DRIVE Applied to the Science Classroom

Drive Book Overview:

Daniel Pink’s DRIVE discusses the idea of motivation and how we can best motivate ourselves and others to succeed at a variety of types of tasks. Pink’s thesis is that at the end of the day, intrinsic motivation is far more important that extrinsic motivation because it is longer lasting and ultimately more fulfilling. The trick of course is getting people intrinsically motivated. He tells his stories through the lens of a businessman and economist, after all motivating employees and companies to perform is a fairly important use of intrinsic motivation. He discusses the idea of external rewards as something that the economist may overvalue, and that in fact giving people rewards can in fact sometimes be a detriment to their work. This idea is quite relevant to the science classroom as well as the office.

Drive in the Science Classroom:

When discussing the ideas of DRIVE in an educational setting, we can substitute all of Pink’s financial rewards with the type of external rewards you often get in the classroom: grades, or perhaps the occasional extra recess, piece of candy, etcetera. Pink’s reasoning then, would tell us that on big creativity based projects, such as labs, inquiry assignments, or presentations that it may be better to not hang a big grade over students’ heads. This may quell their creativity when we really want to enhance it by engaging their intrinsic motivation, their inherent interest and curiosity about science. This is not to say grades are unimportant. They are useful for assessing learning, and on homework, quizzes, and perhaps more boring (but necessary) assignments they can serve as excellent motivators. However when we want to really challenge students to learn more and explore, their motivation cannot come from these outside factors. Pink says that it just won’t work.

Lesson Ideas:

  • Activities where students CHOOSE the topic of their presentation or demonstration and then explore it. (ie teams choose an environmental issue they are passionate about to do a report on).
  • Lab activity where students’ reward is getting to continue the experiment in a new way. (ie teams who finish can start on a new experiment that builds on the past knowledge and relates to an interesting topic).
  • A FedEx day as Daniel Pink puts it. A day where students can explore assignments they want on their own schedule. This could be tough with classroom management, but done well it could be very effective.

Media Resources:

This TED talk discusses topics of intrinsic motivation in business and education. The speaker has worked in business and in university admissions and is passionate about helping others find their inner motivations.

Adam Grant on Twitter

This Tweet is from author Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and faculty member of Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania


  1. Hey Max! Very well done post, I really enjoyed the diagram you used to distinguish the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The lab activity is a great way to incorporate this topic into your future classroom. How do you plan on facilitating extra experiments with students while also giving focus to teams who did not finish early?

  2. Hey Max! Great post. I really liked your lesson plan ideas that we can one day incorporate in our own classrooms. I remember when reading DRIVE, I was interested in his FedEX day that he mentioned. In your post, you mentioned how it would be a great way to encourage intrinsic motivation for students but could go sideways with classroom management. I was wondering if you had specific ideas for having your students stay on task if you were to have a FedEX day? How can you make sure this activity provides the students with autonomy but also in a timely manner?

    • Hey Maddie. The FedEx day question is a great one. I think maybe a FedEx day exactly as Pink describes it may be a bit open ended for the average high schooler. So instead, I will provide students with options. That way it isn’t quite as restrictive as normal school, but still very freeing and allowing for students to explore their interests and get intrinsically motivated.

  3. Great post, Max! I really like the motivation diagram you used, I think it gives a really good visual representation of the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation! Your lab continuation lesson idea is great! How do you think you could try to maintain student’s attention and motivation in this lesson idea if they seem uninterested in creating their own lab ideas?
    Great job!!

    • Thanks for the feedback Jack. In response to your question, I think that offering an alernative assignment to students who just don’t have lab interests could accomplish the saem goal. Then, after they become passionate about the other assignment, offer them the option to develop that into a lab. I am not sure if this would work every time, but if it did work I think it could be quite effective.

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