Motivated to Learn

Wouldn’t life be some much easier if we could figure out how to inspire student motivation? Are we (as teachers) motivated to teach and to learn?

Deborah Stipek is a professor at Stanford and wrote Motivation to Learn (2001). We talked about her research at the Klingenstein Summer Institute. I think one reason it resonated so strongly with me was it took psychology theory and put it into practice, and explained things that I was seeing in my students.

She gives factors that influence intrinsic motivation:

  1. Need for a sense of competency
  2. Need for sense of self-determination
  3. Need for interpersonal connection
  4. Need for sense of purpose, meaning, or relevance
  5. Interest
Let’s look at the most successful unit I have ever taught: Understanding Systems using SimCity:
  1. Students followed tutorials and saw growth of their cities, and they got frequent feedback from the game to develop their competency.
  2. Students got complete control over their own city.
  3. Many students helped each other – it was rare for the classroom to be quiet – and all the chatter was about the game using the systems vocabulary.  All the chatter was about the game. They were connecting about the project.
  4. This was linked to our yearlong theme of systems and sustainability.
  5. Games are fun – there is a natural interest to seeing what the reaction is to your action.
I don’t have any evidence to back up these claims that this is why the unit was successful, but it makes an awful lot of sense to me. Each kid may not have connected to all five factors, but enough of them connected to a couple. And it jives with what I felt in my classroom.
  1. How do you make your students feel competent? What feedback do you provide? What feedback to they hear?
  2. How do you give them self-determination? What choices do they have? What real choices do they have?
  3. How do you allow them to connect with each other and you?
  4. What purpose or relevance do they see in assignments? (This does not have to be that they are saving the world…)
  5. Are they interested? Are you interested?
Image credit: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s conception of Flow, from Hill Holliday’s Blog:

Rescuing Time, Part 3: Personal Sustainability and Sabbath

We often think of sustainability only in terms of solar panels, plastic, and carpooling. As we reflect on stressed out and over scheduled lives, we may need to step back and think about how we keep our lives (and jobs) sustainable.

1. Pre-Whelmed

At a tech meeting, I was introduced to the idea of being “pre-whelmed,” i.e. feeling like you are buried under the mountain of work before it actually starts.

  • Case in point: I’ve started using Twitter more, and, as I tuned in to #edchat on a Tuesday night, I was pre-whelmed by the conversation. It was like standing in a crowded gym and trying to understand what every single person was saying and sharing.
But I want to be an intentional, CONNECTED teacher! The key is YOU DON’T HAVE TO READ IT ALL.
  • Twitter: select the hashtags or people you want to follow and enjoy what tweets you see. This is the beauty of just-in-time instead of just-in-case professional development.
  • Reader: follow a few blogs, only read interesting posts, and use the “mark all as read” button.
  • Conferences: take a session off to debrief with someone (a colleague or another participant) or write a blog post or journal entry. It doesn’t make you lazy or less committed and may even deepen what you can bring back to your school.
  • School day: think of the 10-minute casual conversations that keep you connected to colleagues, or the quick game of Bejeweled, or the 1-minute scan of facebook to watch a funny video… These distractions can also calm us, allowing us to be more productive afterwards. (And if this is true for us, when do we allow it for our students?)
2. Boundaries
  • Tweeting during a concert, speech, or presentation: Is it distracting or enhancing? For some, this might seem like whispering or passing notes, traditionally frowned upon. And that was my first reaction, but the more I thought about it, I think it actually ENHANCES my connection to the event:
    1. I get to share in someone else’s thoughts, making it a conversation rather than a one-way flow of information.
    2. They often pick up ideas or quotes that I missed, making my experience richer.
  • Technology. Sometimes I watch tv, work on my laptop, and text with my mom at the same time. The uber-connectedness feels stimulating and engaging, but screens can also be an incredible time-suck. On my honeymoon in Hawaii sans computer, the days seemed to stretch on forever. Last spring, we heard about periodically taking a Tech Sabbath, and I wanted to comment on the first two:
    1. Avoid technology. (More specifically, screens.)
    2. Connect with loved ones. (But if you need a screen to do this, that’s okay. My Saturday morning skype with my mom is important to me.)
Sabbaths don’t have to be on Saturdays, and they don’t have to be a full day. But taking time to disconnect can rescue us from an unsustainable life. Make the technology work for you:
  • connect with family and friends on skype and facebook,
  • explore new resources to keep yourself organized like rescue time and StayFocused,
  • create a PLN with reader and twitter,
  • and commit to a personal and professional practice that is intentional, balanced, and healthy.
And don’t think anyone who gives advice on this has it all figured out.

