How to DRIVE Motivation in Science Classrooms

How do you get students to REALLY like science? What can MOTIVATE students’ scientific interests? There are thousands of questions regarding student motivation that teachers ask themselves. Let’s explore motivation from the inside out using the book DRIVE by Daniel Pink.

Extrinsic Motivation vs Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation can be defined as:

“A motivation to participate in an activity based on meeting an external goal, garnering praise and approval, winning a competition, or receiving an award or payment.”

-Science Direct

In a school environment, extrinsic motivation involves gaining a reward for an external goal such as receiving a good grade, candy, or perhaps a pizza party. Daniel Pink found that extrinsic motivation is great for non-complex tasks or physical activities. Relying on extrinsic motivation in the science classroom may lead to: 

  • Lack of creativity in students’ work. 
  • Lack of interest in subjects or class lectures. 
  • Students do the bare minimum to receive a passing score. 
  • Frustration during worksheets or lecture notes. 
  • Lack of growth. 
  • Restricted critical thinking. 

Intrinsic motivation can be defined as: 

“The doing of an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequence.”

-Frontier IN

Intrinsic motivation within the classroom can be difficult to develop. It is much easier to create a lesson that has external rewards instead of intrinsic motivation. It is POSSIBLE by catering to the student’s interest and making lesson plans memorable/ meaningful. What intrinsic motivation within your students can accomplish: 

  • True education and understanding (Not training students to memorize). 
  • Growth of classroom diversity. 
  • True interest in scientific concepts. 
  • Growth of critical thinking and analytical skills. 
  • New ideas and abundant CREATIVITY! 
  • Students develop skills to educate themselves and others.

Types of Behavior in YOUR Students

The way your students conduct themselves academically has a strong correlation to their motivation type. Daniel Pink outlines two behavior types within DRIVE:

Type I Behavior: 

  • An approach to activities focused on intrinsic motivation. 
  • Behavior is encouraged by satisfaction for one’s self. 
  • Structured to build control over one’s own life path. 
  • Guided through one’s purpose.
  • Inspired by creativity and ingenuity. 
  • The need to assist the world and our peers. 

Type X Behavior: 

  • Behaviors that are fueled by external rewards. 
  • Behaviors do not necessarily provide self-satisfaction. 
  • Lack of creativity and more motivation to earn a physical reward. 
  • Done for benefit of one’s self. 
  • Common in physical tasks. 

Within the science classroom, look to push students into utilizing type I behaviors. Not only will students find purpose in their work, but the content will also be MEMORABLE.

A Tool of Encouraging Intrinsic Motivation: PRAISE

One important aspect of encouraging intrinsic motivation in a science classroom is the use of GOOD praise. It is very easy to tell a student that they did a “good job!”, although nobody really remembers these phrases in the long run. How can you make your praise memorable?

  • Incorporate the students’ strategy in your praise!
  • Praise their effort! 
  • Example: “Lily, you should be so proud of yourself! You have worked so hard on half-life calculations and got an A on your test! I am proud of your growth!” 
  • Example: “I have never seen anyone solve a projectile motion problem like that Mike! Awesome job at thinking outside the box and using your problem-solving skills!”


Many classrooms have revolved around extrinsic motivation and type X behaviors. Students are left to memorize the lecture content and regurgitate it back into an assessment. THIS IS NOT WHAT SCIENCE IS ABOUT!!

We should choose to intrinsically motivate our students as educators to give them purpose and freedom. Make each lesson memorable. Let your students take the reigns and guide their own interests. Let’s encourage students to LOVE science.


Pink, D. H. (2018). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates Us. CANONGATE Books LTD.


  1. Replying to @Cahillar:

    Thank you for commenting! I am glad you found the visuals to be engaging, I feel they provide a good summary and a hint of humor! In terms of your question on appropriate uses of a pizza party or other external reward:
    I feel these external rewards are appropriate when students work TOGETHER to earn the reward. The tasks they would need to complete would be creativity in team projects or overall good classroom discussions. The tasks should be team-based and student lead!

  2. Replying to @Henryhs:

    Thank you so much for your words of praise! I felt like it would be useful to point out what equates to “good praise.” In high school, I always felt frustrated by the praise I received because it no longer inspired me to be creative.

  3. Hi Katie, this is a very engaging post with awesome visuals! You did a great job at distinguishing between Type I and Type X behaviors that exist in the classroom. I love the section where you discuss the importance of “good praise” when it comes to students in a learning setting. Making memorable moments for student is what fosters community and intrinsic motivation!

  4. Hi Ms. Lord! I really liked your post, it was very informative. I especially liked your explanation of Type I and Type X behaviors and how they exist in the classroom. Your visuals are always engaging and help me understand! What would you consider to be an appropriate time to have a pizza party or some other kind of reward?

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