Update: This post was recently published in TIE Online, a journal about international education. The online publication is free! Check it out for more resources and great information on educational travel. Click here.
I have been traveling with students to some capacity for 11 years. I have a background in ecology and environmental science. Before I became a teacher I was working on various endangered species projects around the country. I knew from that time in the field that the deepest learning experiences in my own life happened when I got up close and personal with my environment, not when I was reading about biology concepts in textbooks.
I knew when I became an educator that I wanted to work at an experiential learning school where students directed their learning and could use the world as their classroom. That is how I came to be heavily involved in the travel program at Jennings Community School, where I advised at-risk teenagers, taught using project-based learning, and took educational travel excursions with students over the course of a decade.
Traveling with students isn't easy, but the outcome is why I have dedicated so much of my teaching career to providing these travel opportunities for my students. I know the impact it can make on someone's life. Learning spans the entire experience from trip planning, to fundraising, to packing, to relationship building, goal-setting, and sharing and reflecting on the experience. Not many students get the chance to participate in something that encompasses all of these critical learning opportunities in one. There is value in traveling that cannot be gained through other means. Traveling is a unique and special learning opportunity.
Teacher and homeschoolers, if you are interested in incorporating educational travel into your curriculum, start here. Learn the benefits first, listed below, then make your next move. Check out my top reasons for traveling with students, and scroll to the bottom for tips on getting started.
Click here for more posts about student travel.
6 Reasons to Include Travel in Your Curriculum
1. Increase Cultural and Global Awareness:
Children, particularly teenagers, tend to be self-involved. They're not culpable. It's just the nature of their brains. Removing students from their "bubbles" and shaking up their lives a bit by pushing them beyond their comfort zones can have drastic and beautiful results. It is difficult for students to understand others and the world around them when they are not directly impacted. The teenage brain needs to connect concepts with real-life experience. When students view the world from a different angle, their worldview is altered. Literally. Traveling puts them in that environment.
2. Gain Content Knowledge:
Yes, content knowledge. I am a project-based teacher. One of the first projects I assign to students is planning a hypothetical trip around the world. I do this because of all of the skills and knowledge they gain from the experience. They learn how to budget and find deals. They learn how to read a map and plan routes. They learn about the environment, topography, culture, arts, religion, politics and more while exploring the places they hope to "visit".
When I travel with students, we travel with purpose. Because I am a biology teacher, my purpose is usually environmental in nature, but traveling naturally integrates subjects. Students that travel with me on school trips go through seminars and complete several student-directed PBL projects pertinent to the designated "purpose" prior to the trip. They also work on projects while ON the trip - group and independent - relevant to the trip purpose. Upon return, each student reflects and shares their work with a public audience. The amount of content absorbed is astounding, and it's all because the concepts are right in front of them. They are involved. They are actively learning through experience.
Try my Project-Based Learning Toolkit to get students started on student-led PBL experiences on any topic of interest.
3. Develop a Healthy Self-Concept:
I know it's cliche, but it's true, and anyone who travels knows it to be true. The phrase "I'm traveling to find myself" would generally trigger my upchuck reflex, but when it comes to children, "finding oneself" is often times a matter of life and death, quite literally, unfortunately.
Teenagers deal with a lot. Getting through the teenage years in one piece requires a strong, healthy self-concept that can be acquired by traveling. By getting away from the daily pressures of life, students can ask themselves who they really are. This I've seen time and time again. A student travels on a school trip and comes back a changed person with a renewed spirit and ultimate confidence. They had the unique opportunity to learn about themselves, discover their skills, dreams, talents, and hopes through a fresh lens.
4. Develop Critical 21st Century Skills:
Content is important to a degree, but at the rate society is evolving, what's more important is having the skills to navigate those changes. Careers will look very different 20 years from now. Technology is changing everything. Traveling puts students in a position to work at those life skills. As part of the trip planning process they practice organization, locating credible resources, goal-setting, and managing their time. While on trips they encounter situations where they need to problem-solve, think critically, work as a team and get creative.
