Research on Motivation

21 Nov

A good Monday morning to all!

I saw this falling asleep last night and I had to share as soon as I had the chance. It’s a TED talk by Daniel Pink on motivation.

Basically, providing incentives to complete a certain task, like rewards and punishments, actually only get better results if the task is rote, mechanical, and very focused. 

If ever you need creativity or critical thinking, on the other hand, incentives actually produce significantly poorer results than not providing any incentive at all.

Interesting, isn’t it?! I’m a huge stickler for creating accountability in all my activities, ideally by motivation, but often by incentives. Even if part of me understood some of the ideas here, it really makes  motivation just that much more tangible to reproduce.

For example, activities that might be productive to use incentives for are times table drills, identifying a series of triangles as SSS, SAS, ASA, AAS, or HL, practicing solving equations, etc. I’d say most other activities should stray from using incentives.

So how do we build intrinsic motivation? That IS the big question, isn’t it. Well according to Dan Pink, there’s 3 main elements:

  1. autonomy
  2. mastery
  3. purpose

Perhaps what we do most days is helping students build the first two. Purpose is the big challenge though. Helping students understand WHY these concepts are interesting and worthwhile. I think I’m going to try to focus on that once again. Maybe I’ll try an open-ended project in Geo.

Anyways, on a side-note, when people ask me what made the biggest difference for my Calculus Camp and those scores, it was definitely the motivation factor that camp gave them to pass. They had the know-how, the capability, just like all the classes before them, but why would they sweat over passing an AP Calc exam, when all of them only paid $10 for it and about half of them were thinking about community college anyways? Taking them up to camp changed that, but more importantly, it changed that for them together as a class. Those who never had competitive, college/univ. bound friends were not only mixed in w/ those who were, but they were all becoming friends.

If you teach/taught in a low-performing school (not that my LA school is low-performing anymore!! =)), one of things you would’ve quickly realized is that “they just don’t care.” Even the brilliant ones seem to take on this “C is still passing” attitude (not all, but most). What else can you expect when no one else, neither family or friends, expect any more of them?

Well, up at camp, we got away together as a class,  did team builders, played ridiculous games, got delirious at night together, ate Fear Factor-worthy things for punishment, and endured 15 hours of Calculus. When they got back, they were suddenly so bonded that they weren’t just trying to pass the test alone, but w/ their entire class. It was AMAZING. They suddenly wanted to pass this test because that was what we had spent the entire weekend focused on and even the weeks prior in getting it funded.

I only wish I had done all that on purpose. I had only taken them up b/c I remember having gone to Calc Camp when I was a student and finding it helpful. I also remember it being a bit boring so I added some flair. =) I guess I just need to figure out how to add motivational flair to math on a daily basis now.

One Response to “Research on Motivation”

  1. treevalley November 29, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    im so glad you’re teaching Jinna! what a wonderful illustration of love, growth, and motivation. keep us posted on what/how that is working in the classroom and out…i can definitely use more fodder there.

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