Rescuing Time, Part 2: Productivity Tools

I love me some organization!

Though I’m not always neat, I like things to be where they should be. The tools listed below are an odd assortment of ways I manage my computer, my work, and my classroom.

Resource share of productivity tools:

For your Mac

  1. Rescue Time: This downloads onto your computer, and you preset what applications and websites are deemed productive or distracting, then it monitors your usage. You can set productivity goals or alerts that let you know when you’ve been too distracted.
  2. WebDesktop: This allows you to put a website on the background of your desktop. I use it to show my Google Calendar, which keeps me organized for appointments and meetings.
  3. Good old Stickies: Application that comes on your OS X. They save automatically, you can collapse and organize them, and it gives you a place to put random notes (that you would have previously put on an actual sticky).

In Google Apps

  1. Calendars. I’d be lost without mine.
  2. Self Grading forms: script-based Flubaroo, array formulas (happy to share how to do this).
  3. Collections = automatic sharing: share a collection and then just drop your docs in rather than having to go to each document and share it.


  1. CalenGoo ($6.99) or GooCal (Free): I personally use CalenGoo, but they both work. Or you can link the native iOS Calendar app to all your Google Calendars by using this link.
  2. WunderList (Free): You can share lists, check off items, put attach items to dates.
Please leave comments with YOUR suggestions – what do you use?

Rescuing Time, Part 1: Advice from parents

Everyone is stressed. Everyone needs more sleep.  Everyone is going faster, stronger, better, or harder than you are. We strive to write everything down, record everything we say, document every movement. We watch concerts and games through the video camera rather than enjoying it in the moment.

If you don’t subscribe to this attitude, well then you are clearly not doing it right.

At the 6th grade PAL meeting this week, parents offered advice:

  • Be present, remain calm
  • Pause and watch the magic of this stage  – step back and looks for connections
  • Get your rest, you never know when life will be challenging and you will need patience, etc.
  • Don’t rush – take your time
  • Be the best you can be
  • Be a witness to this amazing time of transformation in your kids
What is your advice?


No, that isn’t an insult.

Twitter is GREAT for developing your teaching. I was skeptical too. In fact, I still am, but I’m starting to think it might be worth it.

Why? Well I’ll tell you –

  • When I find something that I think another teacher might enjoy, I often send it via email. But when I get those emails from other people, I usually skim it and rarely use it. If I tweet it instead, MORE people see it, rather than just the one recipient, and I don’t have to feel like I’m pestering them by clogging their inbox.
  • It’s the quick, short snapshop. Sharing things via blog posts are great, but they are long, reflective, interpretive. Like this one. When you are limited to 140 characters, you have to keep it snappy – which is all I have time for.
  • You can follow LOTS of people, but narrow it by what you are interested in by the hashtag:
    • #edchat
    • #oestech
    • #engchat (English teachers)
    • #scichat (science teachers)
  • It is GREAT at conferences. I used it a lot at Klingenstein, ISTE, and Learning and the Brain.
To reinterate: I was skeptical at first, but it’s worth a try. Just listen for awhile, and eventually start sharing. It might feel like you are drinking out of a firehose. You DON’T HAVE TO DRINK IT ALL! Just keep a few things that are helpful and leave the rest…

Doodley Doo

I found myself in a 2 hour meeting with no pen or pencil, wishing desperately to be able to doodle, SO THAT I COULD STAY FOCUSED.

I doodled while watching her talk, and now I kind of want someone to analyze my doodles.

(My doodle, uploaded by taking a picture with my iPhone using the Genius Scan app, which can make images into pdfs.)

I found myself thinking that my doodles were kind of limited, and that sometimes I can’t think of what to draw and end up just coloring in boxes. This makes me despair about my lack of divergent thinking, like Sir Ken Robinson talks about in his video.

Vi Hart is a mathemusician who has videos of math doodles about number theory. (My favorite is the binary trees.) Also check out the binary hand dance, infinite elephants, and what’s up with noises.

Doodling also ties in with the importance of visual literacy in the world today. Students are exposed to visuals every day (think billboards, tv commercials, magazines) and need to be TAUGHT to be critical thinkers of what they are seeing. Cheryl Lemke writes a great article, “Innovation Through Technology” on this in 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn. They learn this by both thinking about visuals and creating them. Some people (myself included) express themselves better visually, and therefore learn better this way.

To sum up:

More doodling + more art = more learning.