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Podcasting in the Classroom

Subject: Music, Social Studies, Language Arts, Technology

Grade Level: 9th-12th

Materials: Computers with Internet access, LCD projector, Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, Audacity sound recording program.

About: This project was designed to be a culminating activity for a 9th grade Music History unit covering popular music in America during the 1930s. These lessons allow the students to take an active role in their learning by creating their own content, rather than using content created by others. Rather than students responding to questions in test form, students are given a chance to develop a creative way in which to record and present their findings.

In this unit, the Internet, PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, and a sound recording program called Audacity are used to create Podcasts. This unit reinforces project-based learning and working cooperatively with others while supporting the content areas of Communication Studies, English Language Arts, Music History, and Social Studies. This unit is unique because it incorporates technology, providing students access to a whole world outside the classroom, and illustrates creative ways to approach learning.

Student podcasts are created through the use of images, sound bytes, written information, and multimedia. When students listen back to their finished podcasts, these different elements allow them to reflect on their work on many levels. Creating podcasts helps students internalize and see a more holistic view of the topic they are studying.

Research American popular music in the 1930s (specifically, the Big Band/Swing era).
Comprehend the effects of the Great Depression on entertainment in the 1930s.
Gain knowledge of the Big Band Era in popular music.
Create a 1930s radio program podcast.
Write a script for their podcasts.
Perform their radio skits in class.
Use audio recording software to record their podcasts.
Learn to convert their audio recordings to MP3 files.
Upload MP3 files to a web site.
Learn to follow complex directions.

Audacity is a free audio recording software program, excellent for recording and editing sound files.
The PBS Jazz site contains materials and resources taken from the award-winning Ken Burns' documentary.
Google is the premier search engine on the web.
This web site has excellent multimedia resources about the Big Band era in popular music history.

High School/Commencement
Students will access, generate, process and transfer information using appropriate technologies.
High School/Commencement
Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the 1930s Big Band Swing Era in America.

Day 1: Intro to the Big Band Era
Research American popular music in the 1930s (specifically, the Big Band Swing Era).
Identify several Big Bands
Analyze the makeup, sound, and purpose of a Big Band
Comprehend the effects of the Great Depression on entertainment in the 1930s.
Benny Goodman's recording of "Somebody Stole my Girl"
Copy of Ken Burns' documentary, Jazz
Laptop computers
• Play the recording of "Somebody Stole my Girl." List on a chart what the students already know about the music (teacher might list her schema also). Introduce the words: swing, ensemble, era, and big band. Ask the students what role a big band might play in the entertainment world and what period in time this music might have originated.
• Investigate the variety of instrumental sounds coming from the recording. Identify the instrumentation. Discuss with students what might be the purpose of the music.
• Use the "Jazz" video to show clips of Benny Goodman's band live in concert. As students begin to figure out that dancing was a major component of the Big Band Era, identify the popular dances from the 1930s.
• Explain to students that today, they are going to learn about the Big Band Swing Era. Students will focus on important Big Band leaders, the makeup and purpose of the Big Band, and the Big Band's role in America during the 1930s.
• Show clips of the effects of the Great Depression from the "Jazz" video. Discuss the effects the Great Depression might have had on entertainment in the 1930s and American culture as a whole.
• Explain to students that they will be working in small groups and given laptop computers to use for Internet research. Through the designated web sites, students will focus on the Big Band leaderse and their contributions to music in America during the 1930s.
• Students will also focus on the tone of America during this decade, and relate it to the rise of the Big Band.
• The teacher circulates and observes students' work. Share inside stories of artists, musicians, and historical events.
• Students will record their research findings in Microsoft Word. Remind students that when recording their research, they must be careful to put statements in their own words in order to avoid plagiarism.
Students will share their findings with the class, and important points will be posted on a large chart, visible to all in the classroom.