If you've ever read my posts on "travel adventures and mishaps", you know these scenarios are inevitable. All mishaps (mostly minor) provide opportunities to build on these 21st century skills.
5. Build Lifelong Friendships:
The feeling of belonging is a basic need. It is something that many people spend a lifetime trying to attain with little luck. Feelings of loneliness are rampant in young people as well as adults. Everyone is a bit vulnerable when they are traveling. They are away from their homes, their friends, family and comfort zones. In group travel, everyone is in the same boat. My students cast aside their differences on trips and create bonds that last a lifetime because they are experiencing something new and profound together. Only they can understand what the other is feeling in that moment.
6. The Ability to Envision a Bright Future:
This is something that educators that work with high-risk populations will see in their students as an outcome of travel. Having a student travel program at a school with underrepresented students is powerful because students living in poverty do not have easy access to travel experiences. It's not an option for most. Many of my students don't look further than the moment. They don't consider their future career. Many of them don't even expect to finish high school. When traveling they gain a new perspective on the future. For the first time they can look ahead and envision something positive. They may not know what yet, but for the first time they are open to the possibilities. They see opportunity for a good life.
Well, now what?
Now that you know WHY incorporating educational travel into your curriculum is important and impactful (homeschoolers or educators), what do you do with that?
Homeschoolers have more flexibility to travel, one of the beautiful things about homeschooling! Home educators, if you're short on time, finances, or travel resources, consider starting small and encouraging your children to play a role. You don't need to sell your home, pack up your kids, and travel the world (as cool as that would be). Even an annual weekend camping trip away from the monotony of everyday life gets children excited. You can also ask that your children help plan the travel experience (FREE student travel planning resources in my store) and that they fundraise for trips.
Educators, especially those working in a traditional school environment, you have a challenge ahead of you. If travel is something that is important to you and you want that for your students, consider meeting with other educators at your school, parents of students, community members, and more, and put together a proposal for a school travel program. By creating a committee you'll have more ideas and a bigger voice. This is especially true if parents are involved. Principals and directors, if you're interested but unsure, try connecting with schools that DO have a travel program and pick their brains on how they make it work and the impact it has had on learning and school culture. You won't regret it!
I hope this has been useful. If you are a teacher that travels with students, I'd love you to share your stories and travel tips.
Thanks for reading. Happy Monday!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education. You can also follow me on LinkedIn and Experiential Learning Depot on TpT for student-directed, hands-on resources.
Several years ago I traveled with some of my high school students to Costa Rica to study tropical biology. The purpose of the trip was to experience biodiversity and a culture different than their own first-hand. I often write about the benefits of educational travel. There are many reasons to incorporate travel into school or homeschool curriculum - enhance worldview, gain content knowledge, build 21st-century skills, make lifelong friends- among other things. Check out 6 Reasons to Start an Educational Travel Program for more.
I have taken dozens of educational trips throughout my teaching career but this trip to Costa Rica stands out among the rest. It exemplifies all of the reasons students should travel. The students were very involved in fundraising and trip planning. They enrolled in my pre-trip biodiversity seminar. Each student completed an independent, student-directed community action project (find this project in my TpT store by clicking on the link) in relation to biodiversity and Costa Rica. Students were immersed in another language and culture. They learned about the people, politics, topography, traditions, history, and of course the biodiversity of Costa Rica. Most importantly, this trip changed their lives. It will be an experience they will never forget because of just that. They experienced it. They weren't just reading the travel guide. They were in it.
During the trip one of the student travelers and I kept a blog on the experience. Each evening one or the other of us would come back to our hotel and write about the day. I wrote some posts and she wrote others. I took that blog we kept on our Costa Rica trip from five years ago and placed it below in hopes that you can be inspired to incorporate travel into whatever learning environment you're a part of. Happy travels!
