In my own learning and past teaching experiences, the ideas of being “good at” and “liking” a subject were synonymous. My peers, past students, and I identified favorite classes in school often as the one in which we had the best grade. This prevented them, and me, from exploring new interests in high school and college, as we became pigeon-holed at an early age as a “science person” or “not a math person.” It is this way of thinking that I strive as a Middle School science teacher at GDS to help my students avoid before they go to High School. Through the 7th-grade podcast project and others, my colleagues and I work to create opportunities for all types of learners to find success and joy in our content area.
Last year, NPR introduced a student podcast challenge inviting middle and high school students to submit original podcasts on a topic of their choosing. In 7th grade science, we adapted the challenge to be our end-of-the-semester project based on the Chesapeake Bay unit that spanned the first three months of the school year. Students chose a specific environmental issue affecting the Chesapeake Bay and its corresponding restoration effort. They researched their topic in-depth and then produced and edited a 4-5 minute podcast presenting their research.
Group topics included but were not limited to nutrient pollution, osprey population decrease, oyster reefs, and forest restoration. One group interviewed a U.S. Senator via Facetime to hear his views on solving plastic pollution in the Bay and Oceans.
I have been blown away by the professionalism and aptitude my students have had in each step of the process. Students learn or hone their editing and production skills using WeVideo to better prepare for the ever-increasing tech side of the STEAM world. They also develop “old school” and seemingly outdated skills as they interview experts in the field via phone to include in their podcast. It is a refreshing break from the frequent grade focused questions that often come up during a group project. Students are held accountable by clear rubrics and deadlines, of course, but more importantly, they fill themselves into roles based on their individual strengths and push each other out of comfort zones; each group member’s voice must be heard equally throughout the final podcast.
The podcast project mirrors my experience as a GDS teacher. I am encouraged by my colleagues to constantly evolve the 7th and 8th-grade science curricula to be accessible to my students, while also challenging them to be out of their comfort zone as science learners. In a society driven by popular opinion, we strive to create critical thinkers who learn about the world and themselves in all subject areas. We are all science people!
Want to listen to this year’s podcasts? Follow this link!