), 38-44

Underwood, M. K., & Wald, R. L. (1995). Conference-style learning: A method for fostering critical thinking with heart. Teaching Psychology, 22(1), 17-21.

Wade, C. (1995). Using writing to develop and assess critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 22(1), 24-28.



One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s