How Can I DRIVE My Students?

In Daniel H. Pinks book, “DRIVE,” Pink shows us that much of what we know about motivation is actually wrong. Pink addresses that tasks are either algorithmic or heuristic, and that the carrot and stick approach. All of this to say what? How can we use Pink’s information to better help the motivation of our students?

The Thermodynamics of Motivation: Moving beyond Drive Theory - HMI  Community Blog

What is extrinsic and intrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is what’s considered as the carrots and sticks; “if you do *this*, then you get *this*.” Extrinsic motivation is a a type of motivation that can be used for a reward or a punishment; giving students and ulterior motive to do something. Whereas intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that comes from within; when genuine joy is produced from doing something that.

Why don’t sticks and carrots work?

  • Pushes out intrinsic motivation
  • Decreases student performance
  • Put a stop to creativity
  • Often increases cheating

What fires intrinsic motivation?

Pink developed a way to light intrinsic motivation on fire! Here’s what Pink came up with that can help us with our students:

  • Autonomy– the desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery– the urge to get better and better at something
  • Purpose– the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

How can I incorporate intrinsic motivation in my classroom in my classroom?

  • Give your students compliments; it will encourage them!
  • Make your students feel like what they’re contributing is valued, appreciated, and worth something!
  • Give them a goal or help them set a goal for themselves!
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Student Driver

How can we foster intrinsic motivation in our science classroom?

Ways to instill autonomy within my future students:

  • Instead of doing a traditional test on a unit that is super critical students gain knowledge in, I could have them do some sort of project, paper, or presentation that allows the student to show me and their classmates what knowledge they have gained. Students can take this is any direction they see fit, and they should let their sense of creativity be the driver.
  • I can allow for more student choice and control in many different aspects of their learning experience. This could look like students using their background knowledge or experience as connecting point to various content, to students working on self-assessing their own learning or understanding.
  • Students can vote on various issues, activities, etc. in class. This is important to show students they have say and their opinions are valuable to the outcome of the classroom experience

A rewarding life requires so much more than compliance

This is true in the career world, and so true in the classroom (the place where students are being shaped). Inside the classroom, all to often has students who are just complying to teacher’s demands. These classrooms are usually quiet and boring, but are seen as “in control.” A way to allow our students to have a fruitful experience at school, science teachers should look to Inquiry to provide ample opportunities for our students to feel satisfied with their learning process. Inquiry in its’ most natural form allows a class to enter the “flow” state together, with one another.

Another way to make science class a rewarding experience is to meet with students on a consistent basis to check-in with their sense of engagement with the course. We can ask if students are feeling too overwhelmed, or perhaps not challenged enough in the class. This would be a great time as a teacher to differentiate instruction to allow ALL of their students reach flow- where the student gets lost in the experience of learning.

The video above by Beth Hennessey, highlights many key aspects discussed by Pink, but she highlights the important concept of time. As teachers trying to instill intrinsic motivation within our students, we need to give them ample time and opportunities to grow into this mindset. I suggest opportunities in the margins as an example or way to let curiosity unfold and to let students carve the pathway to learning.

How can we infuse purpose to instill a culture of intrinsic motivation?

  • Be purposeful with the words we use and display as educators! The language of the classroom should be used with purpose because our words have deep meaning. The messages we give our students our so important because they affect how students see themselves and their identities. Pink says, “Humanize what people say and you may well humanize what people do” (139).
  • Consider the policies (first day materials/ syllabus) we give to the students. Even with good intentions, these rules or policies can unintentionally move intrinsic purposeful behavior to extrinsic behavior.
  • Students gain purpose when they choose community projects or volunteer opportunities. Allowing students to give back to the community with choice creates greater satisfaction.
  • Have conversations and discussions around the purpose of school and education. Why are we here? For grades? Or to be a life-long learner?

