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Along with blogs and wikis, podcasting is a digital product that teachers and students have begun to embrace.  Defined by Wikipedia as "a series of audio or video digital-media files which is distributed over the Internet by syndicated download, through Web feeds, to portable media players and personal computers," podcasts are engaging ways for students to share what they are learning with a world-wide audience. 


Educators have several sources for finding podcasts to use in their instruction----including Podomatic, the RECAP Podcasting Library and the Education Podcast Network----but the best source is easily iTunes.  In the iTunes Podcast Library---which can be found listed as a link in the iTunes Store menu---users can find a collection of almost 80,000 free audio and video programs being created by experts from around the world on topics ranging from racing to religion. 


Whether your listening to---or creating your own---podcast programs, this is a source of digital content that is definitely worth exploring.



Podcasts to Explore


An important lesson about podcasting for any teacher to embrace resembles a suggestion that I always make to teachers interesting in blogging:  Don't start making your own podcasts until you've spent some time listening to---and learning from---the podcast programs that are being created by others.  In all honesty, half the value in podcasting is finding programs that are connected to your curriculum that you can use as a resource for teaching and learning.  If you never created your own program but you found two or three programs that could help your students, wouldn't your podcasting efforts still be a success?


While podcast programs are constantly being created and cancelled (making it difficult to maintain a list of programs worth exploring), here are several that might be worth tracking down----either online or in iTunes---for use in your classrooms or in your own professional development:


The Ecogeeks:  My students' favorite podcast program is The Wild Classroom by the Ecogeeks.  Pairing college and graduate students in environmental science fields from around the world with video cameras, the Ecogeeks introduce students to concepts related to biodiversity and environmental protection in a collection of quirky videos that kids get a kick out of. 


The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd:  The longest running podcast program online is The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd, a program that models itself after the radio programs of the early 20th century.  Imagine your students sitting around the computer listening as Dr. Floyd takes on his arch-enemy Dr. Steve---and learns about the important events in history at the same time!  Now that's a good time.


National Geographic Podcasts:  What has been most exciting to me as an educator is that many of the biggest educational television networks have started to create podcast programs that are extensions of their regular programming.  This link will connect you to the complete list of podcast programs being offered by National Geographic.  The best of this collection is easily The Wild Chronicles, a program offering new 3-5 minute video segments every week.   


Discovery Channel Podcasts:  Got to give equal time to the Discovery Channel, right?  After all, they've got a pretty impressive collection of video podcasts that you'll be able to use in your classroom too. 


History Channel Podcasts:  And you guessed it----The History Channel offers podcasts too!  (Including one on the Ice Road Truckers.  Oooh---Can't Touch This.)


BBC Podcast Library:  Another source for interesting video and audio podcasts is the BBC---Britain's leading news source.  Complete with programs covering new music, old history, and current events from every content area and country, this library is sure to be of value to middle and high school teachers----and to any American interested in learning more about the world from an international perspective. 


Grammar Girl:  Looking for a fun way to introduce your middle or high school students to the grammar rules that they still haven't learned despite your best efforts?  Then check out Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips.  A collection of 3-5 minute recordings that introduce listeners to every grammar rule known to man, Grammar Girl is a podcast program that even I subscribe to!  (or is it, "that I even subscribe to?") 


The Princeton Review Vocab Minute:  So I've taught Language Arts for a long time---and one lesson that I've learned is that teaching vocabulary is painfully essential.  Painful because kids hate the flashcards and sentence writing that goes along with traditional vocabulary lessons and Essential because students just don't have a broad collection of words to draw from when reading and writing.  That's where the Princeton Review Vocab Minute comes in handy.  Full of fun songs introducing interesting words, you may just convince your students that learning new vocabulary words is not as bad as they thought it was. 


Radio Willowweb:  Radio Willowweb is a great example of the kind of work that elementary students are doing with podcasting.  Created by the teachers and students of Willowdale Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska, Willowcasts are developed by students, for students----and they cover topics across the curriculum.  When listening to a Willowcast, notice how professional the recordings are.  Each is scripted and includes bumper music to introduce new segments. 


