Intrinsic Motivation for the Chemistry Teacher – Time to Collaborate!

book with 5 markers highlighting 5 practices to help boast teacher competence

After attending ChemEd at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, this past summer and meeting such wonderful chemistry teachers from across the country, I began to think about motivation and how important it is in our field to find those intrinsic motivators. With the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) taking hold in most states across the country, I call upon chemistry teachers to collaborate and I challenge you to find what intrinsically motivates you as a chemistry teacher.

Motivation has been defined as inspiration or reason for acting or behaving a certain way (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Extrinsic motivation involves performing a task because of anticipated consequences, as in pay for performance or merit pay. Intrinsically motivated individuals engage in tasks because they experience inherent interest and joy in their work (Eccles & Wigfield, 2002). Teacher professional development is facilitated through intrinsic motivators (Mintz & Kelly, 2018). Competence and autonomy are basic psychological needs that often lead to intrinsic motivation. Self-reflection, the desire to be a better educator, passion for content, and satisfaction in making a difference in the lives of their students motivate the careers of science teachers. So, how can we as chemistry teachers increase our competence and our autonomy?

Content specific professional development, science teacher collaboration, and sharing are the keys to increasing chemistry competence and autonomy. I have compiled a list of five practices to help boost your competence as a chemistry educator and raise your level of autonomy.


1. Create a Chemistry Teacher Network

In my opinion, a chemistry teacher network is an essential component to pedagogical content knowledge and chemistry teacher professional development. Science content specific professional development is hard to come by, unless you have reached out to others within the realm of chemistry. Peer learning communities offer the opportunity to share disciplinary skills and strategies that a formal observation sometimes cannot. Twitter is a great place to start. In a recent article, Chemical and Engineering News reported over 2000 Twitter accounts are registered as chemistry related. Of the 244 survey responses received, 85 reported that they are chemical educators. Seventy percent of those chemical educators report that they are using the social platform to network (Vincent- Ruiz, 2019). I would love to be a member of your chemistry teacher network. Follow me on Twitter @mintzchemistry.

I’ve noticed after only a few years of teaching that I became content in my delivery of chemistry and comfortable in what are now considered outdated teaching habits. A few years back, I met a small group of chemistry teachers whom I thought were the most dedicated and motivated chemistry teachers. Stephanie O’Brien and Kristen Drury were among that small group of chemistry teachers and it turns out, what I thought of them was correct, but I failed to include myself in that description. My motivation to be a great chemistry teacher was still there but it was buried under my complacency. I needed a pick-me-up and this group provided that autonomy again.

Content specific professional development is not always easy to find locally. I challenge you to create a local group of chemistry teachers, whether it is through social media or in person, to create, collaborate and motivate each other in the design of NGSS style units.


2. Chemistry Teacher Collaboration

A great way to raise your chemistry competence is through collaboration. After you have created your chemistry teacher network, find a way to collaborate on an instructional project. A few years ago I joined an established chemistry teacher group called the Long Island Association for Chemistry Teacher Support (LIACTS). You can follow this group on twitter @LIACTS1. Through this group, we have collaborated and designed NGSS inspired lessons and have recently been working on NGSS unit storylines. Content specific peer learning communities provide a means to share disciplinary skills and teaching strategies that are sometimes hard to come by within your own school or district.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to share a chemistry classroom with an educator who is open to try new things and loves to collaborate on ideas. Working closely with another chemistry teacher within my school is surely a gift not all educators have, but in the age of technology and communication, connecting and collaborating virtually is by no means impossible. LIACTS started as a support group that met in person monthly. We have expanded and can meet virtually through Zoom or Google Hangout. We have collaborated on units with chemistry teachers across the state by sharing a Google Folder. Check out for upcoming virtual meetings and join us on an instructional chemistry project.


