, Gloucester, MA

January 13, 2009

Live, from Memorial School ...

Podcasts give elementary kids new taste of learning

By Robert Cann

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MANCHESTER — Owen Stinsmuehlen clicked record on the GarageBand, software and moments later Jade Cromwell began to read from her script into a digital microphone:

"If you were leaving Manchester-by-the-Sea and wanted to reach Africa, you would fly East over the Atlantic Ocean."

Stinsmuehlen and Cromwell are podcasting; recording themselves speaking on a computer, editing it, and posting it online for anyone to access.

"Africa is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Indian Ocean on the east, the Mediterranean Sea on the north and the Red Sea on the north-east," she continued.


"The longest river is the Nile River."

This is how Stinsmeuhlen, Cromwell and a third classmate, Molly Field, are presenting their research project on Africa for a second-grade geography class at Manchester Memorial Elementary. In fact, by the end of the school year, each of the 444 students at Memorial — from kindergarten to sixth grade — will have recorded at least one podcast as part of a school project.

Stinsmeuhlen, Cromwell and Field, along with the other second-graders in Elise Dudley's class, are learning about the seven continents. They do research in the library with Samantha Silag, the school's librarian, and learn to use computers and Apple's GarageBand software in the school's technology lab with Jenna Seymour, the school's technology teacher.

The end result is a podcast.

"It's really combining a lot of different subjects areas into one final product," said Seymour, who is in her first year teaching at Memorial after serving as an aide to the school's former technology teacher, Paul Clark.

Seymour, along with Silag — who got the idea to get the students podcasting while pursuing her master's degree in Information & Library Science at Simmons College in Boston — introduced the new technology to the school this fall. The two worked with Anne Heslop and her first-grade class to turn book projects into podcasts, and according to Seymour, it went surprisingly smooth.

"I only say that because it was a first time, we didn't really know how it was going to go," said Seymour. "We had a lot of support from Mrs. Heslop.

"She came in during extra class time, sent kids down when we needed them, she was working with Samantha to get scripts written out," Seymour added. "It actually went pretty smoothly I can't complain, and then it just built up from there."

Selig added, "Now, all the teachers are on the bandwagon."

Third-graders are making podcasts under the personas of historical figures from the American Revolution, while and kindergartners are being interviewed about the animals they're studying.

"The podcasting has really been on fire," said Silag. "It's a safe way to put them out on the Internet and they love the idea."

Students' parents sign permission slips before their podcasts are posted online.

"A lot of students have friends and family all over the world, and so to say Grandma in Italy can listen to Johnny's podcast, that's a big thing for them," said Silag.

Stinsmeuhlen, Cromwell and Field arrive in the technology lab together. The students come in groups of three because the school's microphones are sensitive and would pick up too much background noise in a room full of kids.

The school will soon be getting microphones that are more effective at filtering out background noise through a grant from the Spaulding Trust, said Seymour.

Seymour gives the students a folder containing the scripts they wrote about Africa and they take their places around one of the computers. They take turns doing the technical work, starting and stopping the recording software; reading from the script; and helping to give one another cues to start and stop recording.

Seymour is there for technical assistance and to help facilitate. But mostly, the students do everything on their own.

When they finish recording, they listen to their work and laugh at one another's voices.

Later, Seymour will post the podcasts to her Web site, and all the students in Dudley's class will share their reports on the seven continents using the recordings.

"My favorite part is that you get to speak in and other people get to listen to it," said Cromwell.

"I listen to them a lot!" added Field.

"They are learning what college kids are learning," Silag said. "It's just really very cool."

Before the three leave for lunch, they add "African" (actually Indian) music to the backgrounds of their podcast and listen to it once more.

The podcast ends with Field narrating, "we'd like to visit Africa because Owen would like to get a cool wooden mask; Jade would like to go to Africa to wear the clothing because the clothes are really colorful, and I would like to go there to paint my face.

"Thanks for listening."

These students' podcasts along with others can be accessed at Seymour's Podcast-by-the-Sea Web site at:

Robert Cann can be reached at

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