Podcast Central at Mabry Middle:  While the podcast collection at Mabry Middle School in the Cobb County Public School System hasn't been updated recently, it still remains one of the best collections of audio and video podcasts created by kids available online.  Known for their creative use of video in the curriculum, Mabry pioneered podcasting when other schools were just discovering the internet.  The archives at this site will definitely give you some ideas about what podcasting can look like in your classroom.


Comedy Central Podcasts:  Alright---so I couldn't resist writing an entire page about podcasting without including a link to my own favorite podcast programs.  They have nothing to do with school----and there is probably some objectionable content somewhere in this collection----but these short video programs spotlighting comedy sketches by up and coming comedians make me laugh....even on days when I have about a thousand papers to grade.  View at your own risk!



Choosing to Debate


Once you've decided to take the plunge and begin podcasting with your students, you're going to have a thousand decisions to make.  First, you'll need to decide on a format for your program.  I'd suggest that you choose to create a radio-style interview program where two students debate topics that are connected to your curriculum.  For my students, debating is second nature---they are middle schoolers, after all----and highly motivating.  What's more, debate-style radio programs encourage students to articluate their own position on controversial topics---a thinking skill that should be encouraged in every classroom. 


Need an example of what a debate-style radio program might sound like in action?  Then listen to this recording---which was embedded in this blog post----where two students debate whether or not the European Union should invest any resources into saving the Iberian Lynx, an endangered animal in Spain. 


While listening, notice how the format of the recording is approachable and the overall presenation is short.  Podcasts don't have to be long and complicated creations.  The idea behind podcasting is to get students to share their own thinking----and then to have that thinking challenged by listeners who leave comments.  Consider the four different comments left by listeners for the authors of the Iberian Lynx podcast episode:


Yes it's worth saving this or any species, as each living being is unique to the whole cosmos, think about that. How amazing!  Ask this question. What price will we pay, when they're gone forever?



The price is going to be great, because the animal could have taught us about other species that could've already become extinct. It also could teach us about how to take care of other animals to prevent the other species from becoming extinct. We need to help this animal, because knowing about this animal, might teach us about a future species. So it is worth putting a lot of money to save an endangered species.



I think that this is a good idea to use this money to help the endangered species. In my school we had to do a speech and tell about an endangered species. I chose the lemur and learned alot about what you can do to help them. Like sending $15 will give them money to stop people frome logging in their natural habatat. And $100 can help make a preserve and save them. What they could do to help the Lynx is make websites and advertise to earn money from poeple other than ones in their own country. So when they advertise then they will probably earn more money to help the Lynx from extinction.


Of course it is!!! Any species that is down to 150 out of all 7 continents is diffinently worth saving. Once a species is gone, you can't ever get it back.



Debates surround us, don't they?  Regardless of the content that you teach, students can find topics worth wrestling with.  If you are a language arts teacher, consider having your students tackle topics related to the novels that you are studying in class:  Which character is the most important to a particular story?  What was the most important lesson that readers can take away from a piece of text?  How could the author have improved his piece to make it more relevant to students today.  


If you're teaching social studies or science, engage your kids in conversations about current events:  How should countries respond to challenges that face the entire world?  When should a country step in to help another?  Do citizens of one nation have obligations to share their knowledge, expertise and wealth with members of other nations.  By doing so, you'll give your students exposure to the kinds of events that are shaping our world today-----which builds valuable background knowledge and cultural literacy.  


Working in an elective class like art or music?  Have your students critique a piece of work or a performer that you've been studying in class.  Not sure what kinds of things are worth debating in your classroom?  Then ask your kids!  I'm sure they'd like nothing more than telling you how they feel about what they're studying!  Opinions are one thing that most kids are never opposed to sharing. 




Once you've selected a format for your classroom podcast program, it's time to make some technical decisions.  First, you'll need to decide whether you want to create audio or video recordings.  My recommendation:  Stick with audio recordings to begin with.  They are far easier to make and you wont have to worry about obtaining as many permission slips----Videos can be dangerous as kids give away their identities!


