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IMPACTful Thoughts - Motivation x Active Learning = Engagement

By Karen Gaines posted 12-31-2020 17:46:40


Motivation x Active Learning = Engagement

Ringing in the New Year brings us a feeling of hope for great things to come.  It is an opportunity to reflect on what we would like to see to improve in our lives.  This year, as the curators of the IMPACT Live! pages, the Standards Committee is looking to improve the format for the Spotlight of the Month.  Each quarter will focus on one of the four pillars of IMPACT while also providing an opportunity to highlight a Community from myAMATYC. For the first quarter, we will focus on the Engagement pillar.  This month, we will be going back to the basics and taking a look at what engagement means.

As instructors, most of us are on a quest to find the best ways to engage our students in the courses we teach and in a broader sense, mathematics. We all know this is a challenging quest that is difficult to navigate, but that it is  well worth our time.  Running parallel, we as instructors are engaged in the scholarship of teaching as we collaborate on effective ways to continue moving forward in our quest.

One of our first steps is to decide what it takes to engage our students, As said by Elizabeth F. Barkley,  in her book, “Student Engagement Techniques”:

“Whether teachers think primarily of the motivational or active learning elements of student engagement, they are quick to point out that both are required.  A classroom filled with enthusiastic, motivated students is great, but it is educationally meaningless if the enthusiasm does not result in learning.  Conversely, students who are actively learning but doing so reluctantly and resentful are not engaged.  Student engagement is the product of motivation and active learning.  It is a product rather than a sum because it will not occur if either element is missing.” (pg 6)

What a very simple equation!  And yet, so very difficult to execute!  This month we will examine what it takes to motivate students and how to create active learning experiences.  

The lead quote in Chapter 5 (Engagement - Developing Intellectual Curiosity and Motivation in  Learning Mathematics) of IMPACT comes from Dr. Russell Quaglia:  “The students who are most engaged are the ones who think they matter to the teacher” .  The chapter states how students are more motivated when they feel they have a voice and are heard.  In a recent blog, Stan Yashinobu echoes these ideas and explains how love, empathy, and respect are the foundations for motivation- especially now.  In these times of the pandemic we are all struggling and must remind ourselves to not “assume that poor performance or lack of engagement is due to some deficit, and instead we start from a position of emphasizing student strengths.”   He encourages us to listen and “work with students to find ways to get them through the challenges”.  We must keep open our lines of communication as motivation for learning has been altered in our students.  

As we turn to active learning, the description of Chapter 5 - Engagement found in the table of contents of IMPACT states:

“Engaging students intellectually in the process of learning mathematics, through active and cognitive activities, is fundamental for improving student achievement.  Likewise, engaging faculty in the pursuit of excellences in teaching through innovative best practices results in an invigorated commitment to teaching and innovation.”

The chapter cites many studies that address the importance of a robust learning environment (in particular with components of learner-centered, knowledge-centered, and reflective learning) that utilizes active learning strategies and techniques.  

The summary in Chapter 5 of IMPACT states: “we need to find innovative ways to engage students in and out of the classroom, as well as engage faculty in the pursuit of improving the teaching and learning of mathematics”.  This month’s pages of the IMPACT Live! Community will be asking everyone to share innovative ways to engage our students. 

    • Everyone is encouraged to contribute to the discussions located on the IMPACT In Action page.  These weekly discussions will provide an opportunity to share your successful ideas focused on creating a sense of community, fostering motivation, and promoting active learning.
    • Be sure to check out the IMPACT Plus page for insights into current research on student motivation (Dr. Paul Nolting) and on active learning (Stan Yashinobu).  

Please join us - the quest has just begun! 


Barkley, Elizabeth F. (2010). The Jossey-Bass higher and adult education series.  Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. California: Jossey-Bass

American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges. (2018). IMPACT: Improving Mathematical Prowess And College Teaching.  Memphis, TN: Author

Yoshinobu, S. (2020, November 18). The case for love, empathy, respect especially during a pandemic [Blog post]. Retrieved from ttp://


1 comment


01-28-2021 20:22:38

This is so spot on!  I often hear people say:  If only students did the work they would succeed.  But what's missing is considering the role that faculty play in creating conditions for engagement. It takes intentionality on our part to create these condition. Even harder:  You can set conditions but then need to follow up with the activities for learning that result in high quality learning!  Thank you for highlighting this issue!