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By Mark Warner
Age Range: 5 to 11
Podcasting is a wonderful way of allowing children to share their work and experiences with a potentially huge audience over the Internet. Schools are increasingly using the internet to promote what they do, and to celebrate the achievements of their children, and podcasting is an excellent way of doing this.

What is a podcast?

A podcast is like a radio show. However, instead of being broadcast live, a podcast is recorded and then distributed over the internet, so that you can listen to it whenever you please. There are thousands of podcasts available, ranging from general interest entertainment shows to those which focus on specific topics (e.g. computers / music / education).

How do I listen?

You can usually listen to podcasts directly on the websites of those people who make them (see below for some examples). However, you can also "subscribe" to podcasts using software like iPodder and iTunes. These programs will automatically download the latest shows, and you can then listen to them on your computer and / or mp3 player. To subscribe to a podcast, you need to know the RSS feed (this information should be on the podcaster's website). iTunes has its own directory, where you can subscribe to a show, simply by clicking the "Subscribe" button.

How do children benefit from making a podcast?

  • It gives them a potential audience of thousands for their work.
  • It's great for developing literacy skills (writing scripts, setting up interviews etc), allows children to develop and practise their speaking and listening skills, and they also learn some amazing ICT skills.
  • Podcasts can be interactive, and the audience can be invited to send their comments, giving valuable feedback to the children about their work.
  • I've found that making a podcast is also great for developing teamwork skills. The children always work together really well, as they're always keen to make a great show.

How do I make a podcast?

A school podcast can range from a single recorded story which is put onto the school website, to a weekly radio show with music and interviews which visitors can subscribe to using an RSS feed. How you make up your podcast is up to you.

The basic equipment you need is a computer with some kind of recording ability (an internal or external microphone) and some recording software. Audacity is free and allows you to record your show and then export it as an mp3 file. You can then upload this to your school website.

You could then develop your show by trying some of the following:

  • Jingles - Use software such as eJay (PC) or Garageband (Mac) to create jingles. These can be used to introduce particular features to the show.
  • Try an outside broadcast - Use an mp3 player with recording facilities to record a feature "on location" around the school, or on a school field trip. You can then download this to your computer and add it to your show.
  • Adding podsafe music - Let your DJs introduce some copyright free music into your show.
  • Promote yourself - Register with the various podcast directories (see below) to get more listeners!
  • Use more sophisticated software - Mixcast Live (PC) is specifically designed for podcasters, allowing them to set up playlists and record their podcasts directly to MP3. I use a combination of iTunes and Nicecast on the Mac for my school podcasts.

What can I put in a podcast?

  • School news - a great way of telling children and parents what is going on at your school.
  • Children's work - children love sharing their work. Ask them to record their own stories, or write reports about an activity they've tried at school.
  • School songs.
  • Interviews - with members of staff, children, members of the community, and visitors to school.
  • Music - Please be aware that you will not be allowed to use commercial music in podcasts for copyright reasons. However, some artists allow their music to be played in podcasts. You can find this "podsafe" music in special directories (e.g. music.podshow.com)
  • Jokes.
  • National / International news - be aware of any copyright regulations when finding sources of news.
  • ... and whatever else you feel may be appropriate!
Examples of Podcasts...
The Downs FM
The Downs FM
The Downs FM is my own school podcast. The children always work really hard every week to write their own scripts, create jingles, record news and interviews, and much more. The show has been featured on BBC television, our local BBC Radio station, on the Apple UK website and in many more exciting places. For more information about how the show is made, click here.
Radio Sandaig
Radio Sandaig
This team of primary children in Scotland produce a fantastic podcast with news, jokes, stories and competitions. The team try to get lots of other children from around the school involved in the show, which makes it a real treat to listen to.
To find more education podcasts, try Ipodcast and the Education Podcast Network.
For more general podcasts, take a look at Podcast Alley or Podfeed.net

A few other tips...

  • Let your children listen to a few other podcasts before they start. This is a great way of finding out what podcasts are all about, and discovering what it is possible to do. You may discover some great ideas which you could try to yourself.
  • If your children don't have internet access, copy a few child-friendly podcasts onto a CD and let them listen at home. Get them to think about how they could make their own versions of each show.
  • John (the man behind Radio Sandaig) occasionally posts podcasting tips here. Take a look!
  • Bill Ferriter has offered this advice:
    • Introduce web feeds and aggregators to your students while creating your podcast: Feed readers are becoming one of the most essential tools for internet users simply because of the almost overwhelming amount of content available online. Unfortunately, many people haven't gotten "hooked into" subscribing to a site's content yet. This is a skill that is easy to teach along with a classroom podcast, and it is an essential one to our kids' ability to navigate and access information on the web.
    • Discuss good blogging practices while creating your podcast: Because many podcasters post their work in a blog anyway, blogging practices can be introduced through podcasts as well. Emphasizing the importance of including links and responding to content found in other places are skills that show children how to "connect" the information that they are discovering and to continue conversations with others. The skills necessary for effective participation in threaded conversations can be taught while commenting on blogs/podcasts as well.

Phyllis Kepp has contributed this idea for podcasting:

Have children write stories in groups on a theme (we used fractured fairy tales). Have them list all sounds that would be occurring in the story if it really happened. Have them think about popular music or other songs that they know that would be funny or appropriate, or use tracks in GarageBand. Write a list of cues for each song and / or sound effect. Record story into GarageBand (podcasting), adding sound effects and song tracks. Share the podcast into Keynote or iMovie. Create a Powerpoint presentation or movie with saved pictures and photos. Even better, record movies of the children acting out their story and put the GarageBand creation to the movie.

Do you have any more tips? Have you tried podcasting? I'd love to hear your experiences, so let me know all about your own podcasting!

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