Wednesday, March 11, 2015

We're Exploring Space!

We are so excited to be working on our unit on space! The whole class is doing a great job working hard to learn about some of the very complex science of space. Below are links to some videos and websites that the students might enjoy and that will allow them to learn more on these topics.

Space School Videos of the planets

Solar System:

The Sun:









Friday, July 30, 2010

Clay Shirky on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic : Amateurs vs. Professionals and The Soma Experiment

"Amateurs are sometimes separated from professionals by skill, but always by motivation; the term itself derives from the Latin amare--"to love." The essence of amateurism is intrinsic motivation: to be an amateur is to do something for the love of it." 
Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus

In his 2010 book, Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky devotes a chapter to the topic of motivation, and weaves examples from past and recent history throughout the entire book that illustrate the difference between intrinsic motivation (IM) and extrinsic motivation (EM).

Shirky suggests that IM and EM are distinguishable from one another by more than just their motivating components: IM seems to produce a type of thinking and collaboration that EM doesn't. In essence, they create two different experiences. Learning for the sake of learning, on the individual and group level, seems to free one's potential for progress from limitations because the end goal is intangible. There are fewer limits when one is not working to fulfill a given number of hours or earn a certain amount of money.

The Soma Experiment: Rewards' Effect on Intrinsic Motivation
One of the most fascinating examples Shirky uses to explore IM and EM and their effect on eachother is an experiment he refers to as the "Soma Experiment." 

The Soma experiment was performed in 1970 by a psychologist named Edward Deci at the University of Rochester. In the experiment, Deci gave participants a puzzle game known as "Soma"(hence the name of the experiment). The participants were given a certain amount of time to try and solve the puzzles and then Deci would leave the room. What Deci did not tell the participants is that he observed them while he was out of the room, and recorded the amount of time they spent on the puzzle while the experiment was "not being conducted" (at least as far as they knew).

  1. In the first session, the participants were not offered a reward for solving the puzzles. 
  2. In the second session, half of the returning participants repeated the exact same process, while the other half of the participants were given a dollar for each shape they assembled.
    • When Deci left the room to "give the participants a break," he found that, on average, the paid participants experimented with the puzzles for one minute more than they had during the "break" of the previous session.
  3. In the third session, all participants were given the same conditions as in the first session: no one was paid.
    • During the "break," Deci found that, on average, the amount of time that the participants who had been paid in the second session spent playing with the puzzles dropped by two minutes from the time spent during the second session.
      • This means that they spent a minute less experimenting with the puzzles in the third session than they did in the first session, even though they weren't paid in the first session either. 
    Shirky's summary of Soma experiment: 
    (might be a bit over-generalized, but it still offers lots of food for thought)

    "In psychological literature, experiments designed to illuminate voluntary engagement are called 'free choice' tests--when someone has control over his actions, how likely is he to engage in a particular behavior? Deci's Soma experiment found that payment for working with the puzzle depressed free choice for the same activity. Deci's conclusion was that human motivation isn't purely additive. Doing something because it interests you makes it a different activity than doing it because you are reaping an external reward."(72)

    "Receiving sufficient payment can make otherwise undesirable activity desirable and worthwhile. (Thus is society able to employ garbage collectors.) But Deci's experiment suggested that extrinsic motivations aren't always the most effective ones and that increasing extrinsic motivations can actually decrease intrinsic ones." (72)

    An Admittedly Narcissistic take on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

    I took a turn for the personal (coughegotisticcough) in this post and wrote about how intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation fits/has fit into my on life. 
    I'm curious to hear what comes to mind when you think about what in your life is more intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. Additionally, are there are any "tasks" that you feel are motivationally ambiguous?

    All this talk about Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation makes me contemplate the "productive" pleasures in my life where I find flow, as well as those odd tasks that seem to fluctuate somewhere between intrinsic and extrinsic depending on my mood and the items on my "should do" list.

