This teacher is using video games in his lesson plan. And kids (obviously) love it.
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Microsoft

It all started with a lesson on "Romeo and Juliet" and a student who wanted to show what he learned ... using Minecraft.

Chris Aviles, then a high school English teacher, didn’t even know what his student meant by that idea. But he let him run with it, so Aviles' student re-created scenes and settings using the popular video game — and his classmates loved it.

"Once the other kids saw that he was allowed to do that, you know, it kinda blew up in the classroom," says Aviles.


That moment sparked a change in how Aviles approached education and technology with his students.

Aviles with his eager students. Photo by Katie Smith, used with permission.

Aviles is now the ed-tech coach for Fair Haven School District in New Jersey, where he runs the Innovation Lab, a new kind of learning program with a curriculum that's very in tune with the times.

"We teach students design thinking, computer science, engineering, digital arts like podcasting, video-making, and entrepreneurship," says Aviles.

"It's kind of like a 21st century think tank, maker space, where we really just try to get our hands dirty and give our kids the experience that they need to be successful in the future."

And if the projects are any indication, it looks like his students are having lots of fun learning. "I had kids making music videos, I had kids making raps, I had kids making movie trailers for books, I had kids using Minecraft and building 'Catcher in the Rye' scenes," says Aviles. "Next thing you know, my kids are making, making, making all the time."

Aviles' teaching method is based on two pretty awesome principles: gamification and game-based learning.

Gamification in this case means using game mechanics to engage students, like splitting into teams and scoring points in class activities. Game-based learning is using actual video games like Minecraft to teach and assess kids.

Photo via Microsoft, used with permission.

"There’s a lot of lessons that you can learn in a video game and that lesson is being delivered in pretty much every kid's favorite format," adds Aviles. "And we’re kind of crossing that line where learning is fun and fun is learning."

And at the Innovation Lab, it's all about customization and collaboration.

That’s why Aviles loves Minecraft so much as a teaching tool. It’s a blank canvas where students can create anything their heart desires. On top of that, kids are able to learn at their own pace. Says Aviles, "I can have 25 kids all in Minecraft doing 25 different lessons at varying difficulties while I work around the room and I teach through the trouble."

Photo via Microsoft, used with permission.

The lab is also about empowerment. "Instead of the being the person in front of the room who thinks they know everything, I work alongside my kids, and I push them towards their goal, and we’re now learning together in the same classroom," Aviles says.

He likens this learning process to when he teaches kids how to code. "It teaches them how to attack a problem. It teaches them that it’s OK to fail the first time because you might not get the answer right the first time. And then you go back and you troubleshoot and you squash bugs over and over until you get the desired result. And so that process of thinking like a coder, I think, is really valuable."

Currently, only 40% of K-12 schools across the country actually have a computer programming or coding class, but Aviles says he hopes that will change in the near future.

Getting kids involved in computer science early is especially important given the lack of diversity and unique voices that exist within the industry.

"Whoever is writing the code is going to be controlling the future," says Aviles. "Right now, the field is dominated by white men, and making sure that a diversity of voices is represented in computer science is only going to ensure that the population that this technology serves is equally represented."

Photo by Chris Aviles, used with permission.

The computer science industry is projected to yield 1 million more jobs than students by 2020. So getting kids interested and encouraging them to make their voices heard can only bring forth a more unified and prosperous future.

Adds Aviles, "Every kid has their own background and has their own story and experiences that they can bring to the next product that is going to serve millions of people."

Interested in getting your child to explore the wonderful world of code? Check out Microsoft’s new Minecraft coding tutorial, as well as all the fun (and free) resources available on the YouthSpark Hub.

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
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With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

"Music just makes everything better," Obi said. "If there was an app to bring musicians together on short notice, we could bring so much joy to the people at those memorials."

Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

She worked alongside four other Pursuit Fellows to build In Tune, an app that connects musicians in close proximity to foster opportunities for collaboration.

When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

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I remember being baffled that so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

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It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

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via Jody Danielle Fisher / Facebook

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With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

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