You’ve Been Motivating ALL WRONG

Surprise surprise – the motivation/reward system in schools isn’t the greatest way to motivate students to learn as with so many other aspects of the system. The current model is so focused on extrinsic rewards that don’t provide students with the same motivation that intrinsic motivation does.  The ASAP Science video helps elaborate a little bit on why this isn’t great:

“Play is the strongest motivator for sustained behavioral changes.” This quote has one great word to think of: play. This isn’t saying everything’s a game – just that removing any sense of fun and play decreases motivation!

Image result for motivation

Science teaching lend itself so much to intrinsic motivation. Internal gratification from figuring out complex problems is so much greater than that from menial tasks like writing down definitions. Areas where using intrinsic motivation works in the science classroom could be:

  • Lab activities; calculating where to put a cup to catch a marble dropped down a slope.
  • Projects; rather than doing research on an already existing problem with an answer, try to figure one out that doesn’t.

But this isn’t to say that using reward systems are never a good idea. This flowchart is a good way to guide yourself through the discussion of if you should or not! Image result for when to use rewards

In the science classroom there will be defining of terms sometimes, that’s okay. Everything can’t be fun all the time!

But when students are allowed to be autonomous and garner mastery with ideas, their interest and motivation in learning will be at an all time high. Engage students in inquiry and problem-based learning and watch them flourish!


  1. Great explanation of motivation. Your tweet sums it up well by saying “not everything needs a grade.” I think we as a society become too focused on the black and white end result of grades or whether or not an attempt was a “success.”

  2. Chris, I really like that diagram you used to describe when to use extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. It really boils everything down into what you really need to know. The video is also really interesting as it breaks down some of the research that’s been done. I especially appreciated how they talked about the changes that actually occur in the brain when extrinsic motivation is applied. Thinking so much about motivation while reading DRIVE, I’ve been curious about this question myself. When you don’t feel motivated, how do you kickstart yourself to get yourself out of bed and get work done? Thanks


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.