A possible lesson for intrinsic motivation

Create a semester-long mystery investigation. This could be taken in SO many directions. The mystery can be some scientific phenomenon that is hidden from the student in some way, but not hidden enough where students can still perform experiments with it, conduct various tests, collaborate with one another, ask questions, make predictions, etc. This type of exploration investigation taps into deep critical thinking over a period of time. Students learn quickly they will not be given the answer in a day, or a week, or even a month. Over the course of the semester students and the teacher come back to it and continue to build off of one another and previous findings. Students will become motivated by engaging in this inquiry process over time. They will look forward to experimenting with the mystery phenomenon, and learn how to be creative and curious through this investigation! The reward will be coming to a conclusion as a class. It will be tested and experimented with so much, students will demonstrate confidence in their answers or explanations without even having the phenomenon confirmed by the teacher.

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Drive: Bringing the Spark Back Into the Classroom

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be ignited”


Motivation is known as a multifaceted concept. Some motivations change as humans develop psychologically while some motivations remain the same throughout an entire lifespan. In the beginning of the book, Drive, Daniel Pink states that humans have three specific “drives”:

  1. Biological drives that involve satisfying hunger, thirst, and other desires..
  2. Drives that respond to the presence of rewards or avoiding punishments
  3. The drive to perform well on a task based on one’s intrinsic motivation

Can anybody tell me what these three concepts remind you of? Well I can give you a hint as to what it reminded me of.

Drive #1 is similar to what you would see on the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with the 3rd drive finding parallels to the top part of the pyramid.

But Why Does This Matter?

Because classrooms today still struggle with keeping their students happy and motivated! The majority of our schools still try to educate their students around rewards and punishments with grades, detentions, pizza parties, suspensions, and the list goes on.. Not to say that rewards and punishments are not necessary or helpful, but its harmful to your students to primarily maneuver their lessons through a system of “carrots and sticks”. In page 59 of Drive, the author describes why that is:

  1. They can extinguish intrinsic motivation
  2. They can diminish performance
  3. They can crush creativity
  4. They can crowd out good behavior
  5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behavior
  6. They can become addictive
  7. They can foster short-term thinking

So How Do We Solve This Problem?

In chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Daniel Pink’s Drive, he outlines three distinct elements that make up intrinsic motivation. A combination of these three are key to transforming students’ motivations from extrinsic to intrinsic.

Autonomy: The gateway to intrinsic motivation. “People need autonomy over task (what they do), time (when they do it), team (who they do it with), and technique (how they do it)” (Pink, 2009, p. 207). Students are more intrinsically motivated if they are allowed the ability to choose how they want to learn and how they want to perform on projects, assignments, or discussions.

Mastery: The second step towards intrinsic motivation. “Only engagement can produce mastery – becoming better at something that matters to them” (Pink, 2009, p. 207). When students are allowed autonomy, they are more motivated to perform well on tasks they chose. As illustrated above, autonomy + mastery = dedication.

Purpose: The final step that ties it all together. “Humans, by their nature, seek purpose – a cause greater and more enduring than themselves” (Pink, 2009, p. 208). Students need to establish a purpose to all these lessons. Linking a strong and convincing reason to perform and succeed to a student’s autonomy creates an innate desire for them to learn without promise of rewards or fear of punishments.

This video provides a great summary of the three elements to intrinsic motivation, based from Daniel Pink’s Drive
Leave the promise of rewards to more menial tasks. Creating an environment that nurtures purpose, mastery, and autonomy will always be valued.
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Improving Drive

As long as anyone can remember civilization has incorporated the carrot-stick rule to produce the effects that they want. We’re all familiar with it from, not doing well and getting kicked off the baseball team, to, working harder in projects and receiving a pay raise. Pretty familiar, but after picking up Daniel H. Pink’s New York Times bestseller Drive, I’ve come to realize that this method can be often more harmful than it is helpful. Humans doing something wrong? Big shocker, I know.

In Pink’s book we see how the addition of rewards promised takes away the value of the work performed. In multiple examples he shows how companies that take away control and give more freedom to how work is completed end up maximizing their yearly profit rather than businesses that follow traditional practices.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Motivation

The reason for this is because of the difference in how things motivate us.

