When President Obama announced on Tuesday that we will be going to Mars, I was over the moon.
But what struck me most about the op-ed President Obama wrote for CNN was his call to convene “some of America’s leading scientists, engineers, innovators and students… to dream up ways to build on our progress and find the next frontiers.” The emphasis is mine because, how cool is that? Our President must know a little something about personalized learning if he can recognize that student voice not only has a place in determining the course of their learning and their future, but that it can’t be done without them.
He goes on to write more that highlights how critical student investment in their schooling, and the future of space exploration, will be:
“The reporter who covered the moon landing for The New York Times, John Noble Wilford, later wrote that Mars tugs at our imagination ‘with a force mightier than gravity.’ Getting there will take a giant leap. But the first, small steps happen when our students — the Mars generation — walk into their classrooms each day. Scientific discovery doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch; it takes years of testing, patience and a national commitment to education.”
Learning doesn’t happen with the flip of a switch, either. When students walk into their classrooms, they need to feel a sense of ownership, whether they’re determining classroom policies together or being given the opportunity to connect what they’re learning in meaningful ways to what interests them. They need to know why they’re learning what they’re learning, with clear goals understood by teachers, students, and their parents. They need teachers who have been given the space and resources required to support their unique needs. And students need to do more than take tests: they need to be empowered to make choices about how they demonstrate what they are learning.
Personalized learning, realized through competency-based education, puts students at the center – and ensures that every learner gets what they need to achieve success. We’ll need young professionals with a myriad of skills for that mission to Mars, and with competency-based education, they’ll be ready.