M-PLANS Motivating Science Students and Teachers Alike

J. Shulman M.Ed.

In a collaborative effort between the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV), Michigan State University (MSU), and WestEd,  academic researchers and practicing science educators are working together to create tools to help teachers support student motivation for science. The project is supported by four-year grants to each participating institution (Gwen Marchand, UNLV Principal Investigator; Lisa Linnenbrink-Garcia, MSU Principal Investigator; Christopher Harris, WestEd Principal Investigator) through the Discovery Research K-12 Program of the  National Science Foundation. M-PLANS, which stands for Motivation – Planning Lessons to Activate eNgagement in Science was developed to inspire students and educators alike through focusing on daily pedagogical and curricular choices in science instruction aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The M-PLANS project is built on a co-design model, where the expertise of science educators and academic researchers comes together to generate meaningful and sustainable professional learning materials for teachers with the goal of fostering student engagement, understanding and competence in science classes. 

The M-PLANS approach is based on five motivation design principles: belonging, confidence, learning orientation, autonomy, and relevance. These design principles can be used by teachers to create learning activities and design environments that help students see how science matters in their daily lives and feel confident in mastering learning tasks. Instruction based on these design principles invites students into science, fostering a sense of belonging to the discipline and to their classroom community. Educators participating in the M-PLANS project learn about theories of motivation, receive support in translating those to daily instructional activities, and are encouraged to reflect on student engagement in relation to daily instruction. 

M-PLANS is in its third year of collaboration between academic researchers, science coordinators, and practicing educators. The project involves teachers in Clark County School District in southern Nevada and the Oakland County Unified School District in Michigan. As the M-PLANS materials are rolled out to more classrooms, researchers hope to learn how participating in the M-PLANS professional learning changes teachers’ instructional practices and beliefs about how to help encourage student motivation and engagement in science. Future plans for the project include translating materials to an online resource and applications of M-PLANS for remote instruction. 

Educators in the partnership are already being impacted by their involvement in M-PLANS. Teachers are directly applying the research-based motivation design principles to their classrooms. Scott, a seventh grade science teacher in Michigan, reported: “The M-PLANS Institute has really made me think more proactively about how curriculum design can affect student motivation. By thinking about the principles of motivation, I can start to make minor adjustments to my lesson plans that make a big difference in motivating students. M-PLANS has given me more tools for my curriculum workbench that can help increase student achievement.”

 To hear more testimonials from teachers, learn more about the project, or to get involved yourself go to their website  https://m-plans.org/.

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