Podcasting for Remembrance Day: A Joyful Learning

This week spent learning about podcasting was a challenging, stimulating, and joyful week for me. Joyful, you ask? Absolutely. I read Stephen Wolk’s article The Positive Classroom: Joy in School from the September 2008 issue of Educational Leadership. Wolk is talking about the dictionary definition of joy: ‘According to my Random House dictionary, joy means, “The emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something good or satisfying.”‘

Wolk discusses 11 kinds of joy; I’m borrowing some of them to share with you what I learned about the power of podcasting.

JOY 1: Find the Pleasure in Learning

Wolk talks about teaching as nurturing; we must help our students find their reasons to learn. I started out already knowing my reason to learn. I knew when I started to work on this topic that I wanted to create a podcast of Mona Gould`s poem, “This Was My Brother.”

Why this poem? It is one I always shared with my students when we worked on our Remembrance Day programs. It is Canadian, written by a Saskatchewan-born poet and broadcaster after she lost her brother in World War II. And finally, a more personal reason: I lost my brother last year and this poem reminds me of him; he was very proud of the time as a young person that he spent in the army reserves. This kept me motivated all week, even through the many challenges.

The creation of Remembrance Day programs motivated many of my students to learn. The most successful program we did was the year I had grade nine language arts students interview a relative about the personal cost to the family of war. Students recorded the interviews and we based the program around this content.

We created tableaux of actors in costume portraying one scene from the reminiscence as the appropriate audio played in the background. We also used some of the audio as soundtrack for the slide presentation we created from family photographs students brought to share. Every student in the class was involved either onstage or backstage as we honoured these memories. While the joy was sombre in nature, it was definitely there.

JOY 2: Give Students Choice

This project was joyful for me because I was able to choose what was meaningful. I was able to choose music as well as the poetry; I have always loved Ravel’s evocative “Pavane for a Dead Princess.” I was also able to choose a project that I was capable of doing. At one point I thought of reading a longer piece, but I decided once I started recording that I didn’t know enough about recording, editing, adding music, creating effects, and exporting to deal with a long reading and the resulting large file.

When working with my students I always gave them choices too. Those who were uncomfortable performing in front of an audience were able to choose other tasks. We had students editing tapes, organizing slides, running lights or sound, writing scripts, creating costumes, and more.

JOY 3: Let Students Create Things

In Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Will Richardson talks about the importance of audience for students. He says, “Podcasting is yet another way for them to be creating and contributing ideas for a larger conversation, and it’s a way of archiving that contribution for future audiences to use” (p. 113).

I did some searching on the web for schools that have used podcasting as a way of honouring Remembrance Day in Canada, and found only a couple of examples. Eel Ground School in Eel Ground, New Brunswick, a school with lots of interest in new media, has a podcasting club. Here is their podcast of a special ceremony on November 8, 2006, where the school honoured not only Canadian veterans but also soldiers visiting from Maine.

Vincent Massey Collegiate, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, also active in podcasting, has podcasts of their guest speakers for Remembrance Day (scroll down to find presentations by Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bastable).

How I wish that I had had these tools to use earlier in my career. How wonderful it would be to have an archive of the incredible creativity, expertise, and sensitivity that my students showed in their contribution to the observance of Remembrance Day in our school.

JOY 4: Show Off Student Work

We invited family members to attend our Remembrance Day presentation, and of course they were always suitably impressed. How sad that we were unable to create a more lasting version of our work. If only we had had the resources we have now, this would have been a natural to videotape and then broadcast. The students could create individual podcasts of the interviews, web slide shows, and more.

I’m happy to show off my presentation. While technically imperfect, it captures for me the essence of where I am right now with this new skill. More importantly for me, it gave me something positive to do with the feeling of loss that I am still trying to integrate into my life.

This Was My Brother by Mona Gould

JOY 5: Take Time to Tinker

Ah, yes – the joy of tinkering! Thank goodness for the booklet Learning in Hand – Podcasting for Teachers & Students Booklet that classmate Christine Robinson shared with us. The step-by-step directions walked me through the technical niceties of downloading and using Audacity, import music, and do some basic editing, as well as how to save and export the file. I still really haven’t mastered trimming down a long piece of music to the right length, and properly fading out music, and I certainly need to find some more detailed instructions.

Of course I referred to all of these directions AFTER using Windows Sound Recorder, and spending a l-o-n-g time recording my poem only to discover the format isn’t supported by Audacity! I had to record it yet again. And again. And another five or six times.

At this point Irealized that the inexpensive microphone I bought really isn’t good enough for the job, so I’ll have to buy something better when I have had a chance to research them.

More tinkering was need when I went to put the podcast on my blog. I realized again why I am using Edublogs to host my blog, as it was so easy to upload the file there. Due to the problems I’ve had with Edublogs being down, I am backing up my blog on Blogspot, and adding a podcast there was not easy at all. The hosting sites suggested in the booklet didn’t work for me but I finally found Podbean, an audioblogging site, and was able to upload my podcast, create a post, find the embedded player, and copy the HTML to my Blogger site. I’m sure there is an easier way, but at least that roundabout method worked!

This is a reminder that using technology with students will require much tinkering time. I think perhaps there should be another type of joy listed here:

The Joy of Structure and Scaffolding

In her PowerPoint presentation, Podcasting in School Libraries, Kristin Fontichiaro, author of Podcasting at School and Active Learning Through Drama, Podcasting, and Puppetry, not only gives a superb list of reasons for using podcasting (learning styles, curricular fit, needs of 21st century students, sharing learning with the outside world), she also provides a number of ideas for providing students with the support they need to create successful podcasts, as well as the safety tips they need to keep them safe.

As with all project-based learning, students need to start with manageable podcasting projects that are supported with just-in-time instruction from the teacher.

Joy in school?

It’s up to the teacher to help the students – and herself – experience this. I agree with Wolk. He says, “So teachers must strive in whatever ways they can to own their teaching so that each morning they can enter their classrooms knowing there will be golden opportunities for them-as well as for their students-to experience the joy in school.”

And Joy for Me

This week I challenged myself. I learned, I created, I podcasted.  What’s next? I’m looking forward to volunteering to read for my very favourite web site, Librivox, which provides free audio recordings of books in the public domain. And I’m going to take great joy in buying a really good microphone!

2 thoughts on “Podcasting for Remembrance Day: A Joyful Learning

  1. Hi Cynthia,

    Like Kathleen, I thought your podcast was lovely–you have a great voice for podcasting! I’m so glad that you were challenged by this assignment and that you persevered…podcasting can be challenging because of the technology involved, but as you point out, there is a lot of joy to be found in doing it and in figuring out how to do something new. I’m glad you found Kristen Fontichiaro’s work helpful…I haven’t had a chance to look at her new book but I know her articles have been useful to me.


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