(Cross post from the Microsoft on the Issues Blog.)

Posted by Andrew Ko
General Manager, Microsoft Partners in Learning

For many of us, there has been at least one special person who has had a significant impact on our lives, and has inspired us to reach where we are today. It may be a parent, relative or a friend, but for many, it’s a teacher. Today is Teacher Appreciation Day, a day for honoring teachers and recognizing the lasting contributions they make to our lives.

Educators are at the frontline in preparing our students to compete in a globally competitive workforce, and I am continually inspired by how today’s most innovative and inspiring teachers use current socio-economic challenges as learning opportunities for their students. David Squires from Oak Valley Middle School in Commerce Township, Mich. is one such teacher, working with his students on a project to achieve the impossible: solve unemployment.

With Michigan’s high unemployment rate at 8.5 percent, students could relate to the problem, were aware of the causes, and had seen and often times felt the impact first hand. This connection generated student interest not only in the initial stages of the project, but also increased their desire to help solve the problem. Students were tasked with researching the issue, and developing presentations for the class, school and community that explore the issue and offer solutions to combat unemployment.

The unemployment issue hits us all. A recent International Youth Foundation Report, commissioned by Microsoft and entitled “Opportunity for Action”, found nearly 75 million of the world’s young people, ages 15 to 24 years-old, were unemployed in 2011. Of that total, 4 million were in the U.S. The report found that education is the linchpin in changing those circumstances, noting students with higher levels of education are more likely to find work in today’s economy.

Effective use of technology in the classroom is vital because it is so critical to students’ success. The impact technology can have is very evident in David Squires’ seventh-grade classroom. Students used a variety of technologies, including Microsoft OneNote, Excel, Skype and Movie Maker, to research, share data and ideas, and present their proposed solutions. Students also incorporated lessons from their math and social studies classes to analyze local data, graphs and discuss calculations, ratios, percentages, linear relationships and social implications of varying unemployment levels and political decisions.

At the end of the school year, students will share their solution to unemployment with individuals, businesses, NGOs and elected officials. Through this, students get first-hand experience in civic responsibility and learning what it takes to help affect change.

It’s that change that Microsoft is dedicated to cultivating. We are actively and deeply engaged in helping provide educators with the tools they need to be successful in engaging and inspiring the next generation of future leaders. Microsoft Partners in Learning is a 10-year, almost $500 million global initiative aimed at improving teaching and learning. Since 2003, we’ve led the way in partnering with educators, helping nearly 10 million educators, and reaching more than 200 million students in 119 countries in our first seven years alone. It is why we are so proud to support the annual Microsoft Partners in Learning Forum, which honors educators who creatively and effectively use technology in the classroom to support critical skills development and learning for today’s students. David Squires is one of 44 U.S. educators selected to compete at the 2012 Partners in Learning US Forum, taking place July 31-August 1 in Redmond, Wash., and we encourage other innovative educators to apply by May 15 so they too can celebrate, collaborate and learn from their creative peers across the country.

We are encouraged by David’s lesson and the impact one class can have on the nation’s future. David says he hopes that by the end of the school year, his students will realize, even as middle school students, they can have a significant impact on their community and their world. That is inspirational, and we are excited to see how David’s students learn to become forces for change.