What factors can motivate students to learn science?
Motivation is complex. It’s very hard for me to say “do X, and your students will all love science!” It’s easier for me to spot roadblocks that I think inhibit motivation.
So here are some (interrelated) roadblocks that I see to keeping students from loving science:
Attitudes may be changing, but it’s still very common for students to think of scientists as people who work alone to apply a well-defined, logical process to an open question that, once solved, remains solved.”
I’m also very tempted to also say “make science more relevant to students’ lives” in order to increase the motivation to learn science. I know of some projects, for example, that get students to measure or track pollution in their communities. That’s pretty darn relevant. Or engineering challenges that get students to solve a community problem. These kinds of projects are motivating. And I think they can be great gateways into science.
But I also think that relevancy alone is not strong enough to take someone all the way through a scientific career. They also have to be curious. And they have to enjoy at least some parts of scientific practice (there’s lots of tedium, too, so people have to love it enough to tolerate that).
Things that don’t work:
Of course, there’s not only one process or one way to get involved in science. But, from what I’ve seen, scientists are usually motivated by the desire to solve a problem or the desire to explore the unknown. It’s something that sticks in their craw, that they can’t let go of easily. And they’re willing to use any tool, or learn any new skill, just so they can solve that dang problem.
Note that I answered a recent question on Quora, which asked about effective ways of motivating students in science. This is my answer, and it was originally posted to Quora.
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