Add another dimension to your classroom with podcasts – either ones you produce yourself or ones you discover online. Think of a topic you want to cover in class and search for those key words and “podcast.” You’ll get a long list of possibilities. You can also use a podcast app such as Apple, Google or Spotify.

There are many positives to using podcasts in the classroom. They’re mostly free, reduce screen time for students, and help kids practice listening skills. Podcasts allow students to exercise their creativity when they listen because they can form mental pictures of characters and scenarios from the episodes. The topics and presentations can also be very interesting and keep kids’ interests. Transcripts are also often available, which increase students’ literacy skills and help with vocabulary acquisition.

Here are some must-listens for students:

• Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips, geared toward middle and high school students

• Serial and S-Town, spin-offs from This American Life, are true crime podcasts, best for older students

• Youth Radio, kid journalists’ take on the news for students in grades 6-12

• Hardcore History, for students in grades 9-12

• Book Club for Kids, a podcast which includes a different kid discussing a book, celebrity reader and interview with the book’s author for each episode, best for upper elementary and middle school students

• Brains On, science topics for kids in grades 1-6

• The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd, an ongoing battle between a doctor and his evil mastermind who learn about history, for school-aged kids

• Classics for Kids, short episodes which focus on classical music composers, for students in grades K-5

• This I Believe, NPR radio series that focuses on writing and sharing personal experiences, for students in grades 6-12

• Story Time, a podcast perfect for little listeners who hear a soothing story read-aloud

• Listenwise, a listening skills platform which also focuses on current events, for kids in grades 5-12

• Science Friday, complex science topics for students in grades 6-12

• Eleanor Amplified, an old-time radio show that centers on journalist Eleanor and her adventures in searching for the big scoop, best for middle school students

• SHABAM!, a fast-paced podcast which uses fictional stories to teach students about science, for kids of all ages

• The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel, a suspenseful mystery series of an 11-year-old searching for her missing friends, best for upper elementary students

• The Allusionist, where listeners explore roots of words and common phrases

• Short & Curly, an ethics podcast for kids ages 7-12

• Stories Podcast, where bigger kids listen to kid-friendly versions of fairy tales, classic stories and original pieces

• The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian, a serialized podcast about a young boy who lives on a space station who solves mysteries and explores the galaxy, for younger and upper elementary students

• Freakonomics Radio, a podcast where listeners explore the “hidden” aspects of all kinds of topics, for older students

• Stuff You Should Know, a podcast which focuses on important facts of everyday things, best for teens

• The Tim Ferriss Show, a podcast which could be helpful to high school business students real-life tips and tools

• Getting In, a podcast geared toward anyone trying or helping someone get into college

There are many things students can do with podcasts in addition to listening to them in class:

• Create an audio tour for new students.

• Make a student-delivered current events report weekly or monthly.

• Publish presentations.

• Create a radio show to allow students to share event information, share book reports, report on school sporting events, interview athletes, etc.

Teachers (or students) can easily start their own podcast.

• Use free software such as Audacity and GarageBand.

• Choose a podcast hosting site or “home” for your podcast. Try buzzsprout, PodBean, Spreaker or Anchor.

• Borrow or purchase basic equipment like a good quality microphone and headphones.

• Create a list of topic ideas or niche. Choose something you can talk about for several episodes but also appeal to your audience.

• Pick a name. Consider purchasing a domain name.

• Will you be the solo host or are you co-hosting?

• If you’re uploading the podcast for others to enjoy, you’ll need cover art. It’s the first thing people see when they scroll through podcast apps.

Jonathan Compas is a kindergarten teacher at Franklin Elementary in the Cape Girardeau School District. He has been an MSTA member for six years. He created the podcast Tough Talk with Teachers in January 2018 with his principal. They wanted a place to tell funny stories about what has happened to him as an educator. Soon it became a place to collaborate, reflect, learn and share his own personal thoughts and ideas. After his principal switched schools, Whitney Choate, a 9-12 special education and instruction technology specialist at Cape Girardeau, joined Compas to co-produce the podcast.

After researching different platforms to use, they settled on Podbean as their initial platform because it was easy to stream to iTunes and other podcast media. After first using their phones, they upgraded to a cheaper microphone and then to a higher-quality one.

Compas says it doesn’t take much to set up a simple podcast in the beginning stages. Individuals need a platform for recording and uploading and a microphone to do a podcast.

