Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
I LOVE PODCASTS! My students do as well. It's amazing the ridiculous number of podcasts that are out there. You can find one on any topic you could imagine. It's actually difficult at times to wade through all of the options. There are plenty of bad options, but there are some fantastic ones as well. Every single time I listen to a podcast I think of my students and how I could use the podcast in school - "my psychology students would love this podcast", or "wow, so and so needs to hear this statistic for their project", or "how could I incorporate this podcast into my advisory curriculum?", or "what projects could my students do that are relevant to this podcast?" I'm not even teaching right now, and it's still where my mind goes, because podcasts, when working with the right ones, can be such a a great learning tool.
As I was pulling together resources for this post, I quickly found that there is not a lot out there in way of podcast curriculum, and lessons that have already been created are usually tied to English courses. That's okay, because podcasts ARE great learning tools for English classes. But they can be applied to so much more than that! The brilliant thing about podcasts is that even if the initial intention is for an English activity, the experience is integrated. Students practice listening skills, critical thinking, writing, and they absorb a variety of content knowledge in an interesting and unique way. Anyway, I added whatever podcast teaching resources I could find below, but if anyone reading this has other insights, please share! When I share podcasts with my students, it's in the context of project-based learning for the most part. On the bright side, lack of podcast teaching resources leaves an opening for anyone who has the interest and time to design curriculum! However, as most of us lack enough time in the day to pee let alone design elaborate curriculum from scratch, consider making your class podcasting experience project-based. By taking that approach students have choice, and the learning experience is student-directed. It takes a lot off of your plate and comes with enormous benefits to your students. Check out this PBL project specifically designed for podcast projects. You can find similar projects here.
I have used all of the podcasts selected below (with the exception of the "maybe") with my students in some way or another. I use them most often as a project brainstorming activity for my PBL students. I have also selected specific episodes relevant to a seminar I was teaching. I have even taught entire seminars on one podcast series. The RIGHT podcasts never fail with students. So that you don't have to spend an enormous amount of time finding those "right" podcasts - the most audience appropriate and informative podcasts - I have shared below the podcasts I have used with my students. This is not a comprehensive list, as I have not listened to every podcast out there! I would guess that there are hundreds more. The general point of this post is to encourage podcast use in your classroom. As for the "maybe" podcast? It's a great podcast in general, but maybe not great for the classroom. Let me know what you think!
12 Great Podcasts for the Classroom:
1) Storycorps -
Storycorps is one of my favorite podcasts because the stories come from real, everyday people with relatable stories. The listening piece of the podcast is great in itself, but the best part about using Storycorps with students is that they can record their own story and publish it using theStorycorps app. It's a great learning tool for storytelling, writing, and interviewing. It's even a great resource for social emotional learning as it helps students gain perspective and build empathy. I have played stories from Storycorps for my advisory for various reasons and had my PBL students publish interviews on the Storycorps app as their final product. The stories are typically short, so it's not a huge time suck. Bonus. I included below an example of how powerful Storycorps can be. I will always remember this particular story because it changed how I think about forgiveness. Take a listen, maybe with your student as a introductory piece to using podcasts in class.
2) The Daily -
The Daily, by no surprise, produces a DAILY podcast on global and national news. Best for high school students perhaps. It's interesting, brief, and promotes responsible and productive citizenship. It would be an interesting and unique resource to incorporate into your class as a current events activity. The Daily encompasses the major local and global issues taking place right now. Check out Experimenting with Sound and Story: Teaching and Learning with 'The Daily" Podcast for teaching ideas.
3) This American Life -
This American Life is usually my go to podcast when it comes to teaching. It has been around since 1995, so there is no shortage of topics to choose from. Content covered is vast, including episodes on anthropology, art, biology, performing arts, business, law, communications, psychology, multi-cultural studies, writing, diversity, economics, and so on and so on. Episodes of This American Life are long, which may feel like a downside, but what's nice is each episode is separated into 3 "acts", each story independent from the others, so you can pick and choose small segments to focus on. I have even singled out episode openers, which are often times the most interesting part of the show. One student favorite is act 3 of "Bad Baby", episode #521. I listen to this episode with my advisory students, which inevitably launches a discussion about discipline, child behavior, and the telling of family and childhood stories. Another one that I use with my advisory students is "Tell Me I'm Fat", Act 2: It's a Small World After All. It's a good way to broach the topic of self-esteem and development of a healthy self-concept, which is lacking in the majority of teenagers. This American Life has it's own educational resource page. Take a look.