Day 2: PowerPoint Research.
Create PowerPoint presentations based on their research utilizing images and period recordings.
Gain knowledge of the Big Band Era.
Identify the components of a Big Band and the entertainment value of Big Bands.
Follow complex directions.
Laptop computers
Previous research materials and/or charted findings.
• Recall the prior lesson. Explain to the students that today, they will whittle down the information they have gathered. This will help them focus on important points and concepts that they might want to include in their podcast.
• Using an LCD projector, the teacher will model the creation of a PowerPoint presentation. This will include slide development, adding text, dragging images from the Internet into slides, and adding sound bytes. Guide students to several websites for possible images and sound bytes (see list above).
• Explain that the students will create their own PowerPoint presentations that will include factual information, images from the era, and period recordings. These PowerPoint presentations will be the basis for their podcast scripts.
• The students are then directed to return to their previous groups and begin developing their own group's PowerPoint presentation.
• The teacher moves from group to group, modeling a variety of ways to develop slides.
Each group will share their completed PowerPoint presentations with the class. Each group will participate in a Q&A session. Some possible questions could be: (1) What were the significance and/or contributions of your highlighted Big Band leaders from the 1930s? (2) What role did the Great Depression play in the Big Band entertainment industry? (3) Who were some of the significant figures in America during this time period?

Day 3: Prepping the Podcast
Create a 1930s radio program podcast. For this segment of the project, students will "go back in time" and interview a major musical or non-musical figure from the 1930s.
Write a script for their podcasts.
Perform their radio skits in class.
• Each group reviews their PowerPoint presentation, and uses it as a jumping-off point to come up with a concept for their podcast script. Each group chooses a figure from their research to interview.
• Teacher should model possible interview scenarios for the class. For example, "Today on Big Band 93.3FM, we have a special guest, Duke Ellington. He has just returned to New York City from a a brief tour of the Midwest where his band lifted the spirits so many Americans struggling through the Depression. So Duke, what new compositions are you working on?"
• The teacher asks the class what other creative ideas they can utilize for their scripts. The teacher lists the students' responses on the board. Students begin working on their scripts.
• The students create a format for their podcasts and craft interview questions. Students assign roles to each other, and come up with Q&A script in character. They practice their skit in class several times.
• The teacher circulates as students discuss and create their podcast scripts. The teacher probes students into deeper thinking and creativity, assisting groups when necessary.
• The teacher makes sure that all groups are using accountable talk, and that everyone is playing an active role in the creation of each script.
• The teacher asks each group whether or not they think their script truly represents a 1930s radio program. If not, what are some ways in which the script can be made more authentic (using period slang, more conversational interview style, etc.)?
Students will share their skits with the other groups. Students will participate in a question-and-answer session covering the specifics of how each group came up with the content for their skits.

Day 4: Recording the Podcasts
Use audio recording software, Audacity, to record 1930s radio skits.
Learn to convert audio recordings into MP3 files.
Upload MP3 files to a web site for viewing and listening on the web.
Computers (laptops or desktops)
Audacity recording software (free download).
• Revisit prior lessons in the unit, and discuss ways in which the students can utilize creative strategies when recording their podcasts. Remind the students of all the things that they have learned from the previous lessons on the Big Band Swing Era, and encourage them to include as much new knowledge as possible in their podcasts.
• Model examples such as having the students create a short script for a commercial for a product from the 1930s. This could be used as a lead-in to the radio broadcast/podcasts.
• Pass out laptops and direct students to the Audacity web site: http://audacity.sourceforge.net. Teachers will show students how to download this free program onto their own computers.
• The teacher instructs students on how the program is used and the basics of recording. The teacher will model for the students how to record their podcasts.
• The teacher instructs each group to finalize their podcasts and practice them one last time.
• One at a time, each group performs their radio broadcast while recording the spoken words into Audacity.
• After each group has recorded the spoken word portion, the teacher models the sound editing process. Students will edit their own recordings by adding period music that reflects the time period.
• When each group has finished their podcast, they convert their audio file to an MP3 file, and then upload the file to the school's web site for worldwide viewing and listening. The intended audience is parents, students, and teachers--but the podcasts are available to anyone who has access to the Internet.
• While students are working, the teacher should circulate around the room to observe students recording their podcasts. The teacher should remind the students that there is no one way in which to complete the podcast, and that each group should be as creative as possible. The teacher works with each group on various sound editing procedures.
Students will present their audio recordings to the class. Students will have the opportunity to ask how each group created their podcast. The teacher will ask students to compare life and music in the 1930s with today's American music and lifestyle.

Rian Wilkinson


The Heritage School
1680 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10029

Rian Wilkinson has been teaching music history and music performance at The Heritage School in East Harlem, New York, for three years. He has a B.A. in Music Education from City College, and is currently completing his M.A. degree in Music Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.


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