Teaching fifth graders poses a challenge in terms of how much to expose them to online social networking. Should they have a My Space page or Face Book? In my opinion, absolutely not! They are, however, right at the cusp of socialization, which makes it the perfect time to train and prepare them for it.
About seven years ago I stumbled upon an online email program created for students and teachers called Gaggle. I needed my students to have an email address for an online Moodle course I had created. This seemed like the perfect solution. After obtaining parent permission, I set up an email account for each student in my classroom.
In Gaggle, I found not only an email address for my students, I found a safe way for them to communicate. With a built in filtering system, Gaggle allows little or no spam. The program also bounces all incoming or outgoing email that includes inappropriate language. Another nifty feature Gaggle has is a built in digital locker for each email account. If students are working on a project at home, they can transport it in their digital locker .
Over the years, Gaggle has expanded from an email program to a full communication program. Included in the package are blogs, message boards, digital lockers, chat rooms and profile pages. Teachers are in control and can decide whether the blogs, chat rooms, etc. are open to the district, the school or just the classroom. With my fifth graders, I always choose "just the classroom."
There are two versions of Gaggle, the free version and the paid version. The free version includes all of the options for keeping students safe with the following limitations. There is a limit to the amount of space students have in their digital lockers, teachers can only control fifty accounts, and there are annoying flashing commercials on the screen. I put up with those limitations for about six years, and the only real issue I had was having to boot students out of the system every two years. Even though they were in seventh grade by then, the students were disappointed to give up their account. I was proud that I had kept them safe from all of the unmonitored email accounts for a couple of years, and it really bothered me when I had to cut them loose.
Last year I convinced Gaggle to provide me with a free account (just for being such a loyal and veteran Gaggle user.) I also promised to work on my district to provide accounts for all students. This year my school district bought accounts for the middle school and high school. The teachers are amazed by the convenience and the ease of the program. They are also excited to integrate all the features into their classroom.-
In closing, I would like to share a creative way I used Gaggle last year with my classroom outside of school time. Before we went on Christmas break, my students and I made a pact to get into our class chat room to discuss our presents. We set the time for noon on the day after Christmas. About twelve students remembered to log onto the chat room that day and one teacher forgot! When I realized that I missed our "chat" I was disappointed and logged into my account. A wonderful feature with Gaggle is that every chat that occurs in your class chat room is saved in the teacher account. I was able to read the entire chat. I was amazed and proud of the way my students discussed their Christmas presents (and their missing teacher.) They were respectful and appropriate, just as they had been taught in class to behave in a chat room.
As teachers who introduce and open up the world of technology to our students, we have a responsibility to not only keep them safe, but teach them how to keep themselves safe. Instead of shutting their world out of school, we can use programs like Gaggle to enter that world and educate them.
If you are interested in checking out Gaggle, here is the link.