    Mesotrinsic motivation?
    One of the first "fluctuating" examples that comes to my mind is high school trigonometry. Sure, my high-school-self would've ideally spent all my free time trolling on AIM (like a good little creep), but that was out of the question. After all, I had parents with eyes and limited access to the family computer, so I had to spend several hours after school at least looking like someone doing homework. And as far as homework went, trig was pretty swell. Doing the problems felt like playing with puzzles, and I truly think that that intrinsic motivation positively affected my work ethic across the board. I would always start my homework by doing trigonometry as a way to warm up my brain and ease me into the rest of my more extrinsically-motivated workload. 

    Preserving the intrinsic
    Nowadays, as I may have mentioned once or twice in class, I spend a lot of my time experimenting with tools and making goofy pictures on photoshop elements. This has always been an out-of-classroom pursuit for me, which I sometimes regret, but I also kind of like. If I had taken more graphic design classes I would have a more professional set of skills. If I had majored in graphic design I could've gotten a job doing what I already spend hours on every day. However, would I enjoy assignments as much as I enjoy my self-designed projects? Would I lose the "pleasure" of the task if it became my work? 

    All I know is that I'm happy with the balance I have right now. But who knows? Maybe that will change some day. Right now I find security in the "pro-bono" aspect of what I do. By keeping this as a hobby instead of a job, I preserve and protect the intrinsically motivated value and pleasure of the task.  

    Thursday, July 29, 2010

    Social Cognitive Theory & Goal Theory

    I've grouped Social Cognitive theory and Goal theory into the same post because I think that they separately tackle the two variables discussed in the Expectancy Value theory.

    The Social Cognitive theory focuses in on expectancy: a key component to motivation is whether or not a learner believes he or she is capable of carrying out the task at hand. This crucial component of a person's confidence in his or her own ability is known as self-efficacy.
    While the Social Cognitive theory focuses on the "prerequisite"aspect of self-efficacy (in this instance, the "pre-" refers to "pre-task"), the Goal theory, on the other hand, focuses on how the outcome promised by a certain task affects motivation.
    Here I think there's a more obvious correlation between mastery goals vs. performance goals and intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic motivation (respectively) than was the case with the expectancy value theory. 

    But even in this case, I second guess myself and hesitate from drawing any permanent lines matching the two similar distinctions. 

    While mastery goals seem pretty irrefutably intrinsic to me, I'm less definitive when it comes to deeming performance goals as extrinsically motivated. It's certainly my first impression, but after giving the "extrinsic" assessment a little more thought, I think someone could also make a case that a "desire to be seen as competent by others" could be an intrinsically motivated desire. Even though the "competent" judgement is determined by someone other than the learner, the learner has intrinsically chosen to place value in his or her peers' approval. (What do you think? Too much of a stretch?)

    Both these theories, as well as the expectancy value theory, underscore that learners need to feel confident in their abilities in order to take on a task, and they need to be motivated (either intrinsically or extrinsically--though less flexible interpretations might argue for the former over the latter) by some incentive provided by performing and/or completing the task. Learners need to understand why it's important to learn what they're learning, and motivation will be that much stronger if they are intrinsically driven to do so.

    Add on:
    Where does praise factor into this discussion? Alfie Kohn would clearly argue that it discourages development of intrinsic motivation, as children become "praise junkies," just working towards their next token of spoken extrinsic validation.

    After reading his article, Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!", I definitely think Kohn makes an important point, but even with what little experience I have, I can attest that "Good Job!" is a hard habit to break.

    Expectancy Value Theory

    Compared to the self-worth theory, the expectancy value theory is a lot easier for me to accept. However, I must remember that this is just a brief overview of the theory; the general synopsis provided in table 6.1 allows me to interpret the vagueness of this description however I please. (Further research could show that my assumptions here are not in accordance with a more detailed profile of the theory.) 

    On Expectancy:
    Essentially, no one is going to take on a task they know to be impossible. Still, there's a huge spectrum of different levels of "challenging" that spans between the endpoints of "easy" and "impossible." 

    The way I see it, somewhere along that spectrum the challenge level shifts from encouraging to overwhelming (no doubt there are shades of gray in between those two points as well). 

    I would predict that people of almost all ages are open to challenges, but I'd expect that the level /intensity of challenge that a person is willing to undertake--that is to say, the level at which the challenge remains predominantly encouraging--would correlate to experience of some measure (not necessarily years). 

    On Value:
    Here I'm a bit more inquisitive than I was with the 'expectancy' variable. 
    The E.V. Theory says that motivated learners have to believe that there is some benefit to the task at hand. Okay, I can get on board with that: we wouldn't do/learn something unless we had good enough reason to. 

    As the description goes on to say, 
    "Learners must place a value on the task itself or the outcomes that are likely to result." 
    I start to wonder whether this distinction (the bolded part of the quote) is at all connected to the seemingly similar distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, which Ormrod also discusses in chapter six:
    "intrinsic motivation: [A person] is motivated by factors within herself or inherent in the task she is performing. Learners who are intrinsically motivated may engage in an activity because it gives them pleasure, helps them develop a skill they think is important, or is the ethically and morally right thing to do. Some learners with high levels of intrinsic motivation become so focused on and absorbed in an activity that they lose track of time and completely ignore other tasks--a phenomenon known as flow.
    extrinsic motivation: [A person] is motivated by factors external to herself and unrelated to the task she is performing. Learners who are extrinsically motivated may want the good grades, money, or recognition that particular activities and accomplishments bring. Essentially, they are motivated to perform the task as a means to an end, not as an end in and of itself." (pg. 181)
    In terms of my question, I'm still pretty torn as to whether the distinction between "value of the task itself" and "value of the task's outcomes" is the same as the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

    One could argue that the distinction made within the value definition (the task itself vs. the outcomes of the task) still implies intrinsic motivation, because even the outcome is still related to the task. On the other hand, "getting good grades" is technically a beneficial outcome of an otherwise unappealing task, and one that Ormrod has classified as external to the task. 

    The ultimate question in my mind becomes, "Is there a difference between 'performing a task for beneficial outcomes' and "performing a task as a means to an end'?"

    Self-Worth Theory

    I find I am more hesitant to agree with the self-worth theory than with other theories. My hestitance is probably due to the fact that, according to the self-worth theory, the key driving factor for humans (the desire to protect our self-worth) is not something I consider to be a conscious mission. If this self-worth theory is indeed the case for me, I am not aware of it, but maybe that's just because I haven't critically considered the possibility until now.

    However, I can say definitively that I don't think majority of my own procrastination is driven by a suspicion of failure. When I procrastinate, I believe I'm postponing a given task because I'm not intrinsically motivated to do it. I'd probably be better at writing a reflection for class than I am at, say, photoshopping a gecko's head onto my father's body, but guess which one I'm more likely to spend my time on? (You guessed it.)

    Now that I think about it, I guess my example is flawed because doing work is not the same as learning. In terms of younger students (who are new learners in many areas), I can see the correlation between insecurity or "fear of failure" and self-sabotage.

    Sadly, avoidance of a weak topic only intensifies the student's problem because it's just more time without practice. I feel like we teachers often promote the idea that "all of us good at somethings and bad at others," and while I agree with that I think we need to make sure that the focus of this sentiment doesn't fall too heavily on accentuating the positive. While that is no doubt important, if we emphasize only that, we neglect the possibility and importance of improving our weaknesses. A bumpy start doesn't mean we can't have a smoother ride down the road.

    Self-Determination Theory

    Self-determination theorists thus believe that effective learning is most likely to occur when these three needs are met. As teachers, this means our classrooms environments should: 
    1. Teach important, relevant skills.  
      • How do we define/determine "relevant"? How subjective is this definition from the student's point of view?
    2. Give the students flexibility and opportunities to discover and pursue their passions/interests, and strengths.
    3. Foster a sense of camaraderie and affection among students, and (I'm assuming) the teacher. 
      • What would the teacher's role be in this aspect of classroom environment? I want to say something between a parent and a friend, and yet something else too--and not necessarily all the things that the "parent" and "friend" labels entail.