High School Biology Trip: Costa Rica
The Time Has Arrived!
After two years of planning the day has finally arrived! A group of Jennings CS students will be heading out to Costa Rica to study tropical biology and environmental science on November 17, 2014. The idea to travel to Costa Rica came into fruition in 2012 by one of our students, but at the time was just a dream. We knew there would be challenges to traveling abroad such as getting passports and travel vaccinations, but the student overcame each obstacle. For example, she posted a "project" on Donors Choose asking for donations for passports and travel vaccinations. Within a week $800 was donated toward this project by complete strangers nationwide. Our Costa Rica travelers just purchased their very first passports a few weeks ago thanks to the generous donations. All is falling into place.
Pre-Trip Learning Activities and Preparation
- All students will be taking a biodiversity/environmental science course before the trip.
- All students will be working on one group PBL project throughout the course of the next couple of months. They will be conducting biodiversity surveys/counts in various habitats of MN and then again in Costa Rica.
- Spanish lessons
- Student-directed biology PBL projects
- Student-directed culture and history PBL projects
- Student-directed community action projects
Examples of student community action projects for this trip:
1) Primate protection petition - one of the students discovered that monkeys and other arboreal species are getting electrocuted by telephone wires while trying to get from place to place.
2) Sea turtle protection education brochure - one of our students researched how tourists can help protect sea turtles. She put together a brochure and placed her brochure in hotels around the country.
3) Trash to treasure - a couple of the students took plastic bags, CD's and other trash items and turned them into art pieces. This trash would otherwise make its way to the ocean threatening marine life.
Day 1 - WE MADE IT!
We left for the Minneapolis airport at 10:00 pm last night. It is now 7 pm the next day and we just arrived at our hotel. On the drive from the airport to Arenal Volcano we spotted a large iguana, blue jean dart frogs and tucans. We also passed through a cloud forest, stopped to check out a coffee bean farm, and ate authentic Costa Rican rice and beans for lunch. We are exhausted, so this will be a short post. But we are excited! Tomorrow will be a long day of exploring the Arenal National Park.
Below is a picture of Arenal (are-en-all) Volcano from the deck of our room. Arenal is one of 7 active volcanoes in Costa Rica. It last erupted in 2009, but was relatively harmless. The last serious eruption was 1968. Tomorrow we will be hiking the base of this volcano. Stay tuned!
Day 2 - Arenal National Park
We all went to bed last night by 8 pm from sheer exhaustion. We awoke at 6 am to the view of Arenal Volcano in the pic above. Apparently there is rarely a lucid view of the volcano. There is usually overcast covering the cone, so we were lucky (so we were told).
Today we hopped a bus and traveled to the rainforest to check out the canopy from hanging bridges. It was a three hour hike. We saw vipers, cutter ants, a sloth, a tarantula, parrots, a Montazuma pendulum bird (so cool), howler monkeys and their young, and on top of that the most diverse array of plant life I had ever seen, all from the perspective of an arboreal (tree) animal, since we were up in the canopy. We were able to see organisms that we would have had a tough time seeing from the ground.
We decided on Costa Rica because it is the biodiversity capital of the world. It hosts 5% of the world's biodiversity (variety of species) yet is only .03% of the world's land mass. Before we left for Costa Rica, our biodiversity class went to Fort Snelling State Park to do biodiversity sampling. In 100 square feet we recorded 5-10 species on average. In Costa Rica we did a similar activity. There were too many species to count. Many of the species are endemic, meaning they can only be found in Costa Rica. That is why the biodiversity needs to be protected. Costa Rica is one of the international leaders in land protection, since they became dangerously close to losing it all.
