Motivation to Learn, and the Importance of Community!


This week, the GR!S cohort began to grapple with the role of motivation and community in learning.  As you can see from Alyssa’s last post, we began our exploration into the readings by exploring “What is Science?”.  After that, we grappled with, “How do people learn (science)?”, followed by an exploration of the way that language influences engagement and discourse in science.  Here we are, a couple weeks later, focusing on, “But can’t we just make them learn science?”

Image result for comic about school

As Calvin is pointing out in this classic “Calvin and Hobbs” (Bill Watterson, 2012) comic strip, the simple answer might be “No”.   The authors we read this week might note that whatever happened during the lesson Calvin just sat through did nothing to motivate Calvin to learn whatever it was the teacher was trying to teach.  It doesn’t seem like Calvin is an important part of a community of learners, engaged in an authentic task.  He is more engaged by his book, which he does have intrinsic motivation to learn from.  If students don’t have the intrinsic motivation to engage in the discipline of the class, then “making” them learn seems to me like a tall order.

So how do we foster engagement in science class?

There seem to be three broad themes throughout our readings this week that help motivate students to ‘learn science’:

  1. Authentic tasks- Engle and Contant (2002) describe this as ‘problematized subject matter’- or creating situations that allow students to gain knowledge through authentic interactions (scientific investigations, class debates, etc.) that contextualize the problem/content.  If you look at the divide between school science and “real world” science, one of the biggest differences is that in “real world” science, scientists engage in these types of questioning practices constantly- their entire careers are spent delving into problematized subject matter.  This is different from traditional school science, that is taught largely as a string of facts to be memorized, that is only slightly contextualized through recipe-style labs (that generally don’t involve authentic student inquiry).
  2. Agency and Initiative- To paraphrase Larson (2000), initiative is the ability to be intrinsically motivated to direct attention and work towards a challenging goal.  This is supported by agency, or the feeling that one has power and choice, in addition to initiative, in a given situation.  Larson (2000) discusses how agency comes about when someone has both high levels of responsibility but also high levels of efficacy in any given situation.  
  3. Supportive communities of learners- All of the readings discuss the importance of the community surrounding the learner for fostering engagement.  Pintrich, Marx and Boyle (1993) argued that, “…it is unlikely that individual conceptual change will take place without restructuring classrooms and schools along lines that will foster the development of a community of intentional, motivated, and thoughtful learners.” (p. 193).  When I read this, I immediately thought of all of the great people I have the pleasure of working with in this cohort.  We have grown incredibly close, even though we are all so different.  I agree with the authors, and I find that my ‘individual conceptual change’ as I develop my own pedagogy and identity as an educator has been guided, challenged, and supported by each and every one of the people in our cohort.

I believe that the importance of a supportive community of learners goes far beyond the assist with ‘conceptual change’.  The classroom should also be a place for socio-emotional learning and friendship, and that a spirit of cooperation should transcend your learning together.

We acted that out this week- through an improptu Thanksgiving! 

One of our own, Madeleine, had been looking forward to visiting her family in Canada, where she is from, for Canadian Thanksgiving last weekend.  Unfortunately, however, her car had other plans and broke down just as she was preparing to leave.  Madeleine was understandably bummed about this, and shared it with us (as we all shared how our weekend was- a routine that fosters a community of learners) at the start of class.  About an hour into our class, April suddenly said that she had to go “rescue her daughter”, who was stranded somewhere without a ride.  This didn’t seem like typical April, but as April is rarely ‘typical’ (in the best way), we all just trucked along, with our collaborative work.

An hour later, April returned.  She broke the group into smaller groups to go work in break-out rooms.  April sent the group with Madeleine to a breakout room, she let the rest of the cohort in on her secret:

Her daughter was never stranded.  April had gone to get an ENTIRE THANKSGIVING FEAST for us to enjoy in the last 30 minutes of class!  We snapped into action, setting the table (centerpieces and all!), heating and transporting the food from the Warner kitchen to the classroom, and making one of the whiteboards in the class into a “Happy Thanksgiving” card for Madeleine!

She was blown away, of course. I’ve never been happier to be part of a “surprise” reveal!  As Madeleine got a taste of the thanksgiving she missed out on, and we reflected on how non-biological family is a beautiful thing, I was truly blown away by our incredible community of intentional, motivated, and thoughtful learners.

Thankfully yours!

Written By: Ellie Coonce

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