Gaggle Comes To James Weldon Johnson College Preparatory Middle School

Gaggle is here! With those words we launched a new educational tool for faculty and student use here at James Weldon Johnson College Preparatory Middle School. We found out earlier this year that we would be piloting this program in our school district, with each student having a Gaggle email account and access to many other social media tools. JWJ is a dedicated magnet school for gifted and academically advanced students and a "Nationally Recognized Blue Ribbon School." With our reputation on the line, so to speak, our task was to find out as much as we could about Gaggle.

The first thing we learned was that Gaggle offered a filtered email opportunity for our students. But upon further research, we learned that students and teachers also have access to a safe, controlled environment that provides:

*Assignment Drop Boxes to assign, collect, assess and return assignments
*Digital Lockers to store and share files
*Gaggle Tube to search for videos and add them to assignments, blog posts, etc. These videos have all been sorted by subject areas which makes it so easy to find what you might be looking for.
*Social Walls which are very similar to what students may already be familiar with. These can be used to keep up with what's happening with you students, colleagues, after-school events or groups, etc.
*Blog areas where students and teachers can create multiple blogs with different themes and share them with others.
*Message Boards are nice to create class discussions and encourage participation. They can also extend the classroom beyond the school day and aid as a homework center.
*Chat Rooms can enliven class discussion in a whole new dimension.
*Instant Messenger allows communication with students or colleagues when needed.
*Calendars can be set up, managed and shared showing events, homework due dates, etc.
*My Classes is an area that integrates all the great Gaggle tools into every class and provides them access to class-specific information.
*And one of my favorite things is that there are lots of Training Videos available online anytime you have a question or forget how to do something.
*All of these are filtered, secure, and compliant with Federal Student Privacy Regulations.

At this time in the field of education, teachers are inundated with so many things to do that I had to be sure they understood the value of Gaggle and its benefits to their classrooms. Gaggle improves communication, adds support for the technology standards, motivates the students, and also reduces paper work.

The Gaggle team has been very cooperative and helpful along the way. They have worked with the district to help us use the same type of portal page that our faculty, staff, and students are used to. They even allowed us to add our own school logo or image file at the top of the Gaggle page and they offer several color schemes to make the Gaggle online screens unique to our school.

After setting up the pages, we had our introductory training session during our most recent faculty meeting. I showed the faculty and staff the Social Wall I had set up, the Blog I had started, and the Assignment Drop Box where I had put an example page and used Mark It Up (included in Gaggle) to make comments and grade the assignment. We looked at many of the other tools available and immediately the faculty was starting to think out loud about the possibilities of using these with the students. We talked about how some of these tools could be used as a way of starting to flip the classroom and extending the lessons beyond the four walls.

The buzz from the teachers proves that this is a good fit for us. Some exclamations heard:

"Wow, I can use this remotely and have the students tune in at a certain time to meet the mystery guests as a preview for the next unit."

"Paperless grading of essays! Great! No more lugging them home and hoping I bring every one of them back, and the feedback could be faster."

"I love the assignment drop box."

"We could fashion a discussion using the blog."

"I bet Grammar Girl could even run a blog of misused expressions, etc."

"This steps us into the present, and I can't wait for a future when education is not the last to come aboard."

As you can see, the response among the faculty is positive. We will be introducing Gaggle to the students during the second quarter and I expect the response from them to be equally as favorable.

Richard Fair is a computer science teacher and the Gaggle School Administrator at James Weldon Johnson College Preparatory Middle School.