The transition from middle school to high school can often be daunting; however, students in Memphis City (Tenn.) Schools have found that Gaggle, which provides online learning tools, can help ease this changeover with its social media features.
“It’s very important that we acknowledge what the developmental literature tells us,” says Irving Hamer, MCS deputy superintendent of operations, technology and innovation. “Middle school students are seeking relationships and want to be a part of a crew of children with like minds. These adolescents are going to figure out a way to be engaged digitally.”
Gaggle, which originally began in 1998 offering safe email access to students and teachers, has since expanded to incorporate social media and communication features to its Web platform. MCS introduced Gaggle to its 110,000 students in 2008 with the unique intent of supporting middle school students. Since then, they have seen the site’s users increase and are in the process of expanding it to grades 3-12.
MCS has particularly found its social wall to be useful for students looking to connect to students with similar interests.
The portal is similar to Facebook, says Andrea Keith, director of client engagement at Gaggle, where each student has their own profile, ability to update their status, post pictures and links and join groups based on their classes or interests—without the typical cyber risks.
“Everything, whether it be a wall post or an instant message, goes through our filter,” says Keith. If a student types any profanity, sexually explicit or violent language, the post is deleted and redirected to a teacher or Gaggle representative for review. “It’s very effective in helping [and dealing with] student safety, gang issues, and bullying,” says Keith.
In addition to providing a social element, Hamer feels this tool is vital to teaching students how to be good digital citizens. In this manner, they can “learn what is right and wrong,” he says. “Facebook and social media is a relatively new phenomenon and we’re all learning lessons the hard way,” Hamer adds. “Kids are recognizing the pitfalls of these situations, and are finding benefits of collaborating in a safe, regulated environment that they can personalize and access on their own.”