Podcasts, video games, streaming movies and shows, YouTube, and social media—these are the ways our students connect with information, the world, and friends. So why aren’t more teachers using these resources in their classrooms? Some are, but it’s a great big, infinite world of content out there, and who has time to sort through it all!? The purpose of this column is to attempt to help teachers do just that: find good resources, vetted for content, appropriateness, and connections to three-dimensional learning. By using the resources our students already engage with, we can excite, interest, and expose them to science in the real world. While they will feel that we are making the effort to connect with their world, we will be secretly connecting them to the world that we so very much want them to engage with and understand.
I won’t be placing this in every article (well, maybe somewhere in the fine print), but it would be a dereliction of duty not to say it. Only YOU can decide what is right for your classroom, your students, your school, and your community. No matter what resources others offer, no matter their qualifications or titles, no matter how you use it or introduce it, you are the royalty of your classroom. As such, we all have the responsibility to judge resources for the appropriateness for our students. So it is always best practice to at least listen to the podcast, watch the YouTube video, read the book, etc., that anyone suggests before you use it in your classroom. If this makes some of you nervous—that is okay!
Think about it this way: some teachers hesitate to use technology resources in their classrooms because they are worried about kids getting distracted or exposed to negative content. But let’s be honest, as long as there have been classrooms, there have been notes passed, some asking for dates, some notes of bullying. Magazine articles were passed around rooms and schools long before there was ever access to questionable content online. You will not prevent your students from being exposed to the world by banning technology in your classroom, so I encourage you to instead adopt an attitude not of full acceptance, but of engagement with your students, for your students, and for a world in which they desperately need caring adults who will guide them through the weeds and back into the grass.
Also, a word about equity and access. Whenever we are considering using outside materials in the classroom, it is critical to ensure that all students have equal access to those resources. So, I will consider factors such as: does the resource include closed-captioning for students with hearing impairment, or is a transcript available? For a student with vision impairment: is it available in braille (or convertible to braille), and is the resource descriptive and/or does it include descriptive services? For EL students: is the resource available in other languages, and so on. A resource that does not meet all of these qualifications will not automatically disqualify it from review, but I will do my best to note this in the review.
For access, my best suggestion is to do an old phones drive! Place a call on all your networks—friends, family, church, social media, school, etc., for any device with a screen that can still access wifi. Wipe any old data off that thing (and probably just wipe it with some sort of sanitizing solution too) and create a check-out library. If a kid loses it, who cares? It was free and old anyway (and maybe they just needed it more than you did).
Most podcasts, YouTube videos, books, articles, and even many streaming shows and other content can be downloaded for free on these devices. I ran these drives 2–3 times per year (usually in August when people upgraded for a new school year), January (when people got new Christmas devices and didn’t need the old ones), and in late April (those tax refunds go somewhere). I was never at a loss for screens and if I had to buy a few cheap (less than $1) earbuds or charging cables, I always felt it was a better investment than my morning coffee!
Finally, at the end of each article, I will rate the resource I am reviewing on a number of factors, rated from 1 (bad/empty) to 5 (awesome/full) test tubes. After spending more than a decade in a high school science classroom, and being deeply involved in the rollout of the NGSS (as well as the new version of AP science standards) on a state, local, and classroom level, I will be judging items based on their ability to teach or introduce phenomena related to disciplinary core ideas (with an attempt to align to the broadest level of content standards), science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts.
Additionally, I will rate items by ease of use for teachers, and, finally, I will use my access to a number of high school students (including a few that live with me and their friends, who I may or may not require to review in exchange for rides to meets and hangouts) to get an attempt on a rating of their level of interest for students. Hopefully, that will help give you a quick look to see if you need something to help refine student ideas in one area or another if you are looking for a specific lesson idea.
Okay, now that all of that is out of the way, my first review will be of one of my favorite podcasts (probably a lot of yours as well) Stuff You Should Know (SYSK). SYSK is a treasure trove of interesting, in-depth looks at science, history, critical events, politics, and other issues from two funny and engaging podcasters who are basically just deeply curious about the world. They have a team of researchers in a plethora of areas who spend hundreds of hours researching information for their 15–45 minute podcasts. The pods come in three flavors: Standard (roughly 45 minutes), Short Stuff (15-20 minutes), and SYSK Selects, which are throwback standard episodes they feel are relevant to something going on at the time. Every week Josh (Josh Clark, a former reporter and history and anthropology major) and Chuck (Charles W. Bryant, a screenwriter and history major) release two new standard pods (Tuesday and Thursday), a Short Stuff on Wednesdays and an SYSK Select on Saturdays. These pods are decidedly G-PG with early warnings if there is ever more sensitive material discussed. With over 1,000 episodes, it can be a lot for a teacher to sort through, so I thought I would start with something that nearly everyone could use in their classroom immediately!
Recently the Antikythera Mechanism made headline news around the world, as today’s scientists have cracked some of the understanding behind a 2,000-year-old “computer” (Freeth et al. 2021; BBC 2021). Never heard of the Antikythera Mechanism? No worries, neither had Josh or Chuck when they created “How the Antikythera Mechanism Works” in December 2015. This episode went on to become one of the top 30 most downloaded episodes in the show’s history. Why should you, and especially your students, give it a listen? Well, a number of reasons. First, it is on the shorter side (36 minutes); it’s always good to start out shorter with teens. Secondly, it’s a current event, and third, and probably most important, it spans all of the high school science subjects because of its technology and engineering connection. For students the idea of a 2,000-year-old ‘computer’ invokes all sorts of scientific myths and legends. Was it ancient aliens, what about Atlantis, or time travel? Josh and Chuck address all of this in their podcast and bring a sense of wonder (trust me, you will want to Google a picture of this thing after listening). And, for the truly nerdy, even Jar Jar Binks gets a shout-out!
For the teacher, it offers the opportunity to talk about all sorts of science content ideas—chemical properties of metals, astronomy concepts such as meteorological time and movements, earth science of weather and the changes of the earth over time, the physics of moving parts in the machine and nuclear physics techniques used to decode it, reverse engineering, and even the biology of sponges (what the original divers were after) and the stress of the human body in diving (the device was found 120 years ago by free divers). But as we will find with a lot of modern media, the discussion of the nature of science is one of the most valuable uses of this podcast. Overall, I think this is a great way to dive in to the world of popular content in the classroom, and, if you like this one, there are 1,000+ other SYSK pods out there for you to try!
Some guiding questions for students:
SYSK does include paid ads that change over time. There are transcriptions of this podcast available online, but none that I could find that are official, so I would just suggest searching the podcast title and “transcription.” The host company of the podcast (iHeart Radio) is planning translation of this podcast, but I was not able to find a location of one translated, (but the transcripts could also be translated using Google translate, etc.). The podcast is free and available on the web, and on nearly all podcast apps.
Questions/comments/something you love with your students you would like to see reviewed? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DCIs (PS1A. PS4B, C; ESS1A,B,C; ESS2D, LS1A, ETS1A)
SEPs (developing and using models, using mathematics and computational thinking, constructing explanations and designing solutions, obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information)
CCs (patterns, systems and system models, structure and function)
Ease of Use for Teachers
Interest to Students
Holly Amerman (email@example.com) is a research assistant and Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA.
BBC. 2021. (March 12) Scientists unlock the mysteries of the world’s oldest ‘computer.’ https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-56377567
Freeth, T., D. Higgon, A. Dacanalis, L. MacDonald, M. Georgakopoulou, and A. Wojick, A. 2021. A model of the cosmos in the ancient Greek Antikythera Mechanism. Nature: Scientific Reports 11 (5821). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-84310-w
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