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Motivating Science Students

Consider these points when developing a plan to motivate your students.

As we begin this new semester, I have been giving some thought to the concept of “motivation in the classroom.”   We teachers hold widely varying opinions on this subject.  Some teachers believe whole-heartedly that it is their job to do whatever it takes to gets the students excited and motivated about the learning process.  Other teachers feel that motivation comes from within, and that the student should be held responsible for their own motivation.  I think most teachers, including myself, fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.

How hard we must work to motivate our students is directly proportional to the classes we teach.  Every student in our school must take a Biology 1 class, and many of them have no interest in doing so.   But the students in my AP Biology course enroll by choice, and the difference is huge!   My Biology 1 students are often less enthusiastic on the front end of the experience.  I may never convince some of my students to love biology and chemistry as I do, but it is my job as a classroom teacher to instill in my students the desire to succeed.  To that end, I have identified four factors intrinsic to the healthy motivation of students in the science classroom.

We cannot expect students to be willing to learn unless we as teachers are energetic in our approach to instruction.  Students will be more engaged if they see us up, moving about the classroom and burning calories.  Science teachers in a laboratory setting have an advantage.  Demonstrating lively behavior in a lab is built in to the demands of helping and watching students.  We must be careful that lecture opportunities do not turn into a chance to rest.  Don’t be the teacher that sits behind the desk the entire class period.  Your desk is a barrier between you and your students.  Moving amongst your students while you teach will draw them in.  It will encourage them to be engaged and participate more fully in the lesson.

It is essential that some element of fun be attached to instruction.  This does not have to be joke telling or game playing.  A bit of eye candy in the form of colorful and engaging photos or interesting video, or the occasional social opportunity (grouping) will go a long way toward helping a student look forward to returning to your class.  Occasionally the material we must teach doesn't rise to the level of thrilling and exhilarating, but since it must be taught, we should try to find a way to make it more interesting to our students.  A competitive game format, a lab station activity, or a lively class discussion can go a long way to eliminating the boredom factor.  It is imperative that we change our approach from time to time to avoid monotony and stagnation.


Praising students will go a long way towards motivating them.  It is, however, important to note the methodology used when praising them.  Elementary students find more incentive in public praise than do high school students.  It is often necessary to praise high school students individually and not in front of the class.  To older kids, the “cool factor” is sometimes affected by how they are praised.  Know your kids.


The final step in motivating students is to show them the relevance in what they are being asked to do.  Sometimes that relevance is personal (college admission, testing for scholarships, simple work ethic) and sometimes it is professional (job centric subject matter).  Occasional reminders as to the importance of these issues will help, especially considering how many important issues are vying for control of the teenage mind.  Students love to ask, “When will I ever need to know this?”  Making clear to students why they need to master a particular concept or skill is highly motivating to them.  Make this information part of the lesson, rather than waiting for the question to be asked.

In the ideal world, all motivation for students would be “self motivation.” Anything we as teachers can do to help students maintain focus will surely pay dividends in their future.

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