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Working for a Kiss!

Updated: Jun 7, 2023


What does a kiss from a sea lion have to do with motivation and teaching?


Everything!


I am clearly VERY happy in this picture as I'm being kissed by a sea lion. I had signed up for an animal behavior clinic taught by a world-renowned animal behaviorist, Dr. Jenifer Zeligs, and I was excited.




Why was I so happy and eager to learn?

  1. This was a novel event for me so it was exciting.

  2. Whoever answered Dr. Zelig's questions correctly got to have a kiss from a sea lion. That was the reward. I was learning that day, paid attention to the instructor and wanted the reward of the "fishy sea lion kiss." (the sea lions have "fish breath")

  3. I was learning something that I chose.


So, how can you apply these ideas to your own teaching? As often as possible have lesson plans that are novel, have a reward for listening and paying attention and have an element of choice involved.


Here are some concrete examples of this:


  1. Science classroom example: My students were studying Charles Law in chemistry. The novel part was making their own hot air balloon. They were to demonstrate their understanding of the chemistry involved by launching it (safely in my classroom) and then writing why this worked and why it demonstrated Charles Law. The reward was inherent in the activity. What I mean by this is, is that students were VERY excited to bring their own heat source (tea candles, fire starter nuggets, etc..) AND test and retest their balloons until they were successful. The activity itself was the reward because it was so exciting to them. The choice element was that the students designed and built their own balloons. They had choice over how to engineer it and make it work. So....there we are, sea lions and smiles.

  2. Math Classroom example: I was teaching 7th grade math and realized that many of my students did not know how to multiply or add without a calculator. I wanted to get them excited about this so I made up a game where student teams bid on items in a round table fashion with the bids growing higher and higher until one student "bought" the item. They were not allowed to use calculators for this game. Students brought items from home that they wanted to sell and the bargaining and bidding was so exciting and novel to them that once the game got going my classroom looked and felt like some version of the New York Stock Exchange. The entire game was novel, the students were rewarded by buying a product from another student and selling their own (we used fake money that I bought at a dollar store), and they had choice in how much they spent to buy or sell the products. Again, sea lions and smiles.

  3. Social Science example: One of my colleagues was a very creative teacher and liked to design activities where the students acted out events in history. I remember seeing two of her students dressed up like Lewis and Clark for their assignment. They were all smiles about it. The activity was novel, the reward was the fun in the activity and the choice was that the teacher allowed her students to pick from a list of events in history. Wonderful teaching. Sea lions and smiles again.

The longer I taught, the more fun I had because I thought about ways to put smiles on my student's faces while they were learning. That doesn't mean that they sat around smiling all the time. They also had to think, work, gather materials, etc... BUT they were so excited about the upcoming activity that they were motivated to do the harder parts.


Final Thought: If your students seem to be losing motivation, try evaluating your lesson or unit to see if it is novel, rewarding and has an element of choice. Have fun with this!


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