Podcasting: Transforming Middle Schoolers Into ‘Middle Scholars’


Mac Educator Podcasting is a form of teaching, according to Jeanne Halderson (pictured here with three of her seventh-graders).

An innovative seventh-grade teacher has turned her students into expert podcasters by integrating the new Apple technology into her daily curriculum.

WANT YOUR STUDENTS taking on—make that, volunteering for—new assignments? Then round up the following: one creative middle school teacher, an enthusiastic group of young people, and some powerful technologies from Apple Computer (www.apple.com). It’s a recipe for success, when the teacher is Jeanne Halderson, the young people are her students at Longfellow Middle School in La Crosse, WI, and the technologies are iPods and Macintosh iBooks with GarageBand and iPhoto software.

Broadcasting to the World
The 57 seventh-graders in Halderson’s classes are learning to create podcasts as a natural component of their interdisciplinary, thematic curriculum. They perform the same regular curricular functions as other students at the school, and gladly do the extra work necessary to produce their podcasts. It matters not whether the topic of learning is science, history, mathematics, language arts, or any combination thereof. Students become thorough researchers, then report their findings in a recorded audio format rather than merely as a written report. The students see themselves as broadcasters, and they get a thrill when their recordings are placed on the iTunes Music Store for anyone, anywhere in the world, to listen to on an iPod.

Under Halderson’s watchful eye, students are in charge of the process. One of their first efforts was to research the availability of student-created podcasts. They learned that Longfellow students are the first in Wisconsin to produce their own programs.

Without any podcasts from their Wisconsin peers to compete with, the students listened to those they found in the general podcasting community, and became determined that their podcasts would be as good any available. They created guidelines for assessing the preproduction storyboards, scripts, and work assignments, and updated them as their understanding of podcasting grew. Their insistence on excellence was picked up by the Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) podcast channel, Cut to the Core: Essential Podcasts for Educators, which adopted a slight modification of the guidelines the students drew up as its screening mechanism for quality assurance.

Three C’s in a Pod
Today’s middle schoolers are a technocentric lot. They multitask naturally, hopping from one personal-level technology (like the iPod) to the next. So although Halderson had no idea when she launched the podcasting project that it would draw such worldwide attention, she trusted that her students would be drawn to it. She also believed in the inherent power of Macs as instruments of education. Halderson was sure that the combination of the two—willing students and dynamic technology—held great potential when connected to genuine learning.

Halderson’s methods manifest the three C’s of teaching: creativity, curiosity, and confidence. Naturally creative herself, she knows how to use the Mac to draw out the creative spirits within her students. Because she models the benefits of a strong curiosity, her students are free to explore new ways of learning and expression. Certainly, this project has strengthened and even increased the students’ confidence in themselves.

The culture of excellence that Halderson has fostered is real. It’s enabling students to become a meaningful part of a learning system, one in which they take pride because they feel ownership. They are demonstrating that when properly motivated, students who take responsibility for their own learning are the norm, not the exception.

“The technology is a tool to implement the curriculum,” Halderson says. “Podcasting is all about learning the content. If you don’t have educational content, you have no podcast; no amount of sound effects, visuals, or music can hide a lack of content in an educational podcast.

“I see podcasting as a form of teaching. The old adage is true: You remember 10 percent of what you hear, but 90 percent of what you teach. If we didn’t have Apples and iLife, much of what we’re accomplishing simply couldn’t be done.”

A Global Audience, a Personal Impact
Learn the benefits of podcasting—from the podcasters themselves.

JEANNE HALDERSON’S podcasting project has had quite an influence on the worldwide educational technology community. It enjoys a global reach, as the Longfellow Middle School podcast is available by free subscription at the iTunes Music Store under “Podcasts” (visit www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts, or you can find the podcasts on the Podcast Networks site at www.podcast.net/show/75801). Yet the impact at the most local level, from student to student, has been equally dramatic.

Speaking with the students, one comes away with a tremendous sense of how proud they are—of themselves, their team members, the things they are learning, and their pursuit of excellence in every aspect of school life. Their comments, many of which follow below, testify to the value of a teacher who inspires young people to leverage the power of technology to develop more productive lives:

“Whenever I hear myself on a podcast, I want to get better for the next time.”—Alex

“Podcasting makes me come up at lunch because I feel that people should know what we are doing at school. It also helps me to become closer to my friends.”—Ben

“Podcasting reaches out to others across the nation. I feel our voices are being heard.”—Alyssa

“Podcasting is very motivating because people from all over the world are listening to you.We are competing with all the other student podcasts to be the very best.”—Zach

“Podcasting isn’t just an assignment. It is your way of being creative and showing the things that you love.”—Brandon

“Podcasting is motivating because it is just plain fun. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, podcasting makes all subjects enjoyable to learn.”—Kim

“Podcasting is so motivating because you get to have fun while you are learning. You also get to team up with a partner and make a great piece of work.”—Jay

“Podcasting to me is a fun and educating way to learn. Making something fun makes kids want to do it more, and if you mix in grammar and writing, you will have geniuses in no time.”—Addison

“Podcasting motivates me because you feel like you are telling the world about little stuff that we do. It makes you feel important and accepted.”—Ryan

“Podcasting motivates me to do better with my sentence fluency and my speech.”—David

“All kids should have the opportunity, because podcasting actually makes you interested in school and in your work.”—Ryan

“GarageBand and iPhoto work together in perfect harmony with each other. GarageBand is very student-friendly, so it’s easy to work with yet it lets you use all the functions you would ever need to make podcasts.”—Luke

Larry S. Anderson is the founder and director of the National Center for Technology Planning (www.nctp.com) in Tupelo, MS. For more information on the Longfellow Middle School podcasting project, contact Jeanne Halderson at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.