Podcast Tools for Students and Teachers

This article was written by Stephanie Chasteen and originally published in the May 2009 Integrating Technology column of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, an online magazine for elementary teachers. All versions of this article are licensed under a Creative Commons License. Stephanie is a science teaching fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is one of the creators of the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears podcast series. Read her blog at http://expertvoices.nsdl.org/sciencegeekgirl.

Podcasts, audio recordings published on the Internet and played on computers and portable devices, are becoming popular among all types of audiences, including K-12 teachers and students. Classrooms are both consumers and producers of this technology. As consumers, you’ll find a growing amount of high-quality free educational content for you and your students in podcasts, right at your fingertips! We’ve identified some sources in the resources at the end of this article.

Now it’s easier than ever to make podcasts in the classroom, to become producers. You don’t need a media player, such as the Apple iPod, or specialized software to make or listen to a podcast – just your computer and an Internet connection will do. Though podcasts can be audio and video, audio podcasts will be featured in this article.

Podcasts are handy ways to get information – captured on your computer or media player, they are available to you when and where you want to listen. (I catch up on the latest science and education news every day while I bike to work.) And you don’t have to spend time checking the web sites of podcast creators for new episodes. By subscribing to an RSS feed at the web sites of your choice, you will receive new podcasts automatically.

You might listen to podcasts of personal interest, use them as an informal source of professional development, or have your students listen to them (as part of class research on a topic, for example). Of course, not all podcasts are appropriate for students. If you are using iTunes, you can use the Parental Control feature (in Preferences) to prevent students from previewing or downloading podcasts marked with the “explicit” label. But don’t assume that iTunes will do all the work for you! Be sure to listen to the entire podcast before assigning it or using it in class.

There are a number of free programs for automatically downloading podcasts to a computer. iTunes and Juice are two such programs.

In iTunes you can find and subscribe to podcasts in several ways:

1. Through the iTunesstore. Click on “podcasts” in the left column of the iTunes store, and then “podcast directory” on the lower right-hand corner. You can then “browse” or “power search” to find podcasts.
2. Drag the podcast’s RSS icon into iTunes. Most podcast pages display the RSS icon. You can drag that icon into the podcast window in iTunes and the program will subscribe you.
3. Type in the URL. In the “Advanced” tab in iTunes menu bar, choose “subscribe to podcast.” Put in the URL for the RSS feed for that particular podcast.
4. Click on a “subscribe” link on the podcast’s web site. Many podcasts will have a “subscribe via iTunes” link that will open up iTunes on your computer.

Creating a podcast in the classroom can be a great way to incorporate writing across the curriculum. Narratives like personal stories, drama, history, and music all lend themselves well to audio presentations. Plus, students can be more motivated to create a podcast that could be heard across the world, rather than just within the classroom.

Classroom podcasts will take some time. Start small. Consider divisions of labor for student-created podcasts (writer, editor, voice actor). You will likely have to do the final production of the podcast and help with the equipment. Your students should use stage names and never give any personal information about themselves. Podcasts on web sites are publicly available.

You can find many examples of elementary class podcasts on the Education Podcast Network or on Podcast for Teachers. You can find information about using and creating podcasts in KidCast: Podcasting in the Classroom. The creator of the KidCast site, Dan Schmit, is the author of books on the subject as well. He gives an overview of classroom podcasting in this podcast: http://edcommunity.apple.com/ali/item.php?itemID=9973.

Briefly, here are the main steps in recording and broadcasting a podcast:

1. Record the audio using recording software such as Audacity (free!) or Apple Computer’s GarageBand for a Mac. Students can also record via telephone for free at Gcast.com and Gabcast.com.
2. Edit using the recording software (Audacity or Garageband) to cut out anything you don’t want.
3. Add music and sound effects, make volume fades, and so forth. Free sound effects and samples are available at FindSounds and Sounddogs.
4. Compress the audio to an MP3 file. This makes your audio file smaller
5. Upload your file to a class web site or other host sites such as Podomatic or Podbean.com. The host will make your web page automatically!

When using sound effects and music in your podcasts, it is important to consider copyright and terms of use. Most podsafe music is licensed under Creative Commons, which allows educators and others to use music as long as they give attribution.

Some ideas for class-produced podcasts are:

1. Interviews: Students can talk to people who use science in their jobs.
2. History:”This day in science history.”
3. Podcast drama: A recorded version of a classroom skit.
4. Pet podcast: Give kids a chance to talk about biology and nutrition using observations of their pets
5. Outdoor observations: Use cell phones or a portable recorder to note observations during urban science walks.
6. Where in the World: Submit a podcast to this worldwide geography quiz show – http://www.intelligenic.com/where/.

In the resources below we’ve included links to web sites that will be helpful sources as you create classroom podcasts and to other sites that provide science news and information in podcast format.


A community of educators who are podcasting in K-12 schools. Books and workshops are available.

Education Podcast Network
Directory of podcasts produced by educators.

Listening to Themselves: Podcasting Takes Lessons Beyond the Classroom
An article from Edutopia.org describes podcasting in a fifth-grade classroom.

Tips for Podcast Fans
Apple’s iTunes site gives helpful tips on creating and subscribing to podcasts.

Podcast for Teachers
Articles, blogs and podcasts about podcasting.

PodSafe Music Network and PodSafe Audio
Find music that is license-free and legal to put in a podcast in these two directories.


Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears Podcasts
Each month Robert Payo and Stephanie Chasteen trek across the poles to find ways to help you teach science in your classroom. They tackle common misconceptions your students might have about science using stories, teaching activities, and the latest news related to the poles.

Teaching Tips
A podcast series by the author and produced by the Exploratorium Teacher Institute.

60-Second Science
Daily (Monday-Friday) one-minute episodes from the staff of Scientific American, who also produce the weekly Science Talk podcasts.

WNYC Radiolab
One-hour shows about science produced by New York public radio stations.

NOVA Science NOW
Brief audio stories from the NOVA series.

Krulwich on Science
Podcasts from a correspondent for NPR’s Science Desk series.

The Naked Scientists: Science Radio and Science Podcasts
Science podcasts from the British Broadcasting Corporation. Check out the kitchen science portion for ideas on classroom activities.

Slacker Astronomy
Podcasts and blogs about astronomy.

Science Update Podcasts
Daily and weekly podcasts from the Science Update radio program, produced by AAAS.

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 11/14/2011.

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