The Motivation Equation

Doesn’t every teacher dream of setting students’ minds aglow? We envision classrooms full of enthusiastic students, digging into new ideas with vigor. Sometimes it even happens that way. Sometimes. And, despite some teachers’ “just tough it out” approaches, students’ enthusiasm is important. Without it (and the effort it inspires), in-depth learning doesn’t happen–and neither does creativity. In classrooms, learning, motivation, and creativity are inescapably intertwined.

The book The Motivation Equation can help. (I like to read it on screen here.) It helps all of us get back to basics. In motivation, the core equation is:


If we think something is worth doing, and believe we can do it, we are likely to want to do it. At the moment I’m on a quest to recover my high school French. I think it is worth doing, particularly since I’m anxious to schedule a trip to France. And, increasingly, I believe I can do it. Why? Well, a big part is a community education course I’m taking on French Through Film. My teacher there has created an atmosphere and a series of activities that have allowed me to gain confidence, so both parts are in place—or at least I’m getting there. The motivation equation is at work.

For the next few posts I’d like to explore some of the basic principles that bring motivation, creativity, and learning together. In the Preface to The Motivation Equation, you meet Ned Cephalus, a charming adolescent brain. Ned explains eight key principles that explain what adolescents know about how they learn—and how that lines up with learning science. If you’d like to hear Ned at work, take a look.

As I listen to Ned, I’m struck by how similar my long-past-adolescent brain is to his, at least when it comes to learning new content and using it creatively. So for the next few posts we’ll explore Ned’s ideas a bit more and see how they fit with both creativity and learning. As always, that’s a winning equation!

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