Stand & Deliver

Most education majors have seen the movie, Stand and Deliver, on multiple occasions, but this scene is worth another look after reading about Flow Theory (Csikszentmihalyi, 2005) and the social context of the classroom (Alderman, 1999). Although the concept of flow theory is relatively new to me, this teacher appears to be close. He may be in what Csikszentmihalyi referred to as control or arousal. The quote shared during the speech is especially pertinent to explain how this scene may be evidence of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 2005):

“It’s like opening a door that’s floating in the middle of nowhere and all you have to do is go and turn the handle and open it and let yourself sink into it. You can’t particularly force yourself through it. You just have to float. If there’s any gravitational pull, it’s from the outside world trying to keep you back from the door.”

There are moments in possibly any career, when the worker hits the perfect mix of challenge and skill. This zone is fueled by intrinsic motivation for the task at hand and flow is experienced.  Fortunately for these students, this Jaime Escalante’s (the teacher) flow was able to counter the negative peer influences and antiachievement. Social context has great potential for harm and good, and high bandwidth social interaction akin to face to face interaction is something researchers have found difficult to replicate in online environments (Russell, 2005).

When watching this clip, see if you can spot some of the key words discussed from the various models and theories of motivation. How does the educator build a sense of competence, relatedness, autonomy? What does he do to gain attention, foster relevance, build confidence, and promote satisfaction? Does he include any actions related to the SUCCESS model?

My favorite piece is when Escalante refers to how the Romans and the Greeks never conceived of “zero”, yet the ancestors of his students had. Math was in their blood he said. The camera then shows a very visual reaction to this statement as students sit up and look around more confidently. With this one statement, relatedness, confidence, and possibly competence shifted in the positive and “put more sand in the pile”.

Alderman, M. K. (1999). Promoting optimal motivation and engagement: Social context. In Motivation for achievement: Possibilities for teaching and learning (pp. 205–235).

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2005). Flow: The secret to happiness. TED. Retrieved from

Russell, G. (2005). The distancing question in online education. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 1(4). Retrieved from


5 thoughts on “Stand & Deliver

  1. Wow, it’s been many years since I’ve watched that movie. What a great analysis of that clip in the context of motivation. And an excellent set of questions.

    Classroom engagement and flow is, I believe, one that is hard to get to… or it is? In higher ed there a still large lectures as a form of teaching, and that is where I can’t imagine even coming close to Flow… even if I am intrinsically motivated to learn the content.

    I’d be interested to hear what sorts of in-class experiences people have had where they’ve had the experience of being so engaged that time ‘flies by.’ For me it tends to be around collaborative activities. If it is individual ones, it is ones that involve problem solving. It was definitely around doing of some sort (not passive listening). No surprise there.

    So as an ID, given the context of large lectures, since that may be the most challenging. What strategies could be used? What struggles may people face is implementing them?

  2. Hi, Jake,
    I LOVE that you opened your blog post this week with this STAND AND DELIVER clip. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the movie, and it was really engaging to watch the clip today after learning more about motivational theory and ID the last five weeks. I especially like how you connected flow and social context and commented on how Escalante was able to establish flow, despite a very difficult social context in this situation. Even though this is a movie and obviously exaggerated, it is definitely inspiring as I begin to think about how to establish flow in my own classroom. I think that his use of chants (“a negative plus a negative equals a positive”), relatable and relevant examples (e.g. digging in the sand), and connections to students’ own heritages (“Math is in your blood.”) were key to establishing flow here and overcoming some significant social challenges. This year, I am committed to thinking beyond content and assignments and focusing more on their delivery.

    Thanks for the great, motivating post!

  3. Jake,
    It has been a very long time since I have seen that movie. It came out after I started teaching so it became a topic of discussion in the teacher’s room. It would be a different conversation now in the light of the concepts of motivation. I know the teacher in the movie was trying to develop the sense of flow in the students but some were not so willing to follow. The teacher was making connections with the students through culture and real life scenarios. Starting with concrete examples and building up the skills also helps.
    Now on to Rob’s questions. Sitting in a large lecture room does not help with flow. Students have to feel connected to the content and the instruction. For me personally videos and power points usually pull my attention and I start to ponder the content. Of course a question or think about … usually helps focus my attention. Encouraging discussions where it is expected that many people chime in with an answer and the teacher does not say correct or incorrect but the students giving their impressions and thoughts like this Blog forum, might develop the flow. Introductions may take up a whole class time but it might make a more open forum for discussions and collaboration.
    These are some ideas that may support flow in a large group. It not easy to address all the needs of such a large group and convey all the content that may need to be taught.

  4. Hi Jake!

    I have never seen that movie! It looks like something that I am going to have to check out. One thing that really stood out for me in your discussion is the issue of keeping students motivated during online courses. I had many conversations regarding this issue with my friend Julie while she was working with me at Project Advance. We never came up with a complete answer, but I think that the thing that we both agreed on was that maintaining human connections is extremely important. I have been at a conference all this week, the issue of increasing student motivation to complete survey questionnaires was brought to my attention. In one of the paper sessions, the presenter discussed the idea that Millennials need more face-to-face interactions in order to remain motivated. Instead of using the typical survey questionnaire, this researcher asked participants to complete the answers to the questions that were being asked in a video blog. In the end, the researcher found that he had to turn participants away because the participants were telling their friends about the project and then their friends were creating there own video blogs. I thought that it was really interesting and allowed me to really think about motivation in terms of survey questionnaire completion, which is something that I really haven’t done a lot (and probably really should have!!).


  5. Hi Jake,

    I haven’t seen that movie! It is something that I would like to add to my list, though. Social context plays a large role in any classroom, and begins in the elementary school level. As teachers we need to be sensitive to our students, their backgrounds, and the knowledge that they bring into the classroom (whether academic or personal). Through getting to know our students and their families or in the very least their family context, we are able to design instruction to meet their needs which might lead to higher motivation for our class.

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