Sunday, April 7, 2013

Raising Funny Kids 29: The WOW Factor

In this post: 
  • The difference between functional and aspirational rewards
  • What rewards drive student behavior
  • Why your child's education should consider the human brain

If you WOW a child, you hook 'em. Naturally, when a child feels "wow'ed" they want more. When you capture their imagination, you inspire them to dream. However, dreaming is not the only thing going on in a child's mind. To construct an effective reward-based learning environment, you'll need to look inside their heads to balance the input between the brain's two hemispheres. 

The left brain governs logical, sequential, rational, analytical, and objective thinking. The right brain governs intuitive, holistic, subjective, creative, and "big-picture" thinking. If you want to WOW a kid, you've got to ignite both sides of their brain and help them keep stay in balance, cognitively speaking.

Here's 5 key areas of balance to consider: 


The left brain values the functional. Rewards that fulfill needs pass the "value-detector" test kids apply to any new piece of information. Wow - that's cool! 

The right brain values the aspirational. Rewards that fulfill dreams pass the "splurge-detector" test: WOW! I couldn't learn this anywhere else. They must really appreciate me. 

Consider the chart above. Reward driven needs are at the bottom of the scale. Functional rewards are not cool, and their perceived value is generally smaller. At the top of the scale, rewards are driven by desire. Aspirational rewards can be emotionally compelling, and their perceived value tends to be much greater. 

Take for example: school supplies.

Every parent has gone out with a list of school supplies, returning home with bags filled with notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, white-out, calculators, crayons, glue, and so on. You hand the supplies over to your kids who smile, thank you, and shove it all in a pencil case or backpack - rarely ever given any further thought (unless they have lost something they need when the time arises). 

However, in a rewards-based program you wait to make these purchases until you need them. Imagine, if you will, working your way through Pre-Algebra with your student only to realize that it is time to introduce a scientific calculator.

First things first, solve a few equations by hand to teach the child how to solve the equation on their own. Then, once they have mastered this step, suggest investigating the benefits of the use of a calculator. 

How many steps would be involved? Which steps could be done for you? Could a calculator increase your efficiency and efficacy? What could you do with the extra time you save?

Now, you ask your student to investigate which calculators options are available. Which stores have them in stock and who has the best price (compare/contrast)? Don't forget to have them Google for customer reviews and coupon codes or if it is a smaller company, call and ask what discounts are available to students. Once they have done the legwork, it's time to go out and buy the calculator. 

Once the calculator is purchased, time should be allotted to learn how the new calculator works. Check if there are steps that save time. This is a class in itself. If we do not demonstrate that we believe an item (or concept) has a value or is of worth, how can we expect our students to see the value?

This calculator is now more than simply a part of a 'Back to School kit' - it is a valuable tool needed to solve equations and save your student valuable time. This approach is an example of a rewards-based program.

I used to rush through these types of activities and purchases, thinking... If I give my kids everything they need, they'll have it when the time arises - NOT!  Usually, the item has been lost or now, in a technological world, there's a newer model available that offers expanded features.

Either way, there's no WOW factor in this type of post-industrial thinking. It is in creating a series of "WOWS" that hooks students into wanting to learn and discover more. While this is only one example, it is one to which many parents can relate. We live in a society whereby we make many purchases based off of the same model above. Society tells us that in order to feel good about ourselves we must make purchases. However, these purchases have to be weighed against the messages we want to send our children. If we want them to value something, we have to demonstrate that we value thoughts and items. This approach not only mirrors how the brain responds to favorable input (by learning faster and easier), but it saves us money, too.

Reward based learning is a guided educational journey for both students and parents, but it takes time. Still, it's well worth the effort because the result is a student that has a stronger sense of value. That isn't just a gift to the kid, that is a gift to society.

Next post: Students' Perceived Needs and Goals vs. What They Actually Select...

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