4) Stuff You Should Know -
Stuff You Should Know is great for integrated learning and project-based learning. I love this site because it covers a broad spectrum of topics. If you are looking for supplemental materials to teach on a specific topic such as the Stanford Prison Experiment for a psychology class, you can have students listen to the short podcast episode on that subject. There are thousands of "Stuff You Should Know" episodes. I personally use this as a brainstorming activity for my project-based learners. They may not know what topic they want to do a project on next. Listening to podcasts, particularly Stuff You Should Know, inspires ideas. Scrolling through the archives for a few minutes just now inspired a few topics I would love to do projects on myself! The PBL research process requires a variety of sources. Some students are audio learners. Gathering information from a podcast is a great option for those students.
5) Freakonomics Radio -
You may have heard of "Freakonomics" from the book series, written by Steven Levitt (economist) and Stephen Dubner (journalist). Together the two explore the curious enigmas of the modern world. The books spun off into a podcast called "Freakonomics Radio", hosted by Stephen Dubner. The episodes cover a variety of topics from cheating sumo wrestlers to what the world would look like if economists were in charge. Freakonomics Radio episodes could be applied to an economics, psychology, writing, ethics, statistics, politics, law, philosophy, biology or citizenship class, among others. And as I've said already, it's a great resource for project-based learners. The topics are vast, so students could choose a topic based on their interests. Or if you are confined to teaching to your subject, choose a relevant episode and have students design PBL projects based on that topic. Even if their topic is chosen for them, they will still have choice in final product, community experts, and presentation.
6) Climate Cast -
Climate Cast is a podcast that covers all things climate change. I love this podcast for so many reasons. One is that I'm a science teacher, so the topic of climate change is interesting and important to me. What's cool about this podcast is that it doesn't take a doom and gloom approach, even though it's a pressing issue. The hosts generally stick to the science and research. The purpose is to share information from relevant and credible sources. The episodes also vary in length, some 10 minutes, others 50 minutes. I use Climate Cast in my climate change seminar, but the topic of climate change naturally encompasses a variety of subjects - economics, geography, business, agriculture, environmental science, geology, statistics, technology, sociology, etc. - all of which are mentioned in one episode or another. Peruse the archives to find something that would be a good fit for your students.
7) Planet Money -
Ok, if your students are like me, dense when it comes to money, this may be a good podcast to introduce to your class. It's funny, interesting and perfect for a financial novice. My life was forever changed by the episode "Buy Low, Sell Prime", all about the strategies used by Amazon sellers. I always wondered how they make money, since Amazon is cheaper than everywhere else....right? Not necessarily. Another Planet Money resource I love is a series of videos that show the route a t-shirt makes through the production process. Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt. I implement these videos into my climate change class. You could take any episode of Planet Money and apply it to whatever class you're teaching, or you could do a project-based learning approach and have students do independent projects on episodes of interest.
8) Invisibilia -
Invisibilia is one of my favorite podcasts to use with my students. Each episode focuses on one theme around mysterious human behavior, which from a life science teacher's perspective, is an interesting way to teach neurology and human anatomy. My favorite two episodes go back to the first season. The first one, "Fearless", enlightens listeners on the science of fear, and you hear a story from a woman who was born without the "fear" gene. Wouldn't that be nice? Or maybe not? The other favorite is "How to Become Batman". A blind man tells his story on learning how to "see". This podcast would be great for a psychology class or a neurology unit and of course, PBL!
9) Serial -
OK, if you shrugged when you saw "Serial", I hear you. It's been around for a while, it's all people talked about for a long time. But truthfully, all the good things people said about it have checked out. It is truly amazing, especially for my students. The first season of Serial has been a particularly powerful teaching tool for my inner-city, teenage students (not appropriate for younger audiences in my opinion). This true story is about the murder of a teenage girl in the late 90's. Her ex-boyfriend was charged with her murder and has been in prison ever since. There is no physical evidence that he actually committed this crime. Sarah Koenig, reporter and host of the show, reports on the case. The characters in Serial, season 1, are my students, 30 years later. They are inner-city teenagers, some from immigrant families, that have made similar mistakes, similar life-choices. I have been teaching a seminar exclusively on Serial, season 1, for 5 years in a row. It never fails. I use an amazing resource from TpT, written by Mike and Melissa Godsey. Check it out here. The Serial website is also a great resource where maps, documents, and updates are posted. I require a final PBL project (chosen and designed by the student) from each of my students as well. Check out the examples in the photos below.
If your goal as a teacher is to exclusively teach content, don't give up on this podcast just yet! There is a lot to be learned from it. There are lessons on writing, reading, critical thinking, evidence analysis, mapping, interpreting different perspectives, memory, law, ethics, speaking and listening.
Oh! And Serial, season 3 was just released!!!!!
