learning through collaboration

Students Take Charge of Their Learning Through Collaboration: Danesa Menge on SMART amp Software and Google

Danesa Menge is a Google Certified Teacher who has presented at Google summits. She is also a SMART Exemplary Educator.

She teaches grade seven English Language Arts at Oakdale Junior High in Oakdale, California, where Chromebooks are the exclusive student device in her classroom. She’s recently been exploring SMART amp’s integration with Google to see how she can promote a collaborative learning environment where students truly take control of their own learning.

At a Glance

Collaboration is a skill that students need to learn to be successful, yet how do you teach it while engaging students in a way that encourages them all to participate?

Combining Google Apps for Education, Chromebooks and SMART amp software gives students a powerful way to work together, using intuitive tools they are comfortable with and ways to communicate that don’t put them on the spot.

The integration is seamless, meaning work done in SMART amp can be accessed, shared and evaluated in Google Apps for Education and on Chromebooks easily. SMART amp workspaces allow students to pull in YouTube clips, image files, URLs, communicate with each other over embedded chat, all without leaving the workspace.

The Challenge

Collaboration is increasingly being recognized as not just a technique or method for learning, but as an essential soft skill that students need to develop as they become adults. Research shows that many educators believe developing the skill of collaboration is as essential as knowledge skills like reading, writing and arithmetic.

Many classrooms are not naturally set up to facilitate the development of this important skill though. Curricula tend to focus on individual learning and the adoption of the core curriculum. The natural ways in which students interact and comfortably communicate are not supported by many classroom technologies and pedagogy.

The introduction of Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education into Danesa’s classroom shifted the pedagogy and engagement. Students are familiar with Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education, which creates more engagement. But Danesa felt there was still more she could be getting out of students and the learning.

She was looking for more intuitive ways for students to interact with each other, direct their own learning and communicate comfortably, without the fear or stress of being at the ‘front of the class’. In short, better ways to promote collaboration.

Enter SMART amp software.

“It wasn’t until I unleashed my students on it that I understood what SMART amp was truly about. It’s about students taking charge of their learning in a collaborative way.”

–Danesa Menge, Grade Seven ELA teacher, Oakdale Junior High

The Solution

Interestingly enough, when Danesa first experienced SMART amp, she wasn’t sure how she could use it in her classroom or how it differed from what she was already using.

“It wasn’t until I unleashed my students on it that I understood what SMART amp truly is about,” Danesa says. “It’s about students taking charge of their learning in a collaborative way.”

What SMART amp allowed Danesa to do was seamlessly integrate her Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education with a software specifically designed for education and collaboration – leveraging the familiar Google experience with a software engineered to get the most out of it.

Something as simple as using the same Google login to access the software started things off on the right foot, yet the more Danesa explored, the deeper the integrations went.

She now creates activities in SMART amp’s collaborative workspace to be distributed via Google to students – either individually or to a selected group. The students interact within the workspace together, in the groups Danesa has created. All of their work is automatically saved on their Google Drive. Sharing is that simple. No time need be spent on managing it.

Danesa then gets a folder with all of the students’ names in it, allowing her to check and monitor their work from the day.

“It’s seamless,” Dansea says. “Google Apps for Education and SMART amp is seamless, and I appreciate that.”

The integration keeps getting tighter. A new feature allows Danesa to import her class list from Google Classroom directly into SMART amp, saving her even more time.

As her class is standardized on Chromebooks, it’s also important for Danesa that SMART amp enhance her use of them. It doesn’t disappoint.

“SMART amp makes Chromebooks more effective,” Danesa says. “Students direct their learning, collaborate with the teacher and other students, as well as get assessed –  all without leaving the workspace.”

What Danesa is referring to is the ability for students to share videos, pictures, research and references to the work they are exploring, all within one SMART amp workspace. So the process of learning becomes inextricably tied to the outcome. Plus, having multiple media options gives more options for experiential content that helps students who learn better that way.

The collaboration is seamless, interactive and involves different types of media. And no one needs to leave the SMART amp workspace to do so. All the while, Danesa monitors who is contributing what.

For Danesa it’s the perfect solution: a way to integrate a familiar experience with software specifically designed to address the skill of collaboration so essential to her students’ future.

“Students direct their learning, collaborate with the teacher and students, as well as be assessed –  all without leaving the workspace.”

–Danesa Menge, Grade Seven ELA teacher, Oakdale Junior High

The Capabilities

So how does SMART amp promote and enhance student learning through collaboration? Danesa told us about a lesson she ran that leveraged this powerful integration.

“In most lessons, teachers give prior knowledge references,” Danesa says. “We were learning about Eleanor Roosevelt and I decided, this time, not to do that. I didn’t tell them where to research, how to research, I didn’t provide them with web links. Normally that’s something I’d do.”

This meant that other than knowing the name of the person they were researching and learning about, the students had no other information.

An amazing thing happened.

Working in a SMART amp workspace, each group began putting together information from all the resources at their disposal – pulling in YouTube videos, Googling for information from within the SMART amp workspace, adding URLs and images.

Students who historically were less likely to contribute were sharing information, and getting it, through SMART amp’s embedded chat. It was co-creation, with Danesa not at the front of the classroom leading, but as another resource for the students to draw on.

“When you give them control of their learning, they learn so much more,” Danesa says. “So by the time we got to the reading [on Roosevelt], which was a lot slimmer than what they’d discovered, they’d ask ‘Well, what about this?’ They were pulling out the facts they’d already learned on their own.”

Danesa has found what she’s looking for: collaboration where students lead the conversation.

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Heather Lamb
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About Heather Lamb

A lifelong learner, Heather has over 16 years’ experience working in K-12 environments including the library media center. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas. Her research interest includes ubiquitous learning environments. As one of SMART’s Marketing Managers, Heather loves sharing inspiring stories from our customer community.

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