Happy New Year!  Did you make resolutions?  (If so, have you broken any of them yet?)  Motivation is widely recognized as a key factor in successful follow through—and, not surprisingly, in learning too.

Teenagers’ interest in pursuing engineering, for instance, increases dramatically when they hear about the ways it might benefit them and the world.  A recent survey by Intel and Change the Equation found:

  • 63 percent of teens have never considered a career in engineering.
  • 61 percent of teens are more likely to consider engineering after learning that engineering majors make an average annual income of $75,000; more than 50 percent are persuaded by the fact that the unemployment rate among engineers is more than 4 percentage points lower than the national rate.
  • The societal benefits of what engineers do, like preventing disasters or generating cleaner electricity, are particularly resonant with teens that have never considered engineering before.  Learning about engineering feats such as saving the Chilean miners who were trapped for 69 days motivates 52 percent to think twice about the career.

“The students who are not interested in engineering are most likely to use the word ‘difficult’ to describe engineering,” commented Chronicle of Higher Education blogger Robert Talbert, but “students are willing to take on difficult tasks as long as they know there will be some payoff—for themselves or for the world, or both—at the end of it.”  (And really, are those of us done with school any different?)

With big goals, we’re better off breaking them down and recognizing shorter-term accomplishments and payoffs.  Students studying to be engineers—or anything else—can address public problems long before they’re full-time professionals, and doing so will help the classroom content seem relevant and the students feel successful.  Among the strategies for motivating students to learn, recommended by the authors of How Learning Works:  7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching:  assigning students “authentic, real-world tasks,” including service-learning projects.

Most people in this network don’t need to be reminded of the power of engaged learning, glad as we might be to see it noted in this kind of book.  Yet we can always use more examples of effective practice, more clarity on our common goals, more evidence of positive change.

– Julie Plaut


One response to “Motivation

  1. Pingback: A Few More STEM Links Worth a Look « KIDS Consortium's Blog

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