Student project: this student analyzed the evidence, drew conclusions, and presented her very convincing and well supported version of what happened that day the day Hae Min Lee was murdered.
Student project - this student created a website for our seminar class that he updated daily with character analysis, important document updates, looming questions about the case, and notes about evidence (or lack thereof).
10) Radiolab -
Arg, maybe Radiolab is my favorite? I think I've claimed every podcast as my favorite so far. Radiolab is all about the strange world of science. What's more interesting than that (says the science teacher)? Radiolab is so cool because the team of guys that host the show answer really random questions about the world. Listening always makes me very aware of how little I know, and how much there is still to learn. Knowledge is infinite. Radiolab in class is fun because my students and I learn together. Radiolab is particularly great in project-based learning settings, because one episode leads to an explosion of more questions to be answered. It inspires students and sparks project ideas. For fun science curriculum on Radiolab, check out Science Prof Online.
11) Ted Radio Hour -
Each episode of Ted Radio Hour, hosted by Guy Raz, is a mashup of three different Ted Talks on a given theme. There are so many Ted Talks to rifle through. Okay, again with project-based learning....sorry. I love Ted Radio Hour for my students when it comes to project-based learning. It is a great resource for student projects. Rather than rifling through the thousands of Ted Talks on "hate" for example, Guy Raz pulls together the three best Ted Talks on hate and presents them in an interesting and informative way.
12) RFK Tapes -
RFK Tapes is really just a fascinating listen. It is about Robert F. Kennedy's assassination. It has a "conspiracy theory" sort of theme, which I'm not a huge fan of, but my students are. That element is an awesome hook. You can teach history while satisfying student interest.
Now for the "maybe"....
1) Dr. Death -
Ahhh, what to say about Dr. Death? What a phenomenally enlightening, weird, glorious and frightening podcast. This podcast had me on the edge of my seat, BUT it also made me question everything I thought I knew about health care. The podcast is about one doctor, Dr. Death (aka Dr. Duntsch), a neurosurgeon who killed several people and paralyzed many others under his watch, under his knife, including one of his friends. He was the first Dr. in history to be prosecuted for his botched surgeries, tried as a "crime" rather than a law suit for malpractice. The podcast is about him and the long line of failures by the system. How did this guy get into medical school? How did he get his license? Why didn't anyone observing his surgeries - nurses, anesthesiologists, physicians assistants - say anything to anyone? And how in the world did it take 33 injured, paralyzed or dead patients to stop him from practicing medicine? This podcast works to uncover the answers to some of those questions.
So, why not play this podcasts for your students? My thoughts are that it probably depends on your audience. It may be appropriate for high school students. I also sense that it could be a trigger for those that have had unfortunate medical experiences or treatments. Descriptions of botched surgeries are also quite vivid, which had times made my whole body numb. It wouldn't be good for students (or teachers) that get queasy when it comes to bodily functions, body parts, blood, etc. The reporter and host of the podcast, Laura Beil, is a phenomenal storyteller. She makes you feel like you're right there, in the scene, in the hospital holding hands with a victim who just woke up from a surgery just to realize that he's paralyzed from the neck down. That may be hard for some individuals to stomach. Finally, I wouldn't want it to deter my students from seeking medical attention when it's needed. To instill a fear of Dr.'s or hospitals isn't very productive.
With that said, it is a good reminder for all to do research before having surgery of any kind, especially spinal surgery. Anyone who is operating on your body should come highly recommended, by more than just your physician, and have an outstanding reputation. It's a great lesson in critical thinking. You could easily incorporate the podcast series into any course on law, ethics, journalism, neuroscience, philosophy, anatomy and physiology and more depending on how you use it. The options are particularly limitless for project-based learners. They would design a project on the podcast that fits their learning styles, interests and needs.
My final thoughts are this: use Dr. Death in your classroom with discretion. Obviously listen to it before you play it for your students. Also seriously consider your audience. What is the class subject, how would you be using the podcast, what are student backgrounds, how well do you know your students and what they can handle, etc.? What do you think? Is Dr. Death a good podcast for students?
There are so many great podcasts out there. The ones already mentioned are just a few that I have used with my students. There are many others. The Moth, Science Friday, Crimetown, Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History, Hidden Brain, Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, and S-Town are a few other great podcasts with potential for classroom use. Crimetown and S-Town should also be approached with caution. Listen first and have a clear purpose! I'd love to hear your opinions on great podcasts for teaching, plus any resources you'd like to share.
One last thing. I came across this resource that guides students in creating their own podcasts. The homepage has a link for students to enter in a podcast competition as well - Project Audio: Teaching Students How to Produce Their Own Podcast. I have not actually done this with my students. If you do, I'd love to hear about it!
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To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.