Radio – not too ‘old school’ for digital natives

Is radio too ‘old-school’ for our so-called digital natives?

On the face of it, radio is not cool because it lacks visuals that most young people have grown up with. Also, given that the screen has become our interface of life, teaching for the ear gets a thumbs down.

If we give up.

I’ve recently discovered that, in class, radio –and the recorded voice—has a remarkable potential for engagement. I’m still trying to decide if it’s the hardware (a simple, cheap  corded mic) or the ‘studio setting’ I establish that gets a class all excited about creating content, and interacting.

The past few weeks, based on a lesson on sound and audio, I pushed my first graders to work on a format to make their own class radio show. I know what you’re thinking- First Graders?!  They may never ‘get’ why interacting (live) is big part of learning/thinking, right?

I beg to differ.

I give them 30-second practice-runs, and then pick a ‘host’ (based on the voice recordings last week) and get that student to basically run the show.

They make a mistake, no problem. We start again. They flub on their words. We re-record.

This is a lesson that combines technology and language. Technology at the service of language. My goal in this class is two-fold:

  • Let them discover a technology that helps them  communicate better, think fast. New Common Core standards call for integrating “information from oral, visual, quantitative, and media sources…”
  • Understand how vocabulary is key to describe an event (playing in the snow), appreciate a piece of content (a book review), show interest in a subject (the “I want to be a/an………….. because” prompt)

But by putting a child in the proximity of a medium (the visible hardware and the invisible software), I want him or her to see Language Arts through a new filter; To appreciate why good metaphors and word choices make good scripts, great stories…

KJZZ & Story Corps

I thought a lot about this yesterday, returning from Phoenix, after stopping by the Story Corps booth, at the Phoenix Art Museum. A mobile studio goes across the country letting people tell their stories. They may not have radio voices, and six-dollar words, but their stories are compelling. (While we were there, former Chief Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor was in the booth, recording hers.)

On the drive back, my 10-year old daughter insisted on listening to ‘The World’ –a news segment from Public Radio International, BBC and NPR. She’s a huge fan of the segment, Geo Quiz.

She’s a digital native. Yet it’s radio, not TV, that has sparked her interest in geography and world events.  It’s not as old school as you’d think.

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Audio Time Capsule for Digital Learning day

“So what’s your story?” I ask my students. It’s a non-intimidating way of getting them to share an idea; a conversation starter.

For Digital Learning Day my project is on digital storytelling. It will be my digital time capsule, so to speak. I got my students all prepped up, based on my classes on microphones and sound.

My experiment with 1st graders has shown me that the tried and tested ‘story prompt’ isn’t the best solution. And so, I’m going to use my old podcasting trick –embed the microphone and practically hide it. I used to do a bit of podcasting in my previous career, and it never ceased to amaze me about the impact of a piece of hardware on conversations.  (Whoever said that technology is best when it is invisible was right on the money.)

How does a teacher get these ‘voices on’? I’m going to find out, I guess!

By some coincidence, Story Corps is in the Phoenix area, via our local NPR station KJZZ, for the next few weeks. The StoryCorps project has an interesting collection of stories on a National Teachers Initiative.

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!