Worth listening to: Teens make history with podcasts
May 15, 2009
In the 21st century classroom, where Kindles are already replacing books and connecting with kids often requires USB ports, it isn’t enough to assign written essays. Kids need to be versed in how to use multimedia to share ideas, says Julie Baker, an English teacher at Treasure Mountain International School.
Baker imagines a day when her eighth- and ninth-graders will be able to chat with kids at Treasure’s sister school in Bira, Uganda, and show, not tell them, about snowboarding tricks, life in Park City and the million other miscellany of post-millennium adolescence.
About 150 kids in Baker’s classes spent more than a month layering videos with music, pictures and their own voices to make podcasts.
Baker’s underlying message as an English teacher remains constant, but in a different guise. Film credits replaced bibliographies in the podcasts. Instead of warning about plagiarism, Baker docked points for projects that violated copyright law. (Students were only allowed to play 30 seconds of songs). The podcasts will one day be uploaded onto the Park City Historical Society and Museum’s website. Similar student videos, such as the recently made "Swine Flu Blues," will screen Park City School Board meetings, Baker said.
Baker procured 25 Casio EXZ80 cameras for the project from the High Ability Utah Initiative. What started as a service project for the museum, a project to explore Main Street, The Egyptian Theatre and other landmarks, turned into an even more ambitious assignment when students, armed hand-held cameras capable of capturing audio and video, decided to give the project a personal bent.
Baker encouraged students to tell stories about their own lives. Projects run the gamut. Each about five minutes long, some podcasts explore what it’s like to be a teenager in Park City. "The project morphed," Baker explained. "We realized that storytelling has changed. We don’t tell our story through, necessarily, writing it on paper."
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Skye Mooney, an eighth grader, worked with her classmates Madison Olsen and Sierra Schlag on a podcast about winter sports in Park City. Mooney, a competitive freestyle skier, captured footage at Deer Valley, Utah Olympic Park and a Junior Olympics competition in New Hampshire. The footage chronicles training, competing and traveling as a young athlete. "Usually, you don’t want to take your homework with you when you travel," Mooney said. "But when your homework is about what you love, that’s different."
Homework can be intuitive, she said, even enjoyable. "You really learn how to put everything together," Mooney said of her group’s five-minute podcast. "Our generation communicates with technology."
Eighth-grader Zach Carfi spends hours outside of school attending swimming and diving practices. Naturally, he chose the sports as the subject of his podcast. He filmed practices and sped them up to make a montage. "I had a lot more fun with this than writing an essay," he said. It was more focused on you, more hands-on."
Kevin Whiting’s podcast zeros in on Park City’s public transportation. His three-minute piece shows a kid catching a ride to ski resorts in town. "We’re lucky to have free buses," he said.
Part of what inspired Baker to undertake the project was the desire to bridge the digital divide. The school is trying to raise 11 million pennies to buy supplies, including computers, for students at St. Johnson’s Orphanage School in Uganda. "We need to be sure they have the same equipment we do" to communicate effectively and expressively, Baker said.
Of the project, Baker added, "We don’t have a choice. If we don’t change the way teach, we can’t connect."