student working on their podcast

 

Are you interested in implementing projects that incorporate audio or video recorded products? Want some help? I’ve created projects that incorporate recorded products such as podcasts, news reports, and tv shows over my ten years of teaching high school science. Here are some important questions I’ve learned to consider at each phase of the project path.

 

Project Path Phase 1: Launching the Project

How does the project idea create a sense of purpose for the recorded product?

The first podcast project I ever implemented was a bit of a failure. I learned a lot from that experience. For those podcasts, teams selected a biome and described the animals, plants, climate, and human impact on it.
 
Why did they record the podcasts? Who was the intended audience? The students didn’t know and neither did I. There was no sense of purpose for creating the podcast. In fact, they weren’t even podcasts! The students simply made audio recordings of their research. I failed to recognize the authentic context of podcasts – that they are to inform and/or entertain others.

So, when planning your project, consider the type of recording and its authentic context. If it’s a podcast, what’s the show about and who will want to listen? If it’s a public service announcement video, who is the “public” it is intended to serve and why?

 

Students working on a story board
A team of students work together to create a conversation storyboard for their podcast show using their research.

 


Project Path Phase 2: Build Knowledge, Understanding, & Skills

Are the learning outcomes aligned to the student recorded products?

If someone were to listen to the recordings of that ill-fated podcast project, they could not tell students had learned about species interactions, keystone species, and the flow of energy through the food chain. My learning targets weren’t aligned with the final product.
 
When planning, consider how the content is being applied in an authentic way. For my podcast project, teams could have identified an environmental issue in their selected biome and described its impact. Students would choose to become an expert on either the local animals, plants, climate, or human-caused effects. Teams would create a show that discussed the impact of the environmental issue by applying their knowledge of species interactions and the food chain through the individual expert lenses.

Project Path Phase 3: Develop & Critique

Is there a balance between the structured scaffolded supports and student voice and creativity?

A significant milestone with recorded products is when teams begin to plan their recording. It’s important to consider how to balance student creativity with structured supports that scaffold the development of the recordings in a way that still promotes student voice.
 
As the teacher, you have a decision to make about how much control you’ll have over the structure of the recording. For that first podcast project, I provided all teams the same structured template as a scaffold for applying their individual research and creating the show’s outline and script. However, this structure resulted in less student creativity, a more basic demonstration of knowledge, and podcast shows that all sounded alike in format.
 
One way to support this process is through the use of storyboards. Prior to recording, teams create a storyboard of their recording by considering the focus and purpose of the recording, their audience, and the content. Then, using their final draft storyboard, students create the script that incorporates the content. This process can lead to increased creativity, deeper demonstration of content knowledge, and more unique recordings.
 

A team listens to the playback of their recording.
A team listens to the playback of their recording.

 


There should be a structured critique and revision process. After students record, they will want to immediately listen or watch, and then, as is often the case, record again based on needed changes they identify. Students’ willingness to check their work and the self-motivated revision that occurs with video or audio recordings is a beautiful thing and something we as teachers need to lean on in order to support student content acquisition. Here are some ideas:

  • Support the error recognition process by planning inter- and intra-team critique moments. Have teams watch their recording together using the guides and checklists that focus student revision around vocabulary and content. Team-to-team feedback routines such as the charrette and gallery walk protocols offer a great opportunity for students to strengthen their content knowledge through peer critique, as well as helping to build the culture of collaboration and critique and revision.

  • Limit the number of times students can re-record. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the public permanence of the published recordings often leads to perfectionist behavior where the urge to keep revising prevents the team from moving forward. So, after the first recording and a critique activity, have teams identify specific areas for revision, and then re-record only once more to create their final version.

 

Students listening to another team’s podcast during a peer feedback activity.
Students listening to another team’s podcast during a peer feedback activity.

 


Project Path Phase 4: Present Products and Answers

How will students showcase their work authentically?

There are many different ways to showcase student-recorded products. Often, the type of recording, audience, and project context indicate which method students use to present their work. To increase student ownership, move students through a process where they come up with the best way to share their work with their audience. 

Whichever method of presentation is chosen, here are a couple of ideas:

  • Have students showcase their recorded products to their audience and participate in a Q&A or guided conversation with their audience about content, process, collaboration, impact, and next steps.

  • During the showcase event, leave boxes out for the audience to leave “fan mail” to each team. Reading the fan mail after the event is a great way for you and the students to celebrate their learning and work in the project.
A team of students reading their “fan mail” written by people who listened to their podcast.
A team of students reading their “fan mail” written by people who listened to their podcast.

 

Projects that incorporate recorded products are a fun way to engage students in their learning. The challenge for you is to design the project so that the recorded products support the content, promotes student voice, and stays true to the authenticity of the recording medium.
 

John Derian, National Faculty
John Derian designs PBL curriculum for his 12th-grade Environmental Science class at Brooklyn International High School where he has been teaching English Language Learners for the past ten years. In addition to his work with ELL students, John brings his passion for Project Based Learning and curriculum design outside his classroom by collaborating extensively with other educators and organizations in New York City and around the country.