Motivation Matters

November 03, 2020 / Tiffany Godbout, President

November 3, 2020 -

“If this year were a meal, it would be all vegetables and no dessert”

This apt summation of 2020 was found in The New York Times article “How to Do School When Motivation Has Gone Missing.” The article posits that students- particularly teenagers- are getting all the work of high school with none of the social interaction (reward) that helps balance out a typical school day. As a result, the author explains, students are struggling with motivation to complete their work.

The article also highlights the role intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play in task completion. Intrinsic motivation takes place when we have a genuine interest in a task or topic and derive satisfaction from the work or learning itself. Extrinsic motivation takes place when we are motivated by an outcome or an external reward. Using the example of the 2020 “meal,” intrinsic motivation says, “Broccoli is delicious and makes me feel good, I cannot wait to eat it.” Extrinsic motivation says, “If I eat all my vegetables, I get to have dessert, so I’m eating these vegetables.”

At Spark 101, we understand the value of motivation to  student learning. In fact, in our White Paper “Motivation Matters,” we highlight the fact that personal interest and experience are the primary motivators for students to engage in challenging coursework. Also, research demonstrates that young people must be able to relate what they are learning to their own backgrounds. It’s for this reason thatwe base Spark 101 videos around real world examples and career pathways. If we pique student interest- and intrinsic motivation- they are more likely to put in the effort required to succeed in difficult STEM courses. If, however, we try to motivate them with extrinsic motivators alone- things like grades and external rewards- they may do the work but may not be as engaged when the subject gets hard.

As the author notes, intrinsic motivation is linked to higher levels of academic achievement and greater psychological well-being. It is obvious why educators, parents and Spark 101 alike hope to tap into students’ intrinsic motivation for schoolwork. However, it cannot always be maintained- and there certainly is a level of fatigue with 2020. So the author advocates for the appropriate use of extrinsic motivation to keep students engaged and trying when their intrinsic motivation is waning. At Spark 101 we just say, It’s 2020, go ahead and have the dessert!”

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