What were you doing in fifth grade?

At Zionsville Middle School West, fifth-grade students of Humanities in Stevie Franks’ classroom are becoming expert podcast producers. They’ve done so well with their study of this communication vehicle, that later this month they will instruct Assistant Superintendent of Zionsville Schools Kris Deveraex in the “how to” when she visits.

Together, the students created three podcasts worthy of entry in the NPR (National Public Radio) Student Podcast Challenge. The nationwide contest, now in its second year, was a huge success out of the gate. Introduced in 2018 and open to students in grades 5-12, the inaugural event drew entries from about 25,000 students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

There is a criteria set forth by the call for entries, and the podcasts are to be created based on a lesson or classroom experience. Franks’ students read thought-provoking novels in groups and then created their projects from themes or inspiration launched from the books.

A recent online poll by The Lebanon Reporter queried readers: Do you listen to podcasts? The results were nearly split down the middle with 52% responding yes, and 48% saying “no” to the question.

For the uninitiated, a podcast is an online audio recording, which a listener can select and enjoy according to their own interests. It is like talk radio, where the listener controls what the topic is and who the speaker and guests are. Podcasts are available in forms from recorded interviews (especially handy if you are not available when the live broadcast takes place) to specific genre topics. Currently, one of the most popular podcast categories is those that discuss or chronicle true crime stories. Perhaps equally popular are those casts which offer self-help and career or financial advice.

The fifth-graders took on three topics for their entries. As mentioned above, the inspiration for each came from a book they read. One group named their podcast “Difference not Disability,” where they investigated and discussed chronic illnesses and physical differences and similarities of those who live with the conditions.

Another group worked in a similar vein exploring Autism and the wide spectrum of its presentation via their podcast “Different but not so Different.” This group used the diagnostic standards for autism to understand the wide spectrum of abilities, and obstacles that autism presents to those living with a brain wired differently in some ways, but the same in so many other ways.

The third podcast Franks’ students entered in the NPR competition is called “Love Star West.” As a spin off of a novel in the Stargirl series by author Jerry Spinelli, their podcast looks at the popular “Random Acts of Kindness” movement and the positive effect on society in both their daily lives, and the wider world.

Beyond the impressive choice of themes explored in these fifth-grade podcasts is the production of them, which was fully in the hands of students. In collaborative groups, they worked at producing quality pieces. Students learned and applied aspects of production including script editing, personality/presence, organization of topic toward a quality piece, selection and interviewing of guests, as well as research and fact checking for accuracy and credentials of sources.

But there was so much more within the lessons. Students mentioned that the small group work with each area of focus coming together to make a podcast to be proud of, really allowed them to get to know one and another. One student’s musical talents were especially handy when applied as a resource – he plays eight instruments and his ukulele riffs made for an excellent intro for one topic.

They also discovered while working in collaborative teams that though you may initially disagree with someone else, their idea or opinion could be quite valuable for presenting a different perspective. One group noted that they’d discovered that “without research, you can have no podcast, you’re just telling a story.”

The lessons learned were far-reaching. Ranging from tone of voice and presentation of material, to snappy ways to catch and hold a listener’s attention, whether through use of humor, or using a “wrap” technique of posing a seemingly unrelated question up front, and then answering it at the end.

The Zionsville entries are submitted. However, there will be no announcement of winners until some time over summer break. At the end of judging, all entries will be available to hear through NPR’s bank of podcasts.

On a happy note resulting from all the closings and delays across the country currently occurring in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, NPR announced that the submission deadline would be extended to April 7. Because of this, one of the ZMSW podcasts that was previously not ready to enter because of unforeseen circumstances, will be eligible for the competition alongside the other three.

Frank’s fifth-grade Pod People will be well represented.

By Kassie Ritman writes for The Lebanon Reporter. Email her at Kassie.Ritman@reporter.net.

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you