The Wicked Problem of Complex Thinking

This week in CEP 812 we were asked to explore the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking. Complex thinking is a skill that students do not come into class with; teachers need to help students achieve this skill set. There is not a set answer on how to teach complex thinking, but there are certain skills to look for in your students. According to Teaching Higher Order Thinking (2015), a student is engaged in complex thinking when they can visualize a problem through diagrams, separate important vs. irrelevant information, seek reasons or causes, justifies their solutions, look at different sides of the problem, weigh information based on credibility, show assumptions within their reasoning, and identify bias or inconsistencies. I don’t believe this is the end all be all list for complex thinking, but if a student shows this in a classroom I know that they are not just trying to get to one answer and move on to the next question.

Teachers are to promote complex thinking in the classroom and most research suggests that student centered classes, open mindedness, and authentic learning experiences help provide complex thinking opportunities for the students. There is an open debate on whether this should be a more structured environment or structured. Jo Boaler has created research on the differences between two classrooms one with structured math of lecture, work through problems, and repeat versus a classroom where the students choose the activity or problem they would like to tackle with their group (Boaler, 1998). Whereas KIPP schools have discussed that knowing how to structure student talk in order create complex thinking. Other research suggests a blending of both structure and unstructured in order for students to develop a skill set in order to create a foundation to build upon when beginning a complex thinking task.

So in the end I know that complex thinking is when a student is to investigate a problem they have never seen before and persevere in order to find a solution, but I still have a lot of complex thinking myself for what the teaching of it would be defined as.   As I continue learning about this wicked problem please complete the survey that I have provided, so that I can collect data on how other teachers define this wicked problem.

Link to survey


Boaler, J. (1998, January). Open and Closed Mathematics: Student Experiences and Understandings. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 29(1), 41-62.

Teaching Higher Order Thinking. (2015). Retrieved from


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