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PHOTO CAPTION:  Sixth-grade students sit in Faith Middle School's media center Friday during a web conference with a class from Sembach Middle School in Germany.

November 13, 2013
By Adrienne Anderson

FORT BENNING, Gal, (Nov. 13, 2013) -- Students across the world, including Faith Middle School, are reaching out to each other to engage their critical thinking skills through a program called Global Read Aloud. Sixth -graders at Faith sat down Friday with their partner school -- Sembach Middle School in Germany, to ask each other questions via a web conference. Sembach is a Department of Defense Education Activity school.

The students work with their partners by reading a book and discussing it on a private blog. Students respond to each other's posts, as well as to questions posted by teachers, said Todd Carver, the educational technologist at Faith Middle School.

Carver created the blog the students use. The students created presentations as well.

The sixth-graders are at the end of their first book Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper. The book is about an 11-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who is frequently misunderstood by her peers and adults.

"I think Out of My Mind is a really good book and it teaches kids to accept other people who have disabilities," said sixth-grader Mark Prince.

At Faith, it started with sixth-graders, but the rest of the school got involved as well, said Tracy Lopez, an English language arts sixth-grade teacher. Seventh- and eighth-grade students teamed up with students in Okinawa, Japan.

"Getting kids to talk about books … is a really important part of the think process," she said.

The web conference was the culminating activity for the book, Carver said.

The program is already having a positive impact on the students, Lopez said. For example, seventh-graders got to listen to an expert speak about cerebral palsy and students involve others with disabilities in their activities.

"In my class … they invited kids from the resource classroom to sit with them at lunch," she said. "Now they continue to sit with those kids at lunch. It had a powerful impact … in the social domain of our school."

Beside the critical thinking and social skills developed, it also gets students engaged with technology, Lopez said.

"If you look at middle schools across the country, we are doing some incredible stuff," Lopez said, adding that the school's One to One Laptop Program ensures each child gets their own laptop. "We are preparing our kids for the 21st century."

And the students are building cross-cultural relationships with others. Because of the global society we live in, she said it was important for students to understand those with different cultural backgrounds.

"It's really cool because we get to see what other people think about the book and we can communicate with other people across the world instead of just talking to people in the school," Mark said.

The school has the momentum now that it has started to continue to grow, Lopez said.

"It's exciting for the kids and for Faith to have these relationships with schools from other countries," she said. "We are looking forward to continue that collaboration … and hopefully be able to spread it to other countries,"
Lopez said.