by Richard Fair
James Weldon Johnson College Prep Middle School
Gaggle has taken root and is growing here at James Weldon Johnson College Prep Middle School. As spring approaches, we are very busy getting our students ready for state testing (FCAT) and so much of the students’ and faculty’s time is being spent on last minute preparations. Part of these tests is done online so the time students have spent with Gaggle has been good background for this preparation. Since spring break occurs at the end of March, we especially don’t want students to zero down during the break. I am sending out a reminder to all the faculty that a good way of helping students over the break is to send them reminders and reviews through Gaggle.
I have been using the Gaggle Discussion Boards to start some out of class topics that we will be bringing into the classroom for further development during the next quarter. This is a way of getting my students to start thinking about real world situations and see how other class members feel about the same topics. During the last quarter, I like to use a form of challenge-based or problem-based learning in which the students will use the skills they have been learning in their Applications class to explore and decide on a possible way to solve real world situations. These situations or problems range from sustaining the environment to developing a Brain Users Guide based on the work of Dr. Judy Willis and others.
Another positive about our Gaggle adventure is that students are actively using their email accounts. In class, when we need to register for Web 2.0 tools, they can use their accounts without worry of compromising their home accounts. Also, many of them automatically use their email accounts to communicate with their teachers. I know that I have had to be sure to check my account on a daily basis because students will send me email there rather than my school account. I have also found that many students are taking advantage of the blogging tools to maintain a presence in the Gaggle Blogosphere. Some have some very thoughtful things to say and receive comments in the same thoughtful manner.
One of the very favorite Gaggle tools among students and faculty is the Gaggle Tube Videos. When I have pointed out to faculty members that there is an abundance of videos already catalogued according to subject or discipline, they were surprised, but later came back excited because they were able to find things that would complement what was being done in their class. These videos are also great to differentiate class work for students who may need the reinforcement of a visual aid that they can watch repeatedly for review or practice.
I am looking forward to what we, as a faculty, can do once the pressures of state-mandated testing is over and we can be more creative with our lesson plans during the final quarter of the year. I am planning to really push including Gaggle in those plans on a weekly (or daily) basis. The teachers who have been able to really explore it and use it have done so with excitement and creativity. There is no reason why the rest of the faculty can’t learn to do so also.
Richard Fair teaches computer science at the James Weldon Johnson College Preparatory Middle School in Jacksonville, FL.