How to keep students motivated in science classrooms

I’m not officially a teacher yet, but I do tutor large groups of students taking a general college biology course at my university. In order to get students to participate, I will sometimes offer candy or something little to motivate them. But is this really motivating them to learn or think critically about what they’re learning?

Benefits of intrinsic motivation

  • encourages autonomy: when students feel self-motivated to do something, it feels less like an assignment and more like an activity they want to do
  • increases creativity: since the activity is something a student wants to do, they are given the freedom to be more creative with the task
  • improves understanding: when creativity and autonomy intersect, it makes it more likely that the student will comprehend and retain what they are learning

Is extrinsic motivation ever useful?

Yes, extrinsic motivation can be useful in some situations. An if-then reward can work for lower-level tasks, like when I offer candy to the students I tutor when they answer a question. But for higher-order tasks, like a project or assignment, and for learning in general, I think intrinsic motivation is more useful.

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