Monday, April 19, 2010

How to Motivate the Unmotivated?

A colleague and I had the chance last week to introduce grade 8 students to Moodle. The purpose of the visit was to provide students with a quick introduction to the high school's online learning environment so that they would feel a little more comfortable when they arrived in grade 9.We gave a quick tour of some of the courses that would be useful to all students, such as the Library and Student Services courses.

Once the tour was finished I led students through an interactive unit price activity based on Dan Meyer's idea. We were working on a very tight time line so we worked through the activity as a group. The students seemed very engaged in the discussion. They were participating and asking great questions. I outsourced the unit conversions to different groups (about 6 or 7 students each doing the same unit conversion). I told students how to use Google to do the conversion. Later they converted to a unit rate.

We did this presentation a total of three times at two different schools. I felt, as you might expect, that each presentation was better as the day went on. I also found that participation in the outsourcing seemed to drop. In fact in the last presentation an entire group didn't do their calculations. I was absolutely floored. Here was an interesting (or so I thought) math activity that was accessible to all and there were a ton of students who chose not to participate. I don't think it was because they couldn't. I think it was more that they wouldn't.

The above may not be fair to the last group that we presented to so in their defense it was the end of the day. Perhaps they were thinking 'Who's this strange guy teaching us?' or 'this isn't for marks so I don't need to do this'. In any case I left at the end of the day wondering what I did wrong? How could I fix it for next time so that everyone would participate? Then I started thinking about my own classes. Why is it that some students in my classes choose not to participate or do the work? How can I motivate students that don't seem to be motivated?

I know that there are no easy answers to any of the questions but  I've realized that the questions need some pondering. My goal over the next while is to work at finding ways to motivate and engage students who aren't typically motivated or engaged. If you have any ideas please share them.

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