No Field Trips? No Problem. How Teachers Are Taking Students on Adventures Without Leaving the Classroom
Via Verizon

Ms. Roque uses Verizon VR learning with her students

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Right before the pandemic, Rebecca Roque, a STEM teacher at Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM) Academy middle school, realized many of her students had never been to the beach—even though they live in Miami, FL.

“Many of our students come from low-income households,” said Roque. “So we thought, if they had never even been to the beach, because of lack of access to transportation or otherwise, there’s no way they’ve been outside of the U.S. So we wanted to find a way to expand their imagination and view of how big the world is.”

Since March 2020, when remote learning commenced, many students have struggled to stay engaged in their studies. Roque and millions of teachers across the country had to find ways to inspire creativity and get their students excited about education again. So Ms. Roque took them out of this world entirely—and into space—in virtual reality (VR).

Roque’s students began experimenting with Visceral Science, a VR app that allows students to virtually explore outer space in a multiplayer environment and learn how stars, gravity, and planetary orbits work. Through the immersive experience, her middle school students were also to grasp and visualize more difficult concepts, such as force and motion, energy conservation, and thermonuclear reactions.

“Being able to insert this gamification and learning experience into my curriculum was a game-changer, both in terms of teaching a hard subject and also with getting students excited to learn it,” said Roque. “Anything that takes kids into an immersive experience is the future of learning and I can’t wait to do more of it.”

Roque’s classroom had access to this technology and other innovative VR/AR learning apps as part of the Verizon Innovative Learning schools program. Since 2012, the program has equipped students and teachers at more than 500 Title I schools like SLAM Miami with technology, access, innovative learning programs, and professional development. The school this year also unveiled one of the first Verizon Innovative Learning Labs powered by 5G in the country—a space equipped with emerging technology like 3D printers, VR and AR devices, robotics and circuit-building supplies, powerful computers for model making, and 5G technology to help students get the most out of digital curricula.

Students Fabian and Kenneth use Mappers Delight to learn about different types of musicVia Verizon

It is stories like this one from Ms. Roque and her classroom that inspired Verizon to take the technology access provided by the Verizon Innovative Learning program to the next level and support more teachers who were grappling with the challenges of remote learning. The result is the launch of the Verizon Innovative Learning HQ education portal, a free online resource for educators that supplements existing lesson plans and gives them more access to next-gen digital tools to enhance the learning experience. The portal also features professional development courses aligned to research-backed micro-credentials.

Teams from Columbia University, New York University, Arizona State University, and other top institutions and nonprofits collaborated with Verizon to design sophisticated lessons that are easy to use, flexible and aligned with standards for integration into existing curricula. This all comes at a time when technology is experiencing a new renaissance of importance for today’s classrooms.

Students simulate how to fly a planeVia Verizon

Christopher Green is another teacher who is using the Verizon Innovative Learning HQ tools, lessons, and immersive technology to captivate students at home and bring lessons to life in the physical classroom at Jeremiah Rhodes Middle School in San Antonio, Texas.

When Mr. Green was a student, his U.S. history textbooks mostly featured white people. As a young man of color, he struggled to connect with the material. Now as a history teacher in San Antonio, Texas, he has the opportunity to show his students that Black and Brown people have made and continue to make history, too.

Green now uses the Verizon Innovative Learning HQ’s UNSUNG app to immerse his class in interactive stories that resonate and feel relevant to his tech-savvy students. Students don goggles to interact with Storybox, a maze of AR “rooms” that pop up on a desk or wall. Inside, 3D puzzles and short essay questions test students’ knowledge of U.S. history. The answers unlock additional rooms where the young people talk to the avatars of Black artists and activists who were instrumental in cultural movements like the Harlem Renaissance.

Through the app, Green’s students have conversed with icons like Ella Sheppard and Odetta Holmes to learn about their contributions to American history. Created by nonprofit Movers and Shakers NYC in collaboration with Verizon, the app’s content aligns with Common Core standards which makes it easy to integrate into existing curricula.

Green believes there are enormous academic benefits to integrating next-gen technologies like AR/VR into the classroom, especially for digitally native young people.

“One of the important things about using tech in the classroom is figuring out ways students can be creators and tell stories about themselves and their ancestors,” he said.

Though students are mostly back in person, teachers can still take advantage of Verizon Innovative Learning HQ to help bring more next-gen lessons to their classrooms, and unlock their own creativity and curiosity along the way.

“Access to technology makes students think bigger, dream bigger and it makes them the greatest resources in the classroom”, said Ms. Roque. “When you trust kids to take technology and run with it, you’d be surprised by the results and all that they can learn and the places they can go.

To learn more and sign up for a free teacher account, visit verizon.com/learning.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Family

2 photos of a woman's bedroom reveal just how powerful depression can be.

"We need to be able to talk to each other about our feelings, even the bad ones."

This article originally appeared on September 7, 2016

Jonna Roslund is a 26-year-old from Sweden who lives with depression.

Photo via Jonna Roslund, used with permission.

Living with a mental illness affects many areas of a person's life, including one annoyance most of us can relate to: the dread of household chores.

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A round-up of delights from around the internet this week.

Hey all!

Welcome to Upworthy's weekly roundup of delights from around the internet. This week's list features a little of everything—gorgeous music, cute kids, adorable animals, hope for the planet and a brand new video message from the late and great Betty White.

That's right, Betty White left us a message of gratitude shortly before her passing. It's brief, but how lovely to see and hear her speak to her millions of fans one last time. Few celebrities are as universally beloved as Betty White was, and though we knew she couldn't live forever, it would have been fun to see her celebrate her 100th birthday. Now, at least, we get to experience her joy and warmth with a few last words.

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