Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lesson Plan: 5th Grade Student-Teacher Feature Podcast Project

This lesson turned out to be one of our best projects of the year in our 5th grade media literacy class. The overview and project description is posted online here. I teach a 5th grade media literacy/language arts class at USM and I only get to see the students once per cycle, which turns out to be roughly 1x per 8 calendar days (and if we miss a class due to a special event/field trip, sometimes it can be every 16 days!) In late April I had a little brainstorm to do something involving the students conducting interviews with teachers and staff here at USM. I wanted to have the students record their interviews and then do a little audio editing prior to posting the file as a podcast. Part of me thought this would bomb and part of me thought this would turn out as nicely as some of the other media projects the kids have created this year.

To solicit faculty staff participation in this project, I sent out an email back in April and asked interested folks to fill out this google doc online form (I'm a HUGE fan of google docs forms by the way!) The Teacher Feature Podcast projects are being posted online here.

Basically I had the students work in teams of 2-3 to do a little light research by reading the faculty/staff bio page at the school website of the person they were assigned to. While they were doing this, I had them open a google doc, collaborate the google doc with each other, and begin writing their 15-20 questions. This number of questions worked out great, as most interviews turned out to around 5 minutes or so. After students created their interview questions, I reviewed them and then sent the students off to have the conversation. Students used the Olympus WS110 portable recorders that we bought a few months ago. As a side note, I really like these recorders, but they do record in the "WMV" format, which requires a free program for the Mac called, "Switch," to convert the files to mp3 format. I would love to find low cost portable recorders that record natively in mp3 format, but they're hard to find and they seem to be a much more expensive than the WS110.

After students recorded the interviews, I pulled the WMV files off the Olympus recorders and converted them to mp3s using Switch. We then had the the students open Garageband and create a new podcast episode. We dumped the mp3 of their recorded file into their garageband podcast project and then added an intro, an outro, and a little jingle/bumper music file at the beginning and end of the project.

Here are a few take-aways from this project:

1. I think this project was highly authentic. The students absolutely loved participating in the project, and I think this has to do with the high degree of authenticity.

2. The students really pulled some interesting information out of the adults. I learned several new things about people with whom I've worked very closely with for several years (I know many other teachers who listened to the recordings who feel the same way).

3. The kids did a great job of customizing their interview questions to the background of their subject. Having them read their online bio was really helpful. Students could then ask questions like, "What was Yale like back when you attended school there?" It was also helpful having a few suggested questions for them to ask as well. These were posted at the project overview page.

4. I wish the kids had more time to edit the audio down after recording the interviews. We could've done more with cleaning up some the lulls and trimming out some excess audio at the start/finish of the interviews. But the reality of the situation is that I see the students very infrequently.

5. I also wish we had more time to talk about the elements of a good interview. I wish I would've encouraged students to ask more follow up questions where appropriate. But this is something that will come with more experience and comfort I'm sure. I did tell the students not to ask too many questions with yes/no or single word answers. For the most part, students asked follow up questions to these questions.

6. Arranging time for the kids to meet the adults was a bit of a cat herding act. In the end, I just starting sending the kids down to meet their subjects on a spontaneous basis. This seemed to work OK, but I'll still have a few students who will not be able to complete their interviews because of scheduling complications.

7. Giving students skills with conducting simple interviews like this opens the door to some amazing possibilities in the future. If students gain experience and comfort with this format, they'll then be able to record oral histories of family members, war veterans, older folks who have personal accounts of different historical time periods, etc. Our 8th graders are currently conducting interviews on the topic of the cold war and they're doing a great job. Having prior experience recording conversations with adults will be helpful in collecting some powerful oral histories in the future.

8. Older students can do this too! I know these seem "cute" and geared toward younger students, but I believe students in high school and higher ed can do this type of thing to create some extremely powerful content as well. If you have any ideas for projects with older students, please leave a comment.

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