Global homework - design of the times
Carroll students build Web sites with kids around world
12:00 AM CST on Thursday, February 2, 2006

By ANDREW D. SMITH / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Audrey Del Rosario, 13, Brandon Silver (center), 12, and Jonathan LaFevers, 12, work with students in Mexico and Japan to build a Web site. They are competing in the Global Virtual Classroom contest.

Dawson Middle School lucked out by drawing partners from Japan and Mexico.

True, the Japanese kids struggle with English, but at least they live in a compatible time zone.

As for the students in Mexico, they're a dream. They speak fluent English. They live in the Central time zone. Best of all, as a defending champion of the Global Virtual Classroom competition, they have much to teach their counterparts from the Carroll school district.

The 10-year-old competition, which is run by Give Something Back International, challenges student teams to design educational Web sites.

Participating schools are grouped into threes – with each partner coming from a different country – and pitted against other three-school teams.

The teams spend six months building their Web sites. Then, in May, a team of judges awards $3,000 to the top team, $1,500 to the second and $750 to the third.

The classroom contest seeks to teach three important lessons: how to design Web sites, how to work in teams and how to bridge cultural differences.

In North Texas, it seems to be succeeding.

"We've even learned stuff from little interactions, like trying to schedule our video conferences," said Julie Presley, a technology teacher who leads the 24 students on the extracurricular team from Dawson.

"The other schools wanted to meet during our holidays, and we wanted to meet during what turned out to be their holidays. I don't think that most of my kids or most of their kids realized the degree to which different countries operate on different schedules."

The Texas-Mexico-Japan team, formed in October, bravely chose a big subject, global issues, as the focus of its Web site.

Now the students have divided into smaller groups to gather material about topics such as pollution, global warming, natural disasters, diseases, cloning, the United Nations, nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.

Each subtopic team consists of at least one student from each country. The kids in each subtopic team must work together on nearly every aspect of the project, so they communicate frequently via computer.

Major video conferences, which bring every member of every team in face-to-face contact, take place about once a month, and by contest rules, all discussions take place in English.

"The kids on the Mexican team speak perfect English. The kids from Japan do OK with the reading and writing, but they seem to have trouble with the speaking, which makes us worried that we may have some problems with miscommunication," said Ms. Presley, who estimates that her students spend about 90 minutes a week on the project.

"We did get lucky, though, with the time zones. When it is 4:30 in the afternoon here, it is 7:30 the next morning in Japan, so we can all get together for the video conferences."

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Andrew D. Smith is a Dallas-based freelance writer.

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