3. Self-Reflection

Reflective journal writing helps to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, to figure out different teaching methods, to determine problems encountered during teaching and to provide solutions for the future (Goker, 2016). Shulman (1986) described reflection as a way to generate new knowledge about teaching, merging content knowledge gained from experience with pre-service pedagogy. Studies have shown that teacher reflection is the best method for building professional competence (Darling-Hammond & Richardson, 2009). Teacher self-reflection has been closely associated with professional development, efficacy, and improved teaching practices (Sparks- Langer, Simmons, Pasch, Colton, & Sarkko, 1990; York-Barr, Sommers, Ghere, & Montie, 2001).

I started the practice of keeping a reflective journal a few years ago. I have organized my reflective journal by school year and then subdivide each year into chemistry units. I draw pictures and diagrams that would be helpful in the future and comment on the instructional practices that were either successful or unsuccessful. I have seen electronic journals with embedded pictures of lessons and activities. I like to keep my journal in a readily available place so that when an idea or thought comes to mind I can quickly jot it down. Rocketbook is an easy way to infuse a handwritten journal with electronic pictures and can be purchased at


Figure 1: Example of reflective journals.


4. Invitations for a Classroom Visit

Many teachers are validated by positive and constructive feedback from their peers. Invite other science teachers or administrators to visit your classroom. Instructional visits can provide educators with valuable information to improve their teaching practice. Participate in educational rounds if offered by your school.

My district recently offered an instructional rounds day. Instructional rounds are an educational approach comparative to medical rounds (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2009). The practice is modeled after the way physicians learn to improve their practice by visiting patients in groups and discussing treatment plans. Instructional rounds combine three elements of improvement: 1) classroom observations, 2) improvement strategies, and 3) a network of educators (City et al., 2009). Instructional rounds allow for teachers to fulfill their need to become learners promoting self-reflection and life-long learning (City et al., 2009). I participated as a teacher to be observed. The rounds were fantastic and loaded with constructive feedback. Teachers from all different disciplines visited my chemistry classroom and I was surprised on how much they took from a chemistry lesson, so I look forward to participating as an observer next time. Perhaps subject area teachers have useful techniques that can be modified for the chemistry classroom.

A Pineapple Chart is another system that allows educators to invite one another to their classrooms for an informal observation. The chart is a calendar organized by period and day of the week. The chart is to be kept in a place where most teachers would visit throughout the day. Teachers write their name on the calendar on a specific day and period along with the lesson title while other teachers can look at the calendar to see what interests them and pop in for a visit. The key to a Pineapple chart is that it is informal. Teachers do not need to stay for the entire time; they can catch up on work while listening and pick up on the techniques they find useful.


Figure 2: An Example of a Pineapple chart.


5. Try New Things

Hopefully, by the time you have created a chemistry teacher network, collaborated on an instructional project, reflected on lessons or units and have gotten some feedback from classroom visits, your motivation to try new things should be soaring. Keep your teaching fresh by trying new things. You are a great chemistry teacher and can easily adjust if a new lesson doesn’t work out. For instance, this year I have focused on incorporating more chemistry modeling to my units and adjusting my laboratory experiments to be more argument driven. Next year, I would like to begin using Driving Question Boards to drive a unit’s story. Keep your goals manageable. Try not to tackle more than one big project at a time as it could overwhelm the simpler ones.


It is sometimes difficult to discover what intrinsically motivates you as a chemistry teacher. Adding these five simple educational practices will help bring those motivators to the surface and will increase your chemistry competence and autonomy. Creating a chemistry teacher network, collaborating on a chemistry project, self reflecting and receiving constructive feedback from your peers will promote your intrinsic motivation to try new things in the chemistry classroom.



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Editor's Note: 

Jessica A. Mintz was awarded the PhD in Science Education from Stony Brook University, NY, in 2017. She is a New York State Master Teacher and a high school chemistry teacher in Bay Shore, NY. Her research interests include science teacher accountability practices and chemistry teacher professional development.