Day 3 - Adventure Day
I told the girls that they could plan one tour that is more adventure than education. They chose a ziplining/white water rafting tour. The students were nervous about ziplining at first. They got used to it after the first couple of cables. A couple of the girls were afraid of heights, so doing this was an incredible challenge and accomplishment for them. From there we went white water rafting on the Rio Balsa. We weren't the greatest paddlers at first, but about 15 minutes in we were doing well. We practiced communication skills and teamwork. After the tours we went to eat lunch with a group at a traditional Costa Rican spot. We ate rice and beans, fried plantain, beef, potatoes and topped it off with homemade Costa Rican fudge and coffee. They use a special strainer to make the coffee to get the most flavor possible. They demonstrated the process and the coffee was amazing.
Tomorrow we will be packing up and leaving Arenal to head to the coast. Mostly driving, but tomorrow evening we should be checking out the "arribada", arrival of nesting sea turtles to the beach in the thousands. Conditions have to be just right though, so cross your fingers.
Day 4 - Which Way to the Beach
Today we woke up, ate a quick breakfast of fresh Costa Rican fruit, beans and rice, and French toast. We packed up all of our things and hit the road, heading to the Pacific Coastal region of Guanacaste. Costa Rica is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. We went to the Pacific today. The students slept for most of the drive, but had a pleasant visit with seven howler monkeys on the way. Costa Rica has four monkey species including howler monkeys, spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys and white-faced capuchins. We have seen howlers and spider monkeys and hope to see capuchins in the next couple of days.
The drive was 5 hours, which was a bit taxing, but there is no way around that in Costa Rica. There is not an established highway system in Costa Rica. It's hard to find straight roads because of all of the volcanoes. There are over 100 volcanoes in Costa Rica.
The girls were pleasantly surprised by our hotel. The picture below is the view from our deck. Unfortunately the minute we arrived it started storming. We got some bad news today. We will not be able to observe the "arribada" or arrival of nesting sea turtles because of torrential rain. We are pretty heartbroken. But tomorrow we will be going to visit the old Mayan town, Guaitil, to see them make traditional, hand-made pottery.
Day 5 - Guaitil Pottery and Palo Verde River Tour
Today we drove to Palo Verde where we did a river tour. We saw capuchin monkeys, iguanas (currently mating season, so the males turn from green to orange at this time), howler monkeys, crocodiles, and hundreds of different migratory bird species. Many of these birds were likely in the Midwest a few months ago, like great blue herons for example.
After Palo Verde we drove to a small Mayan town called Guaitil, where the Choretega people make pottery the same way they did hundreds of years ago. These are the native people of Costa Rica. It was an amazing experience to watch them make the pieces. So much time and meticulous detail goes into each pot.
Each pot is made on a small, manual pottery wheel. Not electric, no foot pedal, they just use their hands to spin it. The first phase is making the pot on the wheel with clay. They use sharpened rocks to cut the clay and leaves to smooth out the clay on the wheel. Once the desired shape is achieved, they leave it out in the sun to dry. Then they polish the piece with a stone. Next, a layer of white paint is put on it. It dries, and they polish it with stone again. Then a layer of black paint, thet let it dry, then polish it again. Then they take what looks like a crayon, and draws designs on the pot. All of the symbols they use represent something. Monkeys symbolize luck, butterflies symbolize beauty, and so on. From there they polish the piece one more time with a stone, and let the pot bake in the sun for 4-5 days. Finally they put the piece in a homemade oven to bake. It sounds like a challenging process, but the natives make it look easy!
Day 6 - Sibu Sanctuary
Today was an incredibly educational and emotional day. Two years ago, I dreamed up this trip. I wanted to work with monkeys in some form or another in the future, and learned that Costa Rica is a great place to study them. We found a place on the Guanacaste coast called Sibu Sanctuary, a large, protected, dry tropical rainforest. This 50 acres of land was bought by a couple of North Carolinians in 2009. On the property they built a sanctuary and rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured arboreal (tree) species like monkeys, particularly howler and capuchin monkeys that are treated, cared for and eventually released back into the wild. Today we got to visit this sanctuary and get a behind the scenes glimpse of the ins and outs of such an operation.
