Find Your DRIVE

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who wanted nothing more than to learn how to play the piano. One day the little girl’s mom surprised her and took her to her very first piano lesson. The girl was overjoyed! However, instead of practicing the songs her piano teacher gave her, the little girl liked to make up her own songs, which displeased her mother. The little girl’s mom wanted to get her money’s worth out of the lessons, so she made an agreement with her daughter: for every 20 minutes the little girl practiced, she would get three squares of chocolate from a Symphony chocolate bar. At first the girl loved the idea! She loved chocolate more than anything in the world, so of course she would practice the piano to get it! But after a while, the little girl got tired of the piano; she never made up her own songs and she didn’t want to play for chocolate anymore. So, the little girl quit the piano for good.

She lost her drive.

Before being bribed by chocolate, the little girl (who was me) was engaged in what Daniel Pink, author of the book Drive, called motivation 3.0, or in more simple terms, intrinsic motivation. When my mother started giving me chocolate as a reward for practicing, I was in motivation 2.0, or extrinsic motivation.

What is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?

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Because of extrinsic motivation, the piano was not fun for me anymore. I lost both my desire to play and my ability to use the piano as a creative outlet.

So how do we keep this from happening in our classrooms?

Daniel Pink describes three elements of intrinsic motivation:

  • Autonomy- allowing people to work on what they want, how they want, and with whomever they want
  • Mastery- encourages engagement in a topic or activity in order to move in the direction of mastery
  • Purpose- Provides a connection to goals and the things people care about

How can autonomy, mastery, and purpose be included in lesson plans?


  • Let your students be curious and guide their own learning. Give students class time to research something they are interested in within the fields of science, then have them share out!
  • Have your students participate in a STEM or science fair. They can plan, create, and present on any topic they want within the STEM fields.


  • Not every student is going to be interested in science, so help them to strive for mastery by putting class content into a game. They will be determined to win the game AND they will be learning at the same time!
  • Challenge students with open ended, loosely structured labs or mystery black box activities. The students will want to solve the problem at hand and will put their knowledge to the test in order to do so.


  • Connect class content with your students goals and future career aspirations. If a student aspires to be a chef, bake bread with your class to demonstrate the process of fermentation and how it connects to baking.
  • Start every lesson with how the topic being taught impacts the world we live in. For example, if the students are beginning a unit on renewable and nonrenewable energy sources, connect it to how our overuse of nonrenewable resources is one cause of global warming and how the development of renewable and clean energy sources could mitigate the effects of climate change. Make sure your students understand the context and purpose of what they are learning!
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This blog provides other, more general ways to improve student motivation in the classroom!

It is our job as educators to motivate our students. In order to do that, we need to get to know our students and find out what they care about. Find what drives them! Then and only then can our schools switch from the outdated system of motivation 2.0 and move into a new system in which students are intrinsically motivated in their learning!

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  1. Hi Emma! Getting to know your students is vital to their learning. Your teaching is much more effective when you know what things matter to your students and what they are interested in, that way you are able to incorporate those interests into your lessons. Thanks for your comments!

  2. Hey Shelby! Thanks for your comments and questions! There are quite a few items from the 21 ideas to improve student motivation article that I hope to use in my classroom. Some of the most important ones to me are getting to know my students, providing students with a sense of control, and harnessing student interests. All of these things go along with autonomy, which I think is incredibly important to incorporate into the classroom. Students will be much more interested in science when they are learning something that are interested in while learning it in the way they want.

  3. Hi Caitlin! There are actually two elements from the 21 ideas that are very important that I have in my classroom: getting to know my students and giving them a sense of control. Obviously, getting to know your students is imperative to being a good teacher. Knowing what matters to them and what they are interested in allows you as the teacher to direct your lesson so it includes the interests of all students and make sure your lessons are culturally responsive. Giving your students a sense of control goes right along with the importance of autonomy in the classroom. Students should be able to explore and experiment on the things that matter to them. Thank you for your comments and questions!

  4. Thanks Woojin! A couple of games that first come to mind concern learning the elements on the periodic table. One game could be periodic table battleship in which students choose elements (just like choosing positions in battleship) and the other student guesses the elements based on the period and group number. This allows students to become more familiar with the periodic table and it’s elements. A more kinesthetic game could be a periodic table rely race in which students have to race to put elements in the correct place on the table. There are also many online game resources that can be used to teach scientific concepts.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Natalie! While I think autonomy, mastery, and purpose are all very important, I think autonomy is the most effective way to instill intrinsic motivation in my students. It is incredibly important that students have the opportunity to learn about things that matter to them and figure things out in the way they want with who they want. Also, while we are never looking for what is the easiest, it is easier to effectively incorporate autonomy into lesson plans than it is to incorporate mastery or purpose.

  6. Hi Anna! I loved the personal example you used to start your blog. It really allows you to understand exactly what drive is, and the harmful effects of inadequate motivation. I also liked how you provided classroom examples for autonomy, mastery and purpose. If you had to choose just one to focus on in your classroom. which do you think would be the most effective way to instill intrinsic motivation in students?

  7. Great post Anna! I really loved your personal anecdote, it really showed how extrinsic motivation is not very effective. I also really liked your idea about using games to help students strive for mastery in Science. Do you have any specific games that you have in mind?

  8. Hi Anna!
    I really enjoyed your post. I like your would mentioned mastery and turning your class into a game especially if your students don’t find your class interesting. I also agree that it is so important for students to see a purpose in your class. By discussing how your class can translate into real work application can make the topics more tangible in a way that students can relate to and become passionate about. I also enjoyed your link to 21 ways to improve motivation. Which one do you think is the most effective and or important to implement in your classroom?

  9. Great post Anna! I loved how you opened up with a personal story about how extrinsic motivation did not work on you with the piano. I bet this helps you understand just how important intrinsically motivating your students will be in the future. I also love the link to the site about the 21 simple ideas to improve student motivation. Out of those 21 ideas, which ones stick out to you? Which do you plan on using in your future classroom?

  10. I love the creativity you put into this blog. You made it personal and entertaining and something fun and different for the reader! I absolutely agree that bringing out intrinsic motivation begins with getting to know your students and making a personal connection.

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