Extrinsic Motivation stems from outside forces that aim to give you motivation so that certain tasks will be done such as:

  • Getting good grades which will get us into a good college
  • Receiving a pay raise at work for exceptional performance
  • receiving a gift card or other prizes for doing an amount of work

These are actually more harmful to productivity as they cull that inner or intrinsic motivation. Our intrinsic motivation is related more to how we feel and what we aim to accomplish through our work learning process. This is mostly why we do things whether it’s providing something to a community, to show off our skills and what we’ve practiced, because it is enjoyable and entertaining to us.

The problem with extrinsic motivation is that it actually decreases our motivation to do a task as it makes the task seem undesirable and if given a reward we’ll expect that reward every time until we burn out which makes a larger reward necessary. Not optimal for the motivator in the long run.

Practical Psychology
Failing Business

To keep motivation high we have to ask how do we substitute extrinsic motivation for intrinsic motivation? In our classrooms we may do this in a number of ways.

  • Pique the curiosity of our students
  • Make the student a participant in their education. What excites them to learn about in the ways of science. What are their goals to learn in their education experience?
  • Giving way to students so that they can brandish their creativity. Let them choose how they will complete assignments.
  • Give them the opportunity to present their newly gained knowledge. Teaching the class gives back to the community which was the intrinsic motivation. We like to show off and be recognized for it.

To incorporate intrinsic motivation into our lessons we have to make our students into active participants that engage in the knowledge we hope they obtain.

A recording from my favorite philosopher
Intrinsic Learning is filling our heads with knowledge and processes because we enjoy them
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I Used Drive as an Excuse to Talk About Video Games (I’m Sorry)

Letting My Nerdiness Show

I like video games. I’d say it’s the activity that I spend most of my free time doing. But there is one part of almost every video game that I hate: tutorials. It’s that part at the very beginning of every game that teaches you how to play it. Why do I hate tutorials? Well, after reading Drive by Daniel H. Pink, I think I have a pretty solid answer to that question.

Most video game tutorials follow the pattern of giving you objectives in the game that slowly build up your understanding of how to play. You start the game up and you see somewhere on your screen the objective “press A to jump.” And then you do it, and the game congratulates or rewards you. Yay.

Here’s my first big problem with this, it follows the effect discovered in the study done by Lepper, Greene and Nisbett that Pink references in Drive. The study involved a group of students who enjoyed drawing in their free time. The students were divided into three groups. One group was told they would be rewarded after drawing, one group was not told they’d be rewarded but they were, and one group that was not told they would be rewarded and were not rewarded. The researchers found that the kids that were told they’d be rewarded after drawing “showed much less interest and spent much less time drawing.” Giving those kids a reward for drawing very quickly “turned play into work” (Pink, p.38).

The kids in that study started viewing drawing as work once they started receiving some extrinsic reward for it, and once something seems like work it’s no longer appealing as an activity. This same thing happens to me when I’m playing the tutorial of a game. They start giving me rewards for simply moving from one point to another. Then later, once the tutorial has ended and the game actually starts, those rewards for walking from point A to point B go away. Doing these menial tasks already feels like work since I was rewarded for doing them and so I lose my motivation to do these tasks that often are important parts of the game.

A really great explanation of rewards in video games. It talks about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation a lot and in a fun way! Most of what we’ve been talking about is found at the beginning of the video.

Additionally, tutorials are the death of creativity in video games. Much like Gluckberg’s candle experiment in which “the prospect of a prize narrowed participants’ focus and limited their ability to see an inventive, nonobvious solution” (Pink, p. 61). Tutorials take player’s hands and shows them exactly how they “should” play the game. There is no exploration, there’s no learning, it’s just information being given to you. If the tutorial objective is to walk from one place to another there would be no reason for me to do anything but take a straight path to that location. The prize of completing the objective just narrows my creativity and I don’t make my own discoveries.

Why Does This Matter in a Classroom?

Oh yeah, this is an educational blog. My bad, I get carried away sometimes. Here’s the thing though, I think these ideas translate very easily to the classroom. Tutorials are just the classrooms of the video games. In fact, because I’m going to be a teacher, I can fix all the problems I have with tutorials in my classroom.

