Learning from Steve Jobs – Content for your recording

Students seem to be getting truly excited about creating their mini radio shows, using a microphone and Audacity software.

For content, I give them a rudimentary script, to fill in, and improvise. This week, I’m telling them to consider ‘anniversary’ events as talking point. For instance, the launch of iPod Shuffle, 10 years ago, on Jan 11th, 2005.

If you are a student,there’s a lot to learn from Steve Jobs, whose presentation skills were extraordinary. Listen to how he works up the crowd, and keeps them waiting for that “One more thing.”
Fast forward to 1:35, and see what I mean.

  • He uses words like “noodled on it” (where someone else would have used “we researched it”)
  • He introduces a few unexpected pauses, and slows down and speeds up suddenly
  • He uses visual description – comparing the iPod Shuffle to a pack of gum, and contrasting it with coins

Notice how he also stays away from big words, using words like “easy”, “simple,” “thing,” etc. (And yet, peppering his presentation with keywords!)

I bet if this was not available on video, we would still listen to it.

Be a ‘Content Creator’ – No keyboards required!

Yesterday I began to prep some of my classes for next week’s Digital Learning Day, by getting them to think about content.

Where does all the content we read and watch come from?

As I ramp up my 5th grade class from finding and reproducing knowledge, to putting together their own ideas, I want them to explore some things that seldom get talked about:

  • What does publishing mean today? How many tools could they find right now, albeit hidden under the hood of their computers?
  • Why is important to share their ideas using these tools?
  • How could their ideas be assembled in a way that makes them valuable to someone else?

I stress this last point because of two recent occurrences.

The first with a 4th grade class l taught on Patents and Copyright to 4th graders in 2013 –in relation to how there are more important places to do ‘research’ at, than on Google. Given an opportunity for them to research patents on the USPTO website, they could see how some of the most gee-wiz tools out there all began with (and still look like) a doodle on the back of a napkin. I’ve seen students come up with some amazing ideas and wondered why we don’t channel these!

The second was when I stumbled on a story in Fast Company magazine, on a weird pair of shoes fitted with GPS technology. It struck a chord because of an idea my robotics team came up with 16 months earlier. Working on their project for the FLL competition, (the challenge was called ‘Senior Solutions’) they thought of solving the problem for a visually impaired elderly person, using a pair of shoes embedded with sensors. The shoes detect obstacles, and communicate with the person via the soles of the feet.

We seem to never have platforms for kids to develop these ideas and publish them, do we? After all, the unspoken message is that they have to get to college first, to be worthy of having their ideas published in some journal.

Back to my plans for Digital Learning Day. I’m giving 1st graders a chance to see what it means to pick up a microphone and record their thoughts. Microphones have become less complicated to use now, and becoming a content creator can be as simple as telling your story, or weighing in on a topic at the click of a button.

I’m using Audacity, and headsets with microphones for this. It’s a work in progress, so…stay tuned!

Mic Check: Teaching the science of Sound

This week I’m teaching 1st graders what sound ‘looks’ like.

I don’t think most elementary school students stop to consider what sound really involves, whenever they download an MP3 file, or speak into a cordless microphone. (We teachers use simple cordless mics in class, and I occasionally hand off the mic to a student.)

One way is to show students what a sound wave is, and describe frequency and pitch. But how to turn the theory into something practical? I thought about this and began to use four different types of speaker-mic combinations to record something in class.

Four technologies

1. I start with the one device any young person could relate to – a cell phone. The mic is often hidden, but it picks up a lot. Some phones have a recording feature which is great.

2. The lanyard microphone in class. No recording feature, but it gives us an opportunity to talk about how the sound wave travels, wirelessly, across the room and gets amplified by the speaker.

3. A pocket digital recorder. I always carry one around in a satchel, from my podcasting days. I do a quick demo (10 seconds max!) with a student – usually the one who is disruptive, or… the exemplary listener! Gives me an opportunity to talk of why the recorded voice sounds tinny, but crisp.

Microphone - Dynex4. Finally, the old corded microphone. Funny how something slightly ‘old-school,’ with a very long cord nonetheless, amazes them. I show them how it works with a PC, using the very rudimentary Windows recorder. If you could download Audacity, that would open up a whole new sidebar discussion on digital dashboards…

In the next 15 minutes I record each of the 18 students, and if we have time playback their voices.

Next week I’m going to let them come up with a basic script, and read it as if they were reading a news story. There’s something about sitting a digitally saturated kid in front of a corded goose-neck microphone that gets fired up about the science of sound.

If you like to try this, depending on the grade level, you could supplement it with these steps:

  • Video the session from start to finish, so it could be used as a tutorial for another class.
  • Add a writing component. Get the class to work on a short (3-minute would suffice) ‘radio play’ with basic sound effects. I know plenty of places where to find podsafe music and sound effects. Now look at the wave forms for different sounds. Horses hooves, baby crying, door creaking, a cough…
  • Play back each skit on Audacity, and get them to see how they might combine sounds. Adjust the pitch, and frequency, so the sound effect sounds are enhanced, and even funny!

Sometimes, being a S-T-E-M focused class,  I wish I could have a 90-minute class, instead of a mere 40 minute segment. But hey, they’ve got to get to the other  Specials – like Music!