Podcasting with 3rd-5th graders using accessible and low-cost technology

December 19, 2014
 

All hands shot up when I asked the group of 3rd through 5th graders if they wanted to record themselves reading sentences for a sample audio newscast.

One-at-a-time, the students placed the combination headphone/microphone set over their heads.  As I pressed the record button on the audio editing software known as TwistedWave and cued the student, the others had their eyes on the Smartboard watching the audio wave that appeared and visually mapped the recording.

There were audible “oohs” and “ahs” while they watched. They couldn’t wait to hear theirs and the other students’ voices in the playback. 

We examined the sound wave itself, noticing peaks and dips, and I asked them to anticipate what some of the peaks would sound like.  When we played back one of those peaks and the voice was loud and distorted, they all burst out into spontaneous laughter. I showed them how to automatically normalize their recording with a few clicks and manually boost the low spots by applying gain.

One student, who I had been advised had trouble staying focused, was riveted.  His older brother is a DJ and uses an electronic mixer. He was familiar with what he was seeing and was eager to contribute.

And that’s the point of technology in the classroom from my perspective:  it engages kids, it can easily become interactive as a group or individual exercise and some of it, like TwistedWave, allows students to create their own stuff.  In this case:  an upcoming series of audio podcasts about events happening at their school, Stratton Academy of the Arts:  Microsociety and Leadership, for distribution on their student website

When the bell rang and it was time for the students to stop, they were disappointed they had to leave.  The next day four of the students got permission from their parents to stay late so they could finish their recording, do the editing on their Chromebooks, upload the final product to SoundCloud and embed the audio in a blogpost on their website.

All seven accomplished this.

Using your school’s existing technology to engage your students

If you have Chromebooks at your school and you think you might want to introduce podcasting, keep reading.  In this section I explain the technology and software needed to go from the idea to the finished podcast using the Chromebook and related tools.

To create the How-To podcasting manual (click on the PDF attached to this post for your own copy) I identified and assessed the school’s existing hardware: a classroom Smartboard in each classroom, Google Chromebooks for each student, a wired mouse and headsets with microphone/speakers.  The headsets, by the way, did not have USB connectors.  They had 1/8-inch mini plugs and so the students had to plug the microphone cable into their Chromebook to record their audio and then unplug it and plug in the other cable to hear their recording and make edits.

Next I found the only audio editing program that works with the Chromebooks (TwistedWave).  Since the Chromebook is a Google product and TwistedWave is designed for the Chromebook, the students logged into their Chromebooks and TwistedWave using their gmail email accounts.   They used Chrome as their browser. The school created an account on SoundCloud and the teacher logged-in for them. The school bought the premier unlimited account for $135 per year.  Free accounts are available.

As of the writing of this post, TwistedWave is free.  I’ve been in contact with customer service at TwistedWave and have been told that once the software is out of its beta phase, there will be a premium service available.   The free service will still be available but audio files will be limited to five minutes in length. That’s ample time for a student podcast.

Once I had the How-To manual written, I created a lesson plan to meet some of the digital age learning skills Illinois expects of third through fifth graders.  Before we did anything hands on, I showed the students an outline I had created of the steps involved in the process of creating and uploading their podcast.  I hid all of the steps on my big Post-It note with another Post-It note until we were ready to discuss each one:

  • Get equipment (Tools)
  • Record newscast (Host/Narrator)
  • Edit recording (Editor)
  • Save/Send Recording to Google Drive (IT or information technology)
  • Save on Desktop/rename File  (IT)
  • Upload to SoundCloud (IT)
  • Post as a Blog (Writer)

As we discussed each step, I asked them to anticipate next steps and to define the words in the outline. I gave them the name of the job that corresponded to each task.  We created a sample podcast as a group the first day.  Over the next two days they worked individually on their Chromebooks to finish the uploading process. All felt proud of their accomplishments.