“The podcast has been a great tool for reflection,” he says. “I consider myself a forever learner and am always looking for ways to improve myself and my teaching.”

Compas reflects on his own teaching when talking about certain topics and uses it as an opportunity for professional development. He and Choate are able to have guests on their show to share new ideas and learned strategies.

“We are almost always bringing on guests which gives different viewpoints in education,” says Choate. “With those different ideas and views, I always look at my own teaching practices and think if I could change or tweak them.”

Choate says it’s been great to connect with educators from across the country, most of whom are more than willing to give up 20 minutes to be on the duo’s podcast. “They have so many different views and insights that are so valuable to not only me but our listeners.”

Because of their work with the podcast, Choate says she has made many changes in her classroom due to reflection and both are stepping out of their comfort zones in many ways. “I used to be, and still am sometimes, a person who ‘word vomits.’ This process has taught me to think on my feet and do extraneous speaking.”

Connections have been a very important part of the podcast. The pair has made connections with new podcasts in their situation of trying to grow their product, finding experts to help when they have a snap with audio or other technical issues. They also have had other podcasters reach out to them to have the duo on their shows.

Compas has received many personal benefits from the podcast including having a supportive audience and the chance, he says, to work with an amazing partner that makes him work to be a better person and educator.

The partners eventually want to produce a weekly podcast to include more than 1,000 subscribers across all platforms and hundreds of regular downloads for each episode. In addition, they want to offer more giveaways. They would like to upgrade to even better audio equipment and possibly collaborate with another podcast for a show to more positively influence and encourage other educators.

Choate wants to add controversial issues in education to their topics list because “those things are tough to talk about and don’t always get the proper spotlight.”

Joshua Howard, an instructional technology facilitator at the Fulton School District, also partners with other educators to create a podcast called The EdTech Pod Squad. The group started the podcast together in January 2018 and consists of Howard, JP Prezzavento of Fox C-6, Erin Lawson at Orchard Farm, Sam Knoll at Wentzville and Jonathon Lee at Midwest Education Technology Community. The group worked together to score presentation submissions for the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference before beginning their podcast. After concluding their meetings for ISTE, they said they were sad because they wouldn’t be working together anymore so they decided to continue to meet, but this time, record their conversations to turn them into a podcast.

Howard says podcasts are often just conversations, but they need to be structured and focused on the topic. The group puts together an informational document that has segments with leading questions and topics to be covered. Then they let the conversations flow naturally from there.

To record, Howard says a microphone, laptop and software are needed. Their group uses Audacity, which allows them to record audio and edit it easily. This software allows users to have multiple tracks to include transition sound or introduction music, which are simply inserted alongside the voice track. Audacity mixes the sound together into one file.

To host and share the podcast, the group uses Anchor. They simply created an account, uploaded their audio file and their podcast was shared to podcast feeds on the Web. This allows their audience to find their podcasts anywhere online.

Because each group member does not have a team of teachers who they regularly meet or plan with, this podcast becomes even more important to use to connect with others.

“This podcast is a great tool for us to connect with others who do what we do but don’t often have the same ability to collaborate and reflect on their work,” says Howard.

Howard thinks of their podcast as a diary or journal, a place where they can look back, reflect and discuss many of the issues, concerns, successes and victories they have in the role in education.

“It definitely helps me as a professional because it gives me an outlet to discuss plans, programs, and projects I am working on to get good feedback which I can apply to my teaching and coaching.”

Howard says the entire point of the podcast is to connect with educators. “The team of hosts has been an amazing connection because we are doing the same thing,” he says, “to be a great support to each other.”

The group has presented this podcast at conferences. In fact, many educators have expressed their enthusiasm and desire to begin their own podcast.

Howard says many educators reach out to him on Twitter or through his website. He is thankful for the ideas they have shared and created inspiration to try something new or even rethink current practices.

He has gained many personal and professional positives from the podcast: making great connections within his learning network, the professional benefit of having a listener base that also reaches out and shares ideas, and the creative outlet this allows to share new and interesting ideas.

“The podcast has definitely been a learning opportunity,” says Howard. The group would like to expand the podcast. “We would like to have more of a footprint with listeners, maybe emphasize social media or the web a bit more with our resources and how we can share with the audience.”