When we arrived to the center we met Vicki. She explained to us the purpose for the center. Costa Rica is a conservation conscious country. They believe in conserving resources. For example, we learned from Vicki that 93% of Costa Rica's energy comes from renewable resources like wind and solar. They have also protected 25% of the land from destruction and fragmentation. This sanctuary was established specifically to rehabilitate monkeys that have been electrocuted by electric lines. The sanctuary took in 200 monkeys last year alone with horrific injuries that often times resulted in amputations or death. Mothers are often electrocuted with infants in tote, leaving the infants orphaned.
It is currently illegal for electric companies to run uninsulated wires through jungles, but unfortunately it still happens due to lack of enforcement. It is not possible to insulate existing wires. It is possible to put up new lines that are insulated and/or bury them, but both are costly. One thing that goes a long way is making sure those branches that hang over the lines are kept trimmed back to prevent the monkeys from trying to use the lines to get through fragmented forest. Boots to shield the transformers are also helpful. Education is the best way to make change. This experience in addition to some research I did before taking this trip inspired my community action project. Find the video titled "Baby Monkeys of Costa Rica" on YouTube to get a better idea of what goes on inside the sanctuary.
Day 7 - Last Day
Today we went kayaking and snorkeling in the coral reef. It was everyone's first time kayaking and most of their first times snorkeling. About half of the students had never even seen the ocean let alone swam in it. We saw a tiger snake, eels, a blowfish, sea urchins, crabs, an octopus and more. The students got to see some of the adaptations at work that have evolved in these animals to help them survive and reproduce, which they learned about in our evolution seminar earlier this year.
Educational Travel Resources
If this looks good to you, feel free to reach out anytime. I'd love to help you get your students traveling whether it be through a high school travel program, a homeschooling experience, or simply a family trip. There is an enormous amount of learning potential for young travelers regardless of how they get to their destination, especially in the planning process. I have many student travel resources available in my TpT store, Experiential Learning Depot, most of which are free. Please check them out and let me know if you have any questions.
I also have many more blog posts on student travel right here on this blog. Just click on the category titled "Student-Travel".
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education.
Experiential Learning Travel Mishaps and the Lessons Learned
I like this quote from John Dewey. Although there have been trip-ups on every travel experience I have ever taken, with students and without, there are lessons to be learned from all of them. Struggle and failure, albeit annoying, are catalysts for learning, especially when combined with purposeful reflection. The intention of these posts is to tell stories of hardship, complication, unexpected obstacles, defeat and downright failure. But most importantly it's to encourage persistence. Along with calamity comes new knowledge, change in current thinking, and self-growth. Not just with travel blunders, but with mishaps in life! Failure isn't a set-back, it's progress.
Check out this free school trip reflection on my TpT page. It can be used for a field trip or something more elaborate like a camping trip or travel experience abroad.
Alright, upward and onward! I'm back with part 2 - another story of adventure and mishaps on school travel experiences.
"You'll have to wait here for an hour. You can't drive in your condition" - Big Island, Hawaii
I took several girls to Hawaii in 2012 on a marine biology trip, entirely planned by a student. Check out How to Plan a School Trip - Student Led Project (free) at my TpT store if you're interested in assigning a theoretical or real project. Hawaii is an awesome place to travel with students because the best learning experiences are free. Everything you want to see is outside, so aside from spendy excursions, money spent on activities really doesn't exist. This particular student probably spent 100 hours of her life fundraising for this trip, so I told her she could choose one excursion for the group to go on. She chose night diving with manta rays. I was nervous about it from the start. I wasn't sure about swimming at night. I'm from the Midwest, no ocean in either direction for over a thousand miles, so my perception of the ocean is essentially what I've seen on TV, which comes dominantly from Shark Week. Shark Week has led me to believe that under no circumstances should anyone be swimming in the ocean at night! The biologist in me knew this was probably irrational thinking, and that's what this student wanted to do, so I went ahead and booked it.