All these issues with tutorials are really just breaking down my intrinsic motivation to play video games. When I play through tutorials I get so bored and disinterested. This same thing can happen to students in a classroom. When a student comes to class and they’re just told what to do, and what to think, they lose an intrinsic motivation to learn. As a teacher it’s my job to build up that intrinsic motivation so that they leave my classroom wanting to learn more and become life long learners.

My first step to building intrinsic motivation is taking a step back and letting the class lead itself. As Pink writes “Type I bosses relinquish control” (Pink, p.165). I hate it when video game tutorials take me through every single step of how to play a game, so I can’t allow myself to do that in my classroom. This will give my students a sense of responsibility. Pink cites three elements that build intrinsic motivation autonomy, mastery and purpose. This strategy will lean heavily into giving my students autonomy in the classroom.

Another strategy I will use to build intrinsic motivation is using Pink’s Sawyer Effect. This references the Twain Novel Adventure’s of Tom Sawyer, where young Tom convinces other kids to paint a fence for him by convincing them that it’s actually quite fun to paint a fence. If I can “trick” my students into finding school fun, they just might start liking it. There are plenty of fun projects that can turn physics into “phun,” like building catapults, or race tracks for toy cars, or the infamous egg drop. These are all projects that require the creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking needed in physics but are also fun to do.

A final strategy I will implement is the careful use goals. Many students come into school with the goal of getting good grades in class. The problem is that goals sometimes have negative effects on individuals. Creating goals sometimes makes “an extrinsic reward [(grades)] the only destination that matters” which leads some people to “choose the quickest route there, even if it means taking the low road” (Pink, p.51).

The good grades that students seek sometimes unfortunately leads them to make bad decisions and be academically dishonest. I will be very careful with the grade I give my students, I will try my best to discourage students from simply wanting good grades and rather wanting to learn the material.

As a teacher I will strive to remove any “tutorial-like” material from my class, in order to intrinsically motivate my students to become life long learners.

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Science Teaching 2.0: From Extrinsic to Intrinsic Motivation

What does motivation have to do with learning science?

Quite a bit, actually. For students, motivation typically stems from either extrinsic or intrinsic motivators.

Source of Extrinsic image:
Source of Intrinsic image:

Too often, student motivation has been dependent on extrinsic motivators, such as grades, extra-credit, candy/treats, technology, cash, and pizza coupons, to “incentivize” them to learn (Pink, 2009, p. 9). Although research has found this system of extrinsic motivation to be largely incompatible with the learning environment, there is disconnect between what science knows and what schools and teachers actually do. As Pink (2009), the author of Drive, notes, rewards such as those mentioned about only deliver a short-term boost in motivation, focus on controlling behavior, and tend to reduce both long-term and intrinsic motivation (p. 8, 37). More importantly, extrinsic motivators can lead students to develop adverse behaviors that negatively impact their academic performance. These issues are summarized in the table below, titled Carrots and Sticks: The Seven Deadly Flaws (Pink, 2009, p. 57).

Pink, 2009, p. 57

Extrinsic motivators continue to be used in science classrooms because it’s the only motivation system students and teachers have known – its comfortable and they are used to it. But, as Pink has shown through his book, Drive, extrinsic motivation often fails to promote engagement, creativity, innovation, or problem-solving.

So how can we, as teachers, avoid extrinsic motivation and foster intrinsic motivation in our own science classroom? It begins with three elements of deeper motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose (Pink, 2009, p. 62).


In the traditional classroom, compliance and control are central tenets that are implemented through extrinsic motivators, which often uses “if-then” rewards that require students to lose some of their autonomy (Pink, 2009, p. 36, 86).

  • However, this system clashes with students who are in adolescence and moving into young adulthood. Instead, students should be given opportunities to make choices and decisions regarding their learning – which can have a powerful effect on student attitudes and academic performance (Pink, 2009, p. 88).
  • “According to a cluster of recent behavioral science studies, autonomous motivation promotes greater conceptual understanding, better grades, enhanced persistence at school and in sporting activities, higher productivity, less burnout, and greater levels of psychological well-being” (Pink, 2009, p. 88-89).

