Roadtrip to Success, Your car or mine?

There are always speed bumps, detours, and even breakdowns on the road to success. Drive by Daniel H. Pink discusses how we shape the way our students are traveling down this road. Are they motivated by rewards and external validation or are they inspired by passion and learning? Traditionally we don’t expect students to want to learn or to have Intrinsic Motivators. Instead, we focus on supplying them with Extrinsic Motivators such as grades or prizes. I want to discuss the differences between these two motivators and how they can be implemented in EVERY classroom.

Are You Driving the Car or Riding Shotgun?

When we are on a road trip the driver has ultimate control over where we go and how fast we get there. The passenger is in charge of the entertainment and navigation. The passenger and driver are both intricate parts of the road trip puzzle.

  • Drivers – As teachers, we are pushed to promote extrinsic motivation because it is easiest for the administration to put quantities with point systems and grades rather than passion or growth. When we allow our students to take the steering wheel in their education we can develop Life-long learners who are not dependent on rewards for motivation.
  • Passengers As teachers, The navigators are the ones creating the travel plan and guiding them along their learning journey. It is our job to give them opportunity to grow and guide their learning.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation

  • Extrinsic Motivation– being motivated by outside rewards, incentives, or punishments Motivation meant to drive certain behaviors.
    • “Type X behavior” is the result of this type of motivation.
      • Increases disappointment
      • Promising rewards diminishes the value of the actual work being done.
  • Intrinsic Motivation– being motivated by inner interest, passion, curiosity, and wanting to learn.
    • “Type I behavior” is the result of this type of motivation
      • Promotes life-long learners
      • Increases self-discovery

Fostering Motivation

 Motivation can be broken down into 3 main elements according to David H. Pink.

  • Autonomy– Taking ownership over their learning
  • Mastery– Expertise and deep understanding of concepts and skills
  • Purpose– Having a direction and rational for learning


Autonomy in the classroom is not something we traditionally value. Most of the control in the class is given to the teacher. The students are then seen as children who can not do things on their own.

Student Autonomy is very important, especially if we expect our students to be leaders and change agents in their future careers.

  • In practice –> Giving students responsibility, choices in the learning methods, and opportunities to show their strength or knowledge.


Mastery of skills can promote “self pride and self-confidence”.

Mr. Vandenberg teaches middle school at a lower-income Californian school.

Due to growing knowledge gaps among his students, he partnered with Kahn Academy so that each student could work at their own pace and truly master the materials covered in lectures. 

His students have pride in their work and get excited about learning new materials.

  • In practice –> Allowing students to work at the pace that works best for them, building activities for each students strength, and making the work relevant to the student’s lives.


Students are finding purpose in schools.

The grades they have are not the only motivators.

Students need to find the direction and reasons behind what they are doing.

Using their talents and passions in school can lead to career paths, self-confidence, and self-discovery.

In practice –> Showing students that their work has a destination such as sending information to scientist, city officials, or school board members.

What does this mean for the classroom?

Intrinsic motivation is not possible for every lesson but should be remembered when creating lesson. How will this spark wonder and curiosity in my students? Will my students be Emotionally Invested in the activity? How can I promote autonomy, mastery, and purpose in my class?

Listening to your students and incorporating the 3 main elements into your class as much as possible will lead to your students being more intrinsically motivated.

Thank you for reading!

Please let me know how you promote Intrinsic Motivation in your class in the comments below?

For more Science Teaching material follow me on twitter @MsCellfie


  1. The graphics and videos within your blog post are WONDER-FULL! I love how you explained the three factors by including a visual representation as well. The driver and passenger analogy was so creative and really connected the main points in an easy-to-digest way. Awesome post!

  2. Hey cahillar,
    Thank you so much for reading my post. An activity or lesson that could get everyone engaged could be centers. This can work for any topic you are covering. Each center can be set up with an activity, game, or even reflection questions. This will allow for student autonomy and multiple different learning styles at the same time. Make teams and have rotations or create a checklist for each station. I’m glad you enjoyed my post.

  3. Hi Ms. Smith! I really liked your post, it was informative and also very visually engaging. The videos you attached were relevant and helped me understand your points. I liked that you highlighted autonomy, mastery, and purpose since I (like you!) think they are very important. What is an example of a lesson that can be personalized to each student to ensure engagement?

  4. Hey henryhs,
    Thank you! I really wanted to break down the different elements Daniel Pink discussed in his books. I struggled to understand how the elements can be utilized in the average classroom. The videos I added helped me understand this better. I’m glad it helped you as well.

  5. Trinity, I loved the videos you used throughout! They provide a more in-depth understanding of what Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose is and how it could look in the classroom. I also really liked the “passenger” and “driver” analogy, very creative!

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