I scheduled our dive with the manta rays for the evening of our second day on the trip. The girls were so excited to do this. The excursion required a 45 minutes boat ride to get to where the manta rays hang out. Some of the students had never been on a boat before, and few of them had never seen the ocean. The captain of the boat allowed the girls to go to the top deck where they could see better. I think the students would have been satisfied if we had only done a boat ride. It was that amazing. The view of the coastline was gorgeous at dusk, the ride was a little bumpy and wild, but what teenager doesn't like that? When they went to the upper deck they looked out to see schools of dolphins surfing the wake. It was an unbelievable experience for the students, one they will never forget.
We finally arrived at our snorkeling site, and began to get geared up. I noticed one of the students in a daze. I asked her if she was OK and she didn't respond. She was sweaty and clammy and her face was turning a scary green color. I leaned in a bit closer to ask again, thinking maybe she didn't hear me, and in that exact moment she sprayed vomit across the entire boat. That probably that dramatic, but it's how my brain has shaped this particular memory. Her instinct understandably was to find the edge of the boat and vomit into the ocean as to avoid puking in the boat or all over herself. The boat crew in unison dove at her with buckets to stop her from vomiting in the water. At this point the boat was parked in the water and we were still sitting on it. There wasn't a dock or slip to pull our boat into so the kids could get out onto dry land. We had to sit on the boat, and at this point it was rocking on 5 foot waves. The crew encouraged the student to get in the water to relieve some of the discomfort associated with her sea sickness.
We got in the water and proceeded to observe one of the most spectacular sights I've ever seen. Manta rays are massive creatures and they're not afraid of people. These weren't anyway. So they swam right next to our bodies. We put our faces in the water, and looked down, and they glided and danced all around us. Some even swam right up next to our bodies, like we were lying on a manta ray bed. It was wild and exhilarating. Thankfully in the water the sick student felt a little better, but at some point we had to get back in the boat to take the same ride home. So we did. Within minutes she was vomiting again, only now ALL of the students were sick too. Every single student on this trip was sick and vomiting in unison. I have never seen anyone sick like that in my life. They weren't just nauseous. They were delirious. One student didn't speak at all for the entire duration of the boat ride. Another was saying things that didn't make any sense. I felt like another was going in and out of consciousness. At one point I looked around and it was just a pure vomit bath. The boat ride was so wild that some of my students were getting thrown around the boat, buckets in hand, vomit everywhere. Again, a little dramatized perhaps, but this is how my brain has preserved this memory.
I thought I was in the clear. We were SO close to home, when suddenly I felt nauseous myself. This deep, pit in my stomach persisted no matter what I did - stood up, sat down, closed my eyes, put my head in my lap - I couldn't make it go away. My body started to ache like I had the flu, I got a headache, I was completely disoriented. And then we arrived. The girls got to dry land as fast as their legs could carry them, which wasn't fast considering they were all violently ill. I stumbled off the boat, in shock that I never actually threw up myself.
If you've ever been sea sick you know that you aren't immediately fine as soon as you reach dry ground. My students were definitely not fine. I was not fine. We got all of our things loaded into the car, I turned the key to the ignition, started to drive out of the parking lot and had to stop. I could't drive. It felt like our car was in the water, bouncing up and down on waves. I felt drunk. I stopped the car, got out and sat on the curb. A crew member from the boat came over and said I should wait it out for at least an hour. I never even threw up, but the boat ride was enough to make me feel like I was intoxicated.
The lesson learned from this experience was simple. Be prepared for anything. I was so consumed by the irrational potential for sharks that I didn't bother to think that someone could get sea sick. Motion sickness is very common. Shark attacks are not. The experience was so magnificent. It's a little sad to think that one student was so sick that she vaguely remembers being there. She missed it, and may never have the chance to do it again. From that point on I have been sure to cover every possible angle. That's hard since you can't plan for everything. Next weeks story of adventure and mishap is case in point. Stay tuned....
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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.