Article: Podcasts make history come alive

Podcasts make history come alive

Two of the top History Podcast winners

How do you make the Industrial Revolution relevant and exciting for 21st-century eighth-graders? If you are a collaborative Middle School social studies teacher, you might enlist two innovative colleagues and together create a multidisciplinary program that combines history, ELA and math. Then invite your students to choose a historical topic, go deep into it with research, and share what they’ve learned in their own stylish and entertaining podcasts.

Social studies teacher Katie Armstrong, along with ELA teacher Jen Podanowski and math teacher Natalie Henty, crafted a true co-teaching experience. They used Zoom distance learning technology to run classes simultaneously, engaging students in all of their classrooms, plus their many remote learners. The teachers challenged students to create their own unique history podcasts, featuring Progressive Era topics like early 20th-century tenements, the Gospel of Wealth, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the Bessemer steel process. Students used research and critical thinking skills to become experts in each topic. They organized their thoughts and wrote concise scripts that made the history accessible and easy to understand. They included a contemporary connection, explaining how their featured event remains important in today’s world.

Each student designed a rationale and title art for their podcast program, including names like the Past Podcast, Blast from the Past, and The Total Outcast. As host and narrator, each developed their own absorbing presentation style. Then they recorded their 3-10 minute audio podcast episodes. Some even included a guest host to make things even more interesting. Almost 100 students created original podcast episodes.

Many students felt that the project just didn’t seem like work. Cameron Cohen said, “I enjoyed the learning aspect of the project. I learned things about the light bulb and its progression through history that I never knew before." Jordan Cope said, “There were no limits for what we could use or how the editing was to be done. That made everyone's podcast very unique. It was interesting learning how to make a podcast without anybody else's ideas, and get creative." Jenjira Pellett said, "I enjoyed recording my podcast and adding the sound effects and music. I felt like these aspects really brought all of my hard work to life."

After completion, students listened, learned from, and critiqued each other’s podcasts on elements like theme, narration and hosting. Student Juanita Bishop said, "I enjoyed recording my podcast and then listening to all the others. It made me realize what I needed to do different for next time."

Students then used grade-level math concepts to collect and analyze their scoring data, exploring how different types of charts and graphs could be used to represent the findings and determine conclusions. Students learned to recognize the potential for bias in voting and strategies for avoiding it. The winning podcasts were recognized with awards at the end of the project.

Feature photo: People’s Choice Award semifinalist Amanda Connor (left) and winner Eliana Chalmers.

This page: Two of the top History Podcast winners, Justice Swinton (left) for Best Narration and Lilly Stouffer for Best Art.

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