To foster more autonomy among students, the four essentials to autonomy (known as the 4 T’s) need to be considered. The 4 T’s include: task, time, technique, and team (Pink, 2009, p. 91-92).

Real-world application: FedEx Days. The purpose of a “FedEx Day” is to diverge from traditional class time and topics to allow students to explore topics that are of interest to them within science. This “passion project” would be conducted by students (individually or in teams) over several, separate days throughout the quarter. Students are able to do research, investigations, and/or observations on a (school appropriate) topic of interest within science and present their project to the class at the end of the quarter.


Like autonomy, engagement is also needed for students to pursue mastery of the concepts learned in the science classroom. In the extrinsic motivation system, students will only be motivated to reach the acceptable threshold of learning (i.e. a passing grade) rather than pushing beyond the threshold to achieve something more. As stated by Pink (2009), “Solving complex problems requires an inquiring mind and the willingness to experiment one’s way to a fresh solution – only engagement can produce mastery” (p. 109). This is where intrinsic motivation can inspire students to pursue mastery, which is having the “desire to get better and better at something that matters” (Pink, 2009, p. 109). To understand how mastery is an integral part of intrinsic motivation, the 3 laws of mastery are summarized below.

  • Mastery is a mindset: 1) students need to view their abilities as infinitely improvable rather than a predetermined, finite amount, and 2) learning goals lead to mastery instead of performance goals because the “goal is to learn, not to prove they’re smart” (Pink, 2009, p. 119-120)
  • Mastery is a pain: mastery requires intense and deliberate practice and “grit,” which is the “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (Pink, 2009, p. 122).
  • Mastery is an asymptote: it can be approached, but mastery can never fully be reached; “the joy is in the pursuit rather than the realization” (Pink, 2009, p. 125).

Real-world application: Students become the teacher. Give students the opportunity to teach each other and the class what they know about a topic (Pink, 2009, p. 196). This can be done through activities such as Think, Pair, Share and Jigsaw, as well as through multi-media presentations and skits.

Check out this TEDx talk by Behrouz Moemeni, who describes the role intrinsic motivation plays in our lives and in education in particular.


We, as teachers, need help our students see the big picture to what they are learning and why its relevant to the world we all live in (Pink, 2009, p. 190). Asking “why” learning a particular concept matters makes it personal and gives students a purpose for learning it (Pink, 2009, p. 137). For example, why should we care about climate change, or renewable energy, or the conservation of endangered species? Understanding these and other concepts, topics, and questions in science is important to not only the health, safety, and advancement of ourselves, but also our families and friends, community, country, and the world in which we live.

Example of a River Cleanup project; Source:

Real-world activity: Finding meaning and purpose to science will often lead outside the classroom. For example, if the classroom topic was water quality and pollution, the class could take a trip to the local watershed and assess the water quality for themselves based on their own observations (e.g. color of the water, presence of different organisms, occurrence and amount of trash, etc.) and investigations (e.g. testing pH of water, oxygen levels, etc.) Utilizing their findings on water quality and pollution in their local watershed, students could organize a watershed clean up day and design an information flyer that can be posted on the school website and well as be shared with the local community

References: Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Books.

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Intrinisic Motivation with Drive

Classrooms all across the world struggle with making sure students are properly motivated to learn. Every student is different but intrinsic motivation, or motivation from within, time and time again has been an essential part of ensuring student learning and understanding.

Extrinsic rewards like good grades and candy only give temporary encouragement to students, while doing things like giving praise and useful feedback are way more effective at promoting intrinsic motivation that can last throughout a person’s life!

One key idea that’s talked about in the video above and in Drive by Daniel Pink is the idea of autonomy. People like having a choice and they perform better when they do. Using the “carrot and stick” method talked about in Drive is only useful to a point, and where the lines are clearly drawn, but learning is not usually like that. Learning involves asking questions and investigating the answers, and for this students need choice. This can be as simple as letting them decide where they want to sit to what they want to investigate for a lab or project.

