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We love Apple and all things Apple related, we really do. But even we admit that when iTunes U was released over one year ago, it had some fairly dull content.
Soon it evolved into video and audio presentations that were as entertaining as they were edifying. Unfortunately, the new version of iTunes U for younger students, iTunes K-12, has content that’s a little less than sparkling. In fact, many of the podcasts presented here are centered on teaching rather than learning.
Although educators may learn a great deal from iTunes K-12, students may find themselves surfing away to the other sections of iTunes. Really, why would they listen to a podcast about education and technology when they could watch a Nas video?
That said, there are some real gems here for a variety of ages. iTunes K-12 has the potential to be as varied and as iTunes U proper. Like the students themselves, iTunes K-12 just needs a bit of time and effort to mature.
Here’s a look at some student-friendly K-12 podcasts that are also interesting to adults:
Arizona’s IDEAL e-Learning Platform
In one “Ask a Biologist” podcast, Dr. Biology starts with a quiz: identify the animal by the sound it makes. Which animal made the sound of bullfrog-like grunting? The answer was a good springboard for a look at nature’s more lively characters. With titles like “Wickedly Cool Plants” and “Ant Math,” this show appeals to a wide audience. Also, the “Conexiones” series is a terrific show for children in “under-served” communities. The podcast “Mi Vida, Nuestra Vida” is an attention-arresting look at the issue of immigration in Arizona.
Florida Center for Instructional Technology
What a find! The “History” series has video podcasts of Thomas Edison’s short documentaries from the late 1800s/early 1900s. There is no sound to accompany the jerky black-and-white films, not even a tinny piano. But that really doesn’t matter when you’re seeing “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders” and watching the pages of history come to life.
Maine Department of Education
“Humanities by Demand” has content for young children, such as stories read aloud. “Owl Babies” and “Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear” are sweet little tales told with soothing voices. “AP4ALL” demonstrates problems for students learning AP calculus. And “Rural Voices Radio” lets listeners hear essays read by young students, some of them truly evocative of life in Maine.
Michigan’s MI Learning
The “Free Is Good” series is a pleasant surprise: it’s a resource for teachers looking to provide free content to their students (“Music in the Classroom” recommends SkyFM for free music). We had no idea Michigan was forward-thinking like that.
New Jersey’s East Orange School District
“Language Arts Literacy Podcast Project” is a cute series for younger students. In “Autobiographies,” students sweetly share their lives. (“When I get older, I want to be an artist, doctor, and a singer.”) One third-grade class interviews each other about “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” These children are proof that learning can be engaging and fun.
New Jersey’s Hunterdon Central Regional High School
A surprising Health/Phys.Ed video series, “Wellness Presentations,” students learn from health care professionals about eating disorders and how to prevent them. Considering that early intervention may help prevent this growing problem, this video podcast deserves all the praise we can give it. There are only two podcasts in the “Social Studies” series, which is a crying shame. These podcasts reconstruct a 1930s radio show, which discusses “current” events. In one, the presenters chat to special guest star, Eleanor Roosevelt (however, in an anachronism, they referred to the first lady as “Ms.”). The radio show even includes old jingles. We smiled throughout the entire program.
New Jersey’s Montclair Public Schools
This school system has a large amount of student-produced podcasts, many of them so comprehensive that students all over the world will be tempted to crib the information they provide. “Suffrage” is a brief slideshow presentation about the history of the 19th Amendment, which was very well-done. “Girls--Self Image” video podcast teaches girls that they can all be beautiful. Amusingly, “Smoking,” a video podcast about the dangers of the evil weed, is narrated by a boy so innocent he doesn’t know how to pronounce “impotence.”
New Jersey’s Perth Amboy’s Public Schools
“Elementary Games” is a podcast for kindergartners and the adults that love to play games with them. Teacher Ivelis Sanfilippo demonstrates creative ways to get her charges to learn. While hanging laundry.
Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Middle School
At first, “Elementary School Showcase” looked like a typical compilation of school reviews and reports. And then we saw “No More Pencils.” In this video podcast, kindergarten students rock out to Alice’s Cooper’s “School’s Out.” Yup. Air guitar and all. There goes all of my preconceptions about kindgergarten out the window. “FCTV @ the Movies” gets a nod for their presentation, but children, haven’t you heard of spoiler warnings?
Utah Electronic High School
Forget French, Spanish, or Italian. Students lucky enough to live in Utah and participate in this online school get classes in “Navajo Language.” Freakin’ Navajo! There are only two podcasts, which are disappointingly brief. Perhaps if enough people download them, it could convince the school system to make more content available to the rest of us unlucky non-Native fools. Also frustrating were the “Utah WWII Veteran Lectures” which gives you a fascinating slice of history straight from the source—but with middling sound quality. So we can’t say if there any stories about WWII vets who codetalked in Navajo.
New Jersey’s Liberty Science Center
The “Eat or Be Eaten” series describes some of nature’s more clever animals who want to make you their lunch. For example, in “Leaf Fish,” we learn that a fish appears like a harmless looking leaf, but when hungry, will devour a smaller fish in one mouthful. And it’s always hungry. Fascinating for both children and adults.
Pennsylvania State University
“Forensic Science” is a video podcast found in Penn State’s K-12 Resources section, aimed at those with a fascination for crime. Although the video features the kind of two-camera roundtable discussion you get on public television, the information the speakers present is intelligent fun. For example, one scientist discusses the criminal who was ID’d for previous offenses from the fingerprint on the finger that got shot off when he robbed a McDonald’s.