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Podcasting Basics: Simple Steps for Introducing Podcasting into Your K-8 Class, Part 1

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Getting started with podcasting in your class doesn't have to be a complex undertaking. The software you need is free. The special hardware you need--if any--can be purchased for under $20. And you don't need to know a line of HTML. Yet the payoff--in student engagement, creativity and dedication--can amaze you.

How Smart Boards Can Help the Podcasting Process

One question that Pearl gets asked by teachers is what age is appropriate to begin podcasting. His experience tells him that for the most part the students have to be adept at using a mouse in order to work with the audio files they're creating, which he said he believes is about third grade. "They can click sound files from one place to another in the editing screen," he said. "They can put [pre-recorded] sound effects in."

The problem with that, he pointed out, is that it's hard to keep the rest of the class engaged if someone is working on a small screen and everybody else is watching. "Really, the person doing it is learning it."

Even an overhead projector that displays what's happening on the computer is only a partial solution. "Someone still has to come [to the keyboard] to use a mouse on a very small screen."

But an easier and more effective way to teach podcasting techniques is with a Smart Board from Smart Technologies, which allows the teacher to project images but also acts as a touch screen. "You've got the whole class sitting around, and you can have a child walk up," said Pearl. "Instead of working with a mouse, they're pressing the screen and it's activating. Then they can hold it down and drag and move files around.... It's an incredible piece of technology, and that's how I'm doing it now.

While Pearl has had access to Smart Boards in his high school, they weren't in use at his elementary school. He said he believes their existence in the classroom would be a useful addition for getting younger students engaged in the computer aspects of podcasting.

Brad Pearl runs the K-12 Podcast Academy, a consultancy that educates teachers in how to integrate podcasting into their classrooms. In this two-part article Pearl, who taught at Bonner Elementary School and currently teaches at Furr High School, both in the Houston Independent School District in Texas, shares six steps for introducing podcasting into your K-8 classroom.

Compile the Equipment
Presuming you have a Mac or a PC in the classroom, preferably full-time, you'll be able to get the software you need for free. On the Mac, which Pearl has more experience in using, the software you need for audio podcasting--GarageBand--will be included in a suite of software called iLife. GarageBand, said Pearl, will record your sound, allow you to edit the sound into podcast programs, and help you publish the results on the Internet.

For Windows or Linux, you'll need to download a fairly small and free program called Audacity, which lets you edit the podcast. Audacity also comes in a Mac version if GarageBand isn't available to you.

Also, you should have Internet access in the classroom to expedite publishing the podcasts once they're done.

For Windows, unless you have a microphone built into your computer, you'll need to buy one that plugs into your computer. You can find basic models for $5, he said, or you can get a better quality one for more. In his K-8 classes, he used a $30 USB mic that plugged directly into a USB port on his computer.

If budget isn't a concern, Pearl recommends a $65 stereo microphone sold by Giant Squid Audio Lab, which includes two mic attachments--one for the person doing the interviewing and another for the person being interviewed.

Also suggested for recording that is done away from the computer: a small, preferably hardy digital MP3 player/recorder.

Although the $20 model Pearl prefers--the iRiver iFP-890--is no longer for sale, he says to look for an alternative with these features:

  • A line-out plug that lets you attach an external microphone, if you have one;
  • A built-in mic for those times you don't have an external mic;
  • The ability to record audio;
  • The ability to record directly into the MP3 format;
  • Compatibility with the type of computer you're working with, Mac or PC.

Make sure the model you choose has a sturdy build to withstand the rigors of student use. Yes, they'll get dropped, said Pearl, but that doesn't mean they should break.

Choose a First Assignment
For his initial podcasting project, Pearl chose to do a class radio show. The first round consisted of the students writing and recording a paragraph about themselves. Each student had to come up to the mic to read his or her text, which, said Pearl, "creates this sort of cognitive dissonance in the kid. 'Speaking into a microphone? Are other kids going to hear me?'"

The teacher's job at this point, he said, is to calm them down and work individually with each student to gain confidence in speaking in front of a group and into a microphone. "Remind them that everyone is going to do it, so, therefore, everyone is going to hear everyone else."

If the group concept is too overwhelming, Pearl suggested doing the first round of recording in a more private setting, off to the side of the class.

The second round involved doing teacher interviews as additional segments for the show. As Pearl explained, "Somebody took a personal recorder, interviewed their teacher, asked them several questions, then brought that back to me."

Younger students will work from scripts they've created rather than go out into the "field" for audio material. Since many of Pearl's students are English-as-a-second-language speakers, he considered this work a major undertaking. "They have to write something up correctly, so you've got the whole grammar aspect," he said. "Then they have to practice reading, and they're very self conscious, so they had to read and rehearse."

In fact, he believes that the English language learning was ultimately the content for the class because the kids had to write, read, edit and work on their pronunciation skills.

Pearl would pair the students up so they could read to each other and practice their scripts. Some took the scripts home to practice in front of parents.

When he saw the effort being put out by the students, Pearl knew he was onto something. "This whole energy was created, all because we were doing a podcast and it was going to be published up on the Internet for the world to hear… The excitement around it is phenomenal."

Get School and/or District Permission
That last point--having an audience--is critical, Pearl believes. "If you know that your friends are going to hear something or your parents or whoever the audience is, I think you're going to put more passion into it and it's going to be better," he said.

But that means putting student material onto the public Internet where it will be accessible to all. For that reason Pearl recommends checking with the school principal and explaining what the podcasting project will be. The challenge, he said, will be in "convincing the people in charge that the time it takes to do a podcast is educationally relevant and it's going to benefit the kids."

He acknowledged that podcasting will be more time-consuming, because the students need to learn technical aspects of it. Also, since speaking isn't an important part of the mandatory state tests in Texas, called the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, that requires an additional level of justification, he said.

"Now, a savvy teacher understands, these kids are engaged, having [fewer] disciplines problems," Pearl said. "Kids are excited. They're taking ownership. Their writing probably will improve because they care more about their writing."

If a problem comes up regarding the use of student names in the podcast, Pearl suggests not having students say their names. "You can just say, 'I'm here reporting live at this…' and just read it off," he said.

What if the school doesn't grant approval? You can still create podcasts, said Pearl, and simply host them on your computer or on the school's intranet.

In the next installment in this series, we'll look at how to edit and publish the podcasts your class produces. Plus we'll provide advice for managing a classroom where it seems like every student is going off in a different direction in pursuit of the perfect podcast.

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About the author: Dian Schaffhauser covers high tech, business and higher education for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

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