If students can be autonomous and want to master a skill or topic intrinsically, they are definitely a Type I person. Type I’s are very intrinsically motivated and are constantly pushing themselves to be the best that they can without the promise of any more reward than internal. Type X’s, on the other hand, almost require extrinsic motivation and external rewards to do or learn anything. These people usually get it done in the short-term, but it’s definitely no way to live your life. Inquiry is a big way to encourage your students to become Type I people. Inquiry is all about asking questions that matter to you and figuring out how to find the answer from what you know and can find out. They don’t need someone to hold their hand, just someone to show them the way. That’s where the teacher comes in.

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A Note to the Teacher: DRIVE!

What drives a classroom? Daniel H. Pink, the author of New York Times best-seller, Drive helps us tackle this specific question. He uncovers the surprising truth about what truly motivates us.

Motivation 3.0

We are going to dive into Motivation 3.0, but first what is Motivation 1.0 and Motivation 2.0? Motivation 1.0 is based on survival or biological reflexes. Pink made the connection that this type of motivation was prominent during early times when humans utilized hunting and gathering prior to the civilized society. Once society began modernizing and developing a new motivation was put in place to adapt to the changing world known as Motivation 2.0. Motivation 2.0 is based on the carrot and stick model where the source of motivation came from rewards and punishments. Pink drew the conclusion that this type of motivation relies on external forces including “if-then’ rewards. Like any great thing in our world, eventually, it is time for an upgrade. Our world continues to change and our motivation must adapt. Motivation 3.0 is based on humans’ drive to direct their own lives. This type of motivation focuses on internal forces including the following: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Image from


  • You are in control of what you do – our students are in control of what they do. Now, this isn’t a free pass for students to run wild through the halls or sleep all day because that is what they want to do. With learning, this allows students to focus on self-direction and possibly deciding topics they want to study.
  • You are in control of how you do it – our students are in control of how they do it. If one student shows a great interest in acting out or performing skits, allow them to channel that into how they display their knowledge. For example, students could act out the water cycle or chemical reactions (each student representing a part).


  • Improving your skills – students improving their skills. The desire to improve our skills and our students’ skills is the reason schools exist. (Most) students have a desire to learn and better themselves in something that matters to them whether that is to improve reading speed or understand titration.
  • Improving yourself – students improving themselves. We can all improve in numerous areas of our lives, we just need to find the area that matters to us and improve there.


  • This is when we are working towards something worthwhile. The desire to do what we do in the service to something larger than ourselves.

What does this look like in the classroom?

Increasing our students’ intrinsic motivation requires us to dig a little deeper as teachers and focus on what their interests are. You want to play into each student’s interests and allow for student choice. Allowing students to decide how they want to present or showcase their knowledge is an example of this. We want to turn our students into teachers.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

– Albert Einstein
In this short video, we see the power of knowledge when students become teachers.
Posted in Drive, Engaging Resources for the Science Classroom, Strengths in Science Classrooms | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A Guide to “Drive” Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.”

-Daniel Pink

In his novel Drive, Daniel pink outlines how we can become truly motivated, not for extrinsic rewards or goals, but rather for our “deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to live a life of purpose”. From the novel, we learned that as humans we have three psychological needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. All three of these needs feed the logic that Pink gives behind the essential elements for true motivation. In this post I will outline how each of these psychological needs tie into the three essential elements of motivation:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

and how we can utilize these in the classroom!


Autonomy refers to “the desire to direct our own lives.” Autonomy is the first step into transitioning from being extrinsically motivated to being intrinsically motivated. To distinguish between the two, being extrinsically motivated means to engage in a certain behavior or practice a certain technique and expecting something in return for it. On the contrary, intrinsic motivation is when a person engages in a certain behavior because they find it rewarding; the behavior itself is its own reward. To be autonomous is to be intrinsically motivated to have control over our lives.

