As teachers at Utah’s first participating WE School, twins Alberto and Mario Velazquez collaborated on an ambitious year-long technology project last year. Their goal was to foster empathy in their own students, while benefiting children in a village in Haiti.
Using the education edition of Minecraft, the popular “sandbox” video game, students in grades 5 and 6 designed animals and turned them into functioning toys using 3-D printing technology. Next, they produced books in print and audio, based on the animals’ lives, and coded these stories into video games.
“We put all these things together and sent the resources to a WE Village in Haiti, to give those children an opportunity to learn how to read with our books, enjoy the video games and listen to the stories [if they can’t yet read],” says Alberto. He and his brother teach at Canyon Creek Elementary School in Farmington, Utah, and are heavy users of the WE Schools’ “service learning” curriculum, which Microsoft has made available free to teachers on its OneNote program.
“By combining classroom learning with meaningful service, students develop a stronger understanding of local and global issues, while engaging in actions that make a difference,” says chief operations director for WE Charity, Carrie Patterson, who oversees all WE Schools programs.
Mario said it was a revelation to some of his students that there are children in other parts of the world – and even in the same school district – who don’t have enough money for new shoes or books. The brothers saw their students gain greater social awareness and empathy as their project progressed, along with a realization that they could employ technology for the greater good.
“There’s a lot going on. It’s a critical point in WE Schools’ evolution, and how we move forward in this virtual and digital world,” Patterson says. The movement has now expanded well beyond Canada and the United States, with educators able to use the curriculum kit across North America and beyond.
WE Day, an exuberant school-volunteerism celebration that used to be restricted geographically to a jam-packed tour schedule, leverages Microsoft technology to fuel WE Day Connect, an interactive and online event that engages youth worldwide.
The tech powerhouse, which has partnered with the WE organization since 2013, is committed to helping WE “amplify and extend its mission,” says Anthony Salcito, vice-president of worldwide education at Microsoft. It’s not just the right thing to do; it’s helping to shape the next generation of tech-savvy, collaborative, socially conscious employees, he says.
Organizers report the last WE Day Connect event on May 16, 2019, was “virtually” attended by students in 18,000 classrooms spanning 49 countries. In live presentations from around the world, students “explored some of today’s most pressing issues – from homelessness to climate change to access to clean water and cyberbullying – empowering students to collaborate on innovative ways to tackle them,” say the organizers.
The next WE Day Connect is scheduled for Oct. 8, 2019, and students will once again convene in far-flung school auditoriums. They’ll bring guests, celebrate their own achievements and gain a broader world view as their peers report from around the globe.