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 the FCAT state testing exams. So much of the students’ and faculty’s time is spent on last-minute preparations. Parts of these tests are done online so the time students have spent with Gaggle has been a good background for this preparation. Since our spring break occurred at the end of March, we especially didn’t want our students to zero down during their time away from class. I sent out a reminder to all faculty members to share with them that a good way of helping students over the break was to send them reminders and reviews through Gaggle.
I have been using the Gaggle discussion boards to start some of the topics that I will be bringing into the classroom for further development in the next quarter. This helps 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 taught my students to use the skills that they learned from challenge-based and problem-based learning to explore possible ways to solve real-world problems. These situations range from sustaining the environment to developing a brain user’s guide.
Another positive advantage of our Gaggle adventure is that it encourages our students to actively use their email accounts. In class, when we need to register for Web 2.0 tools, they can use their Gaggle email accounts without compromising their home accounts. Also, many students automatically use their email accounts to communicate with their teachers. I have had to be sure to check my account on a daily basis because students will send me email there rather than to my school account. Many students take advantage of 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 favorite Gaggle tools among students and faculty is the Gaggle Tube videos. When I pointed out to faculty members that there is an abundance of videos already catalogued according to subject or discipline, they were initially surprised. Later on, they were excited because they were able to find things that complemented their class lessons. These videos are also great to differentiate class work for students who may need additional visual aids for review and practice.
I am looking forward to what the faculty can do once the pressures of state-mandated testing are over. Then we can really focus on being 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 and 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 as well.
Richard Fair teaches Computer Science at the James Weldon Johnson College Prep Middle School in Jacksonville, FL.