Application to the Classroom:

There are several ways that teachers can promote autonomy in the classroom to help shape their student’s intrinsic motivation:

  • Teachers can use praise as a factor that can increase intrinsic motivation within their students. If teachers keep their praise subtle and only in instances when it is well deserved, students will find themselves behaving in ways that will insight more praise from their teacher.
  • Teachers can dive deeper into other motivators of a student’s life and use these in the classroom; for example, what is a student’s motivation for succeeding in sports or games? Ask them these questions and suggest that they use this same perspective in the classroom
  • Ensure that your classroom environment fosters curiosity and creativity. Without these two factors, intrinsic motivation will be a far reach for students if they are going through the motions in class.


Mastery refers to “the urge to get better and better at something that matters,” according to Daniel Pink. Mastery is another key component to developing intrinsic motivation within the classroom. If a student is interested in something and has strong feelings on the topic, it matters to them. It should be a teachers goal to make their class matter to their students. Once their class matters to students, they will be more inclined to improve in class. Make it matter!

Application to the Classroom:

  • One way to make a class matter to a student is to encourage choice within your classroom. Allowing students to have a sense of independence will draw them into your class and content. It will make them care about what they are learning and want to improve for themselves and the choices that they were able to make in class.
  • Another way to make your class matter to students is to incorporate their lives into class. Ask them about their lives and interests and relate it back to class content. This correlation will give the students the impression that the things they feel are important in other aspects of their lives are just as important as their education. This is key for mastery in the academic atmosphere.


In Pink’s description, ‘purpose’ refers to “the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.” For a student to connect their academic habits and behaviors to a purpose is the utmost important step in developing intrinsic motivation in the classroom. Students find purpose in the classroom when they set aside their extrinsic wants/needs and participate for the sake of learning.

Application to the Classroom:

  • One way to encourage purpose in the classroom is to establish milestones in your classroom. If students are progressing forward to reach a milestone within their learning process, they will be continuing to move forward towards this milestone solely to reach a new level of understanding in material rather than receiving a grade or some sort of extrinsic reward.
  • Another way to encourage students to find purpose in the classroom is to have a purpose yourself as a teacher. Always teach lessons, answer questions, and make statements with a purpose. Give assignments and lectures with a clear purpose to your students. If you are transparent with your purpose in the classroom, it will be so much easier for students to develop and work towards their own.

Taking Pink’s three essential elements to motivation into the classroom will change the way both teachers and students will operate throughout their educational careers. Establishing these techniques early will help to develop students’ intrinsic motivation from the start and ultimately facilitate an atmosphere of desired learning and deep understanding.

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Intrinsic Motivation Development and Creativity in the Classroom

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.”

-Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein is one of the most highly regarded and brilliant scientists that we have ever seen in this world. If you look beyond the numerous theories and papers that he proposed and published, Einstein also wrote about learning and thought. I challenge you to keep this quote in mind during reading this post. We will come back to how Daniel Pink and Einstein are related and interconnected later.

“For artists, scientists, inventors, schoolchildren, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation – the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing – is essential for high levels of creativity.”

-Daniel Pink, Drive (p. 46)

Daniel Pink writes about different techniques of using and developing intrinsic motivation that ultimately leads to creativity development. Intrinsic motivation is KEY in the development of high-level creativity.

How do we develop intrinsic motivation?


Daniel Pink writes about three essential areas that as educators we can probe and expand upon to grow our students’ intrinsic motivations (remembering that intrinsic motivation is individualistic to each student): Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Through developing these elements, intrinsic motivation is developing because through the pursuit of the three, students are really building upon the internal motivation to complete tasks.


