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"Speaking Of History" Through Podcasts

"One night before a test, there was an error in the link that provided the StudyCasts [podcasts], and I received e-mail messages from various parents and students asking me to fix the link so they could use it to study for the test," recalled Eric Langhorst. "At that point, I knew that it was an effective tool."

An eighth grade American history teacher at South Valley Junior High School in Liberty, Missouri, Langhorst also teaches a graduate course for educators called "Technology for the Classroom" at Park University. It isn't surprising that he is among the first teachers to explore podcasting. Langhorst began using his original podcast, Speaking of History, with his students in the fall of 2006. Since November 2005, the site that hosts the podcast has had more than 10,000 visitors from 88 different countries.

Eric Langhorst and his students use podcasts in the classroom.

"One of the most effective uses of podcasts for my students was the creation of StudyCasts," Langhorst told Education World. "I began recording an audio review to help my students prepare for upcoming unit tests. With my portable MP3 player, I record an overview of the important material. I then transfer the audio, which lasts about 20 minutes, to my computer, and then upload the MP3 file to our classroom Web site. Students then are able to listen to the study review at home on their computers or download it to their personal MP3 players; they can review for the test anywhere."

Some students report that they listen to the reviews while exercising, riding the bus, or with their parents. Langhorst made the free StudyCasts available through i-Tunes, and students who did not have Internet access at home had the option of checking out a CD containing the audio review.

The "Speaking of History" podcasts became a powerful tool that allowed Langhorst to share interviews he conducted with historians, museum directors, and tour guides from historic sites. "My podcast has featured interviews from a variety of museums, including the National World War I Museum in Kansas City, the Winston Churchill Library and Memorial in Fulton, Missouri, and the USS Midway aircraft carrier in San Diego," reported Langhorst. "I also have included phone interviews with individuals who create historical documentaries and books."

Last spring, Langhorst conducted phone interviews with the illustrator and director of the History Channel's "10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America" special about Shay's Rebellion, and then released the interviews in his podcast. His site also contains a dramatic reading about the Underground Railroad that some of his students performed for a speech contest.

But it was the StudyCasts that both parents and students found especially beneficial in helping the kids prepare for tests. "In an end of the year survey, more than 85 percent of my students said the StudyCasts were a helpful way to study for tests, and 75 percent responded that they hope other teachers would offer similar audio reviews in the future," Langhorst stated. "Some parents said they actually listened to the StudyCasts with their sons and daughters to help them prepare for the test."

Students aren't the only ones who are listening to his podcasts. After a unit test about the American Revolutionary War, Langhorst received a message from an individual in Spain. He had heard the related StudyCast and noted that much time had been devoted to the French contribution to the fight for independence, but he questioned whether proper credit had been given to the Spanish. The gentleman then provided information about a book in which the author details the Spanish contribution to the victory over the British. The students were shocked that a person from another country displayed such concern about what they studied.

Langhorst encourages teachers to explore the use of podcasts in their classrooms. No specific equipment is required to record or listen to podcasts, he says. They can be made with an inexpensive microphone, any computer, and a free cross-platform sound editor named Audacity. Foreign language classes, for example, have had great success with podcasting.

"I continue to produce the Speaking of History podcast and will again use StudyCasts this year to help my students prepare for tests," Langhorst shared. "I want to increase the amount of student-created content on the podcast and have plans to help our building principals produce a regular podcast to inform parents, students, and patrons of the great things happening at our school."

Another plan in the works will involve Langhorst's students in creating an historical walking tour of the downtown Liberty square, which could be used by visitors to discover more about its historic buildings. Soon his students too will be "speaking of history"!

Photo provided by Eric Langhorst.

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected].

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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