I had a conversation with another teacher this weekend that left me thinking. He created a new lab based on one I had built previously and he made sure to tell me it was "very 1.0" implying that it still had work to be done on it. 1.0 in technical terms means a software version that is functional and ready for market. Naming it 1.0, however, indicates that revisions (1.1, 1.7, 2.0, etc.) are expected to come.
I responded that my labs are "always 1.0." I constantly change, tweak and rebuild labs in order to make them more effective and more engaging. I've written before about how some teachers are intimidated by what I do saying they could never do it themselves. I hope to again point out that what is do is A) never perfect and B) a result of lots of work. It isn't magic!
When I started teaching I can vividly remember thinking that in three years of teaching my curriculum I'd have it down. I'd drive myself crazy designing and lesson planning for those three years and then it would be smooth sailing until retirement. After year three I adjusted my expectations to year 5. By year 7 I realized that I never would hit that point of being "done" and if I did - I wasn't giving my students my best. I grow, I learn new techniques and my students are different every year. Always 1.0!
So, with that mindset I did my Digging for the Truth: Maya lab yesterday. I got this lab from a colleague many years ago. It's a great lab and has been from the start. The students get way into it and learn a ton, not only about the Mayans, but about how to get information from artifacts and make reasonable inferences from them. A few years ago I tweaked it a little to add a scripted narrative that led students through the exhibits. Then, last year, I added a guide sheet with sentence starters to help focus their thinking. However, the lab was essentially unchanged. It still looked the same and performed the same. If it ain't broke, why fix it? Right?
Here are all the marks I made on just page 1 of the script. With the mindset of "always 1.0" I found many things that could be updated and improved in the presentation and script. I simply kept track as I ran the lab of the things that looked like they could be better. Every time my mind wandered into "man it would be cool if..." I wrote it down. When I reviewed my notes at the end of the day I found that some of them were thing I've planned to fix for years (adding visual numbers to the slides so I could keep track of my place in the script.) Others were things that I've learned how to do since last hosting the lab (adding an animation of walking through the jungle.)
And, perhaps most importantly, some were things I couldn't do. I wanted to make the painting of the calendar look more like was actually an object hanging on the wall and not just an illustration. I played around with some of the 3D tools in Powerpoint but the image just isn't built for it. Even adding simple shadows didn't help. So, right now, it still looks like a painting on the wall. When I do this again next year I'm sure I'll be reminded that it is, after all, only version 1.0 and maybe by then I'll have learned how to do what I'm envisioning.
Now, the big question. Will any of the changes I made improve the learning that takes place in this lab? Honestly, I don't think they will. They will, perhaps, increase attention and engagement very slightly. Again, this lab was already very engaging. Students have loved it from the beginning. Still, the time spent is well worth it. I'll feel more excited hosting the lab next year. I'm always more interested when trying something with new elements than when hosting a lab in the same way as I have for years.
I encourage you to try out an "always 1.0" mindset the next time you do an activity you've done in the past. Step back and ask yourself what it would look like if you had no limits on your technical abilities. Then, go build to that point. Get it a little closer to that vision. Very good can still be better.
**Update - One Week Later***
Okay, so this 1.0 idea has proven to be a huge game-changer for me. Over the last week I've been more focused on not just making little improvements whenever possible but on analyzing my audience. Going in to each period with the idea of "this is 1.0, how do I improve it?" has really shifted my perspective on my lessons. I'm actively looking for those spots where attention starts to lull or the response isn't quite what I expected. I've been posting sticky notes and little scribbled notes all over the place.
Most of these changes have been very small and have taken only a few minutes to make. In some cases I've been able to pick up on the areas of improvement early in the day and fix them for the remaining classes. This is, of course, always something I've done but this focus has made it much more front and center.
I recommend for your next lesson have a Post-it stuck to your desk with "1.0" written at the top. As you host the lesson make notes about anything you think could be improved - no matter how big or small. At the end of the lesson make a quick note on what didn't meet your expectations.
This mentality is incredibly freeing. I don't feel the pressure to be perfect. I feel the excitement of knowing next time will be better. Always 1.0!
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