Then, you'll need to choose a tool to collect and create your recordings----and there are a thousand different potential solutions.  Many classroom podcast programs use desktop microphones and a free recording software called Audacity to create highly polished programs.  To add "bling" to their recordings, they find royalty free bumper music at sites like Garageband and sound effects at sites like CCMixter and the Freesound Project


While the work created by these classrooms is always incredibly impressive, it can also be incredibly time consuming to create---and it often requires digital tools that teachers may not have readily available.  Podcasting projects that start with the best of intentions, then, end up failing because of a lack of time, a lack of training or a lack of tools.


The solution:  Begin your podcasting efforts using a free podcasting service like Gabcast.  What makes services like Gabcast so valuable is that student recording is done over the phone----whether that be a cellphone, landline or computer-based connection.  Users dial a 1-800 number, enter a specific code that identifies their podcast program and then begin recording.  It's as simple as that!


What's even better is that your recordings are automatically posted on a Gabcast webpage, where listeners can access new content and comment on the recordings that you've added.  Teachers who start with Gabcasting essentially get an all-in-one home for their podcasting efforts---no special tools or skills required (other than a telephone----and if you don't have one of those, ask your students.  I guarantee you that there's a cell phone or two in a locker on your hallway right now!)


The weaknesses of using a tool like Gabcast are few.  First, the recording quality that you'll get from a cell phone or a landline doesn't match the recording quality that you'll get from a microphone and a program like Audacity.  What's more, while it is possible to edit a Gabcast recording----by downloading the file, working with it on your computer, and then uploading it back to Gabcast----it's not easy!  That means your recordings will lack the "bells and whistles" that more polished podcast programs have.


But for me, the weaknesses are nothing when compared to the benefits of Gabcast.  With little trouble, my students can record on any topic from anywhere.  If we're on a field trip and they want to record their reflections, it's no sweat.  All they have to do is dial a 1-800 number from their cellphones.  If we're in the classroom and I want small groups of children to comment on a topic that we're studying in class, it's done.  "Kids, go get your cell phones and working with a partner...." 


(Needless to say, that's one of their favorite parts of our day.)


What Gabcast offers is immediacy.  Students and teachers using Gabcast to record can begin podcasting today without having to take any continuing education classes or begging for resources to buy new digital tools.  That kind of flexibility is what literally defines the work of the 21st Century----and it is the kind of work that teachers should be emphasizing in their classrooms. 


(If Gabcast is blocked by your school district's firewall, consider checking out Gcast or Podomatic.  Both are similar services that may be of value to you in your efforts to get plugged in.)


Where to Begin


Often, the hardest part of starting a podcast project is taking the first step.  Here are some tools that might just make that first step feel less like a leap and more like a skip:


Current Events Scripting Template



Students can use this template to craft a podcast episode related to a controversial current event.  It is the template that was used by the students to create the podcast episode linked earlier in this webpage.  If you're looking for interesting current events to use with your students, consider visiting this wiki



Literary Smackdown Template



Have you got two students that can't stop arguing about their favorite novels?  If so, then turn them loose with one of these scripts, which will allow them to create a podcast episode debating the merits of their novel of choice!



OMG! IMHO Overview



One of the projects that we're starting in our classes is a station activity where students discuss different aspects of a novel that they are reading in class with one another.  As a part of that activity, students are going to create a podcast episode reflecting on things like characterization, tone, author's purpose, and theme.  This handout introduces the project to students.



OMG! IMHO Template



This handout includes the scripting template that students will use when creating IMHO episodes.



Directions for Calling Gabcast



This set of directions will walk students through the process of calling Gabcast and recording a podcast episode.  Note:  Teachers---before you can use this handout, you'll need to create a free Gabcast account and then add your channel ID and password to this handout in the appropriate places.  Also, if you are not a resident of North America, you'll have to find a different access phone number for your students to call from the Gabcast website.


No fair blaming international calls on me now!


















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