Carrot, stick, both or something else?

How do you motivate students? How do you get them wanting to learn? Carrot, stick, both, or something else? What does the science say?

There’s a great video on Youtube of an animation of a talk Dan Pink gave explaining what science says about motivating people. The video talks about motivational strategies within the world of work, getting adults working with vigour and creativity. The key points do contradict conventional thinking i.e. offering a bigger carrot gets higher performance, but I don’t think they are that surprising. Are multi-millionaire footballers any more creative on the pitch than their more modestly paid ancestors were 30 years ago? Check out the video below:

Another great talk from TED is shown below where Simon Sinek emphasises that people don’t buy products because of what they are, but because of why they are made.

Anybody who has read the excellent book ‘Predictably Irrational‘ by Dan Ariely already appreciates how irrational human behaviour is, predictably so says Dan, and how decisions are nearly always made by heart over head. Assuming that children respond in a similar way to adults, the big question is what does all this mean for our classrooms? How can we use this science to motivate our own pupils?

Whilst I feel as though I should be able to glean more from the first video, currently all that comes to mind is do we need prizes that are anything more than merits? Would the incentive to win an iPod produce higher motivation and performance from the pupils? Probably not. Seems counter-intuitive. Do you have any experience of this?

To me, the message from the second video is if you want to get the pupils to ‘buy’ your subject they have to believe what you believe about it. Why do you like maths? Why are you a maths teacher? What is it about the subject that amazed you? Until they hold the same values, your messages are not going to be that inspiring. If they believe what you believe (why), the’ll be interested in how they can become better at the subject. Finally, you’ll have them doing what they need to do. Look at the following messages:

Message 1

Why– I love maths because it helps me understand how the nature works.

How– We can find out how pinecones grow using the Fibonacci Sequence.

What– Lets look at the sequence. You make the next number by adding together the previous two.

Message 2

What– Lets look at the sequence. You make the next number by adding together the previous two.

How– We can find out how pinecones grow using the Fibonacci Sequence.

Why– I love maths because it helps me understand how the nature works.

Whilst both messages would hopefully engage and inspire the pupils, I think that the first gives the hook instantly and a reason for going on into more detail. I think the message is clear: to inspire pupils we should be answering the ‘why are we doing this’ question first before we go on and do it. Context before concepts. Give a reason for learning first.

The trick then is to provide contextual examples that show why maths is useful to an audience of teenagers. Contextual in their world is different to ours. We need to understand our pupils and know them to know what contextual situations would inspire them to learn the ideas, methods and processes involved in the how and what stages. One example of a contextual resource I have found effective is the Facebook Facts infographic.

Jim Rohn said “When you know what you want,and you want it badly enough,you’ll find a way to get it “. As teachers, isn’t our job to inspire them so that ‘what they want’ is a good education? If we did that, everything should fall into place. It’s an ideal, something to aim at that will never be achievable with all but should remain the target.

Enhanced by Zemanta

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Mike N says:

    Love this! Why would a kid ever want to learn anything from an adult who didn’t CARE?

  2. Bob Mrotek says:

    This is a great post. These two videos in combination are very powerful. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *