Fostering Instrumental Motivation

Instrumental motivation is a measure of how important students believe their studies, especially in math and science, are to their future career and personal goals. To measure motivation, the OECD Test for Schools asks students to respond to questions such as “I study science because I know it is useful to me” and “I will learn many things in mathematics that will help me get a job.” Instrumental motivation has been found to be an important predictor of future course selection, career choice, and job performance.

Since instrumental motivation is also closely related to student academic performance, improving motivation is an important step to improving student results. To address motivation, high performing schools expose students to real-world applications of math and science, and encourage students to take ownership of their own learning.

Best Practices in Fostering Instrumental Motivation:

1. Connect science and math instruction to real-world applications. High performing schools explicitly link science and math topics to real-world applications. They give students problems that are relevant to their experience, and showcase how science and math topics are used in real-world careers and institutions.

For example, at one school, teachers asked students to analyze the environmental impacts of a proposed mining project in their state. Once the students analyzed the problem and formed an opinion, they wrote letters to their local newspaper, several of which were published. Through this project, students learned how science concepts relate to real-world problems, and how they can use their knowledge to influence community decisions.

2. Leverage partnerships with local companies and institutions. Whenever possible, high performing schools establish partnerships with local companies and research institutions, to expose students to their work and showcase real-world applications of science and math topics. Some schools develop mentorship programs with local scientists or engineers, to give students the opportunity to interact with professionals using science and math in their jobs.

3. Encourage students to set their own goals and monitor progress. High performing schools encourage students to take ownership of their own learning. Students are taught to analyze data about their progress, create individualized learning plans, and seek help when needed. Schools report that when students take control of their own learning, they show more motivation to progress and succeed.