  • Pink uses autonomy to mean self-direction (p.86)
    • As educators, we need to give our students the ability to (somewhat) direct themselves.
    • Giving some room for self-direction allows for students to take ownership over their learning, leading to more interest in what they are trying to learn because they have some stake in the process.
  • There are 2 vital elements:
    • Making decisions: “‘You decide what you will make.’” (98)
      • Students need to be able to have some autonomy over their decisions. (No, this does not mean you get rid of any classroom management!)
      • Allowing students to exercise choice in options gives them some more decision over actions.
        • Choice boards are an example of homework choice for students. They have to do X number of squares (activities) per week, but they have choice over what they want to complete.
    • Time management: “Without sovereignty over our time, it’s nearly impossible to have autonomy over our lives.” (101)
      • When giving students time to work during class – give them some unstructured time in which they can determine how they spend it (within reason).
      • When giving students projects, you can suggest a time outline for working on it, but ultimately stress it is the students’ decision how they spend their time.
Source: htttp://


  • In the classroom, the goal is always “mastery” of the topic or unit.
  • To foster an environment of trying to master topics, as an educator, you should focus on what Pink deems as “Goldilocks tasks.”
    • “…Goldilocks tasks – challenges that are not too hot and not too cold, neither overly difficult nor overly simple.” (118)
  • There are 3 laws that Pink claims need to be understood to foster mastery.
    • First, “mastery is a mindset.” (121)
      • Using Carol Dweck’s theory of growth mindset.
      • As a teacher, you must foster an environment where students believe that intelligence is not fixed and they can continually learn and grow – especially after mistakes or setbacks.
    • Second, “mastery is pain.” (124)
      • Teachers need to instill a sense that students need perseverance and determination to reach their goals.
This is an amazing video that talks all about habits, motivation, and changing the world. Please watch minutes 7:25 to 8:37 where he specifically talks about grit and mastery is pain.
  • Third, “mastery is an asymptote.” (127)
    • As a teacher, you need to instill the sense that mastery can never be reached.
    • No one is a true master of anything! Much like science is always looking for truth, it can come as close as possible, but there is no absolute truth in science.


  • “Autonomous people working towards mastery perform at very high levels. But those who do so in the service of some greater objective can achieve even more.” (133)
  • Students will perform better if they have purpose behind their work.
    • If there is a greater meaning to their work, then students will have a greater passion and interest in the material.
  • Teachers need to find the connection to REAL LIFE for their students. They need to develop a WHY does this matter for their students.

Developing Intrinsic Motivation in the Classroom

  • One possible activity for a chemistry classroom: Open Sourcing
    • This is based off of the principle of open source programs, such as R or Firefox.
    •  Given a unit focusing on the Periodic Table (C.PM.2: Periodic Table)
      • Students will research and create a blog post about anything concerning the periodic table from the elements, to periodic trends, to different element properties, to elements in the real-world
      • This class blog site will work like an open-source website or program in that it allows students to add what they want to add. Their post can be on anything that they would like concerning the unit.
    • This activity would be intrinsically motivated because the students would be excited and have their own purpose for completing their blog post the way that they would like.
    • This lesson fosters the creativity and passion about the topics. The students will be given the opportunity to go beyond what they are taught just with the curriculum.  
  • Another possible activity for a science classroom: feedback trains
    • This would be fostering non-tangible rewards and pull students towards an intrinsic motivated process.
    • After any lab experiment that the students complete and a lab report is required, each of their drafts will go through a “feedback train.”
      • Students will get together in small groups and review each of their peers’ work.
      • They will be required to find X number of good things about the report, and X number of improvement areas.
      • The caboose of the train would be the teacher reviewing the final draft before submission – giving the same positive and negative feedback.
    • This works through pulling on the students’ internal motivation to get better and improve.
    • The collaborative work will also serve as an internal motivation as they want to help others the best they can, so that others will help them.
    • The positive and improvement areas will be a good practice to attempt to slowly change mindsets – from fixed mindsets to growth mindsets.

Intrinsic Motivation and Creativity

As we can see, using different techniques to develop intrinsic motivation, teachers are inevitably increasing the creativity of their students. Through being intrinsically motivated, students are able to think about problems in a different light. This creativity can lead to solutions. This is what Einstein was talking about before. Through focusing on development of intrinsic motivation, which Pink talks about, we can solve problems the way Einstein discusses.

*Please note that the (#) are page numbers to Daniel Pink’s book, Drive.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Books.

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