The Question of Motivation

It's an age-old question for educators, one that has student-by-student answers, and it's one that isn't always completely answered. It's the question of motivation - how to find it in students, how to instill it, and how to nurture it. We know as educators that teachers have a lot to do with the motivational levels of students. Much of how much students are motivated depends on the individual teaching style, expectations, teacher recognition of student attempts to meet those expectations , and the social interactions of the students among themselves.
We're in an age of data-driven education. Thanks to brain-based research we now know more than ever about how students learn and what causes those neurons to "fire," and we work hard to implement proven methods. Still, with all we know, sometimes it's very difficult to find what motivates students. When a teacher works long and hard to design learning activities they think will be engaging and fun, and students respond with apathy it's tough to swallow.
Daniel Pink, author of
A Whole New Mind - Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future and Johnny Bunko - The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need, is set to release a new book Dec. 29th entitled Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink previewed some of what will be in his book earlier this summer in Oxford, England in a 20 minute talk at a TED Conference, and although his talk was applied to business, the content has huge implications for education.

At Kimmel Farm, we're building our school around problem-based learning through the support of our business and education partner, CERTL (Center of Excellence for Research, Teaching and Learning at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine). PBL is not a new approach to teaching. Some of the principles date back to the early 1900s. But it is an approach that takes into account student interest, prior knowledge, and connections to the real world of the learner. Through PBL, students are more self-directed, and teachers become less authority figures and more facilitators of learning.
The question of motivation won't be entirely solved by PBL. It's not a panacea. It will, however, bring into play much of what Pink speaks of in his TED talk at our school. Hopefully it will help our students overcome the "functional fixedness" that could make them less prepared for our uncertain futures. With PBL,
students will have more autonomy in their learning as it is more group and self-directed. Students should strive for mastery using PBL because it should be lessons that matter to them and connect to their lives. Students should feel purpose when engaged in PBL scenarios because they are working as social units to solve something important to the group/class.
This is a student-centered approach where our students will engage in real-world problems, learn to forge functional relationships to gain reasonable solutions, and focus on
multiple solutions instead of one right answer. These are all life-long skills that need to developed for success in any of life's endeavors, and at any age or stage of learning. The hope (and research says) is students will gain confidence and thus become more motivated with each PBL experience. Motivation will no longer become the question. We'll be addressing it through
teaching style, high expectations, positive social interactions, and the culture of learning we create.