The Wicked Problem of Innovation in Schools

“Institutions are “frozen thought”. They exist in part to “think for us.” In any complex set of tasks involving lots of people, there are a great many things to think about, make decisions about, plan for, and reflect on. Institutions take some of these things and “freeze” them into a set of procedures that we do not need to think abound make decisions about. These procedures lower the cognitive load for people in the institution.” Gee (2013) p.85

The education system is one such institution. Indeed, it is an institution of the institutions that are policy makers, schools, administrators, teachers and students. The education system is so deeply frozen that it’s only hope is that cryogenics actually works. Frozen rigid, or rigor mortis? It doesn’t much matter when one tackles the wicked problems of education. An institution trapped in a mesh of wicked problems won’t be easily unfrozen, which is one of the reasons that makes these problems “wicked”.

In a previous blog post, I explained how our group, Donna, Laurie, Erin and I, are tackling the wicked problem of making innovation a learning ethic. We have defined innovation as more than mere novelty. Innovation as a learning ethic is an educational model that involves activities that require the learner to make something new. It is active work.

The tornado has touched down. Our responses to this problem, our “least worse” solution, is described in our curation, here.

We believe that making innovation a learning ethic requires change at the policy, administration, and teacher levels. There are many fine examples of innovative classroom practices, many of which we have referenced; but to make innovation a learning ethic takes more. It requires that educational policy makers take a completely different view of how education works. Policy makers say they want to produce graduates whose skills are relevant to the twenty-first century, yet they are still expecting to achieve that using nineteenth century models of learning. A strong wind needs to blow through the entire education system, stirring up “frozen thoughts” at the core of current education, and:

Redefining “knowledge”

Moving content up to higher level thinking

Teaching using long-term, cross-curricular projects

Using technology to do more than just digitize existing tools

Completely overhaul notions of what is valid assessment of learning

Retrain and continue to support teachers and teaching as high-status persons and roles in our society.

We encourage all participants in the education system to find their inner Rachel Carson, and cry out for the rights of all members of our society for a broad, engaging, individualized, project and inquiry based Educational Spring, bursting with joyous activity .


Gee, J. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning.

New Media Consortium communique:

Frozen lake photo public domain from: winter-lake-ice-water-frozen-4291/

Spring lake photo licensed for non-commercial use from: /wiki/File:CCP_spring_lake.JPG