IPods Fast Becoming New Teacher's Pet

Camilla Gagliolo helps her students at Jamestown Elementary in Arlington edit their voice recordings for the school's podcast site.
Camilla Gagliolo helps her students at Jamestown Elementary in Arlington edit their voice recordings for the school's podcast site. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Fern Shen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 19, 2005

At some schools, the rules are clear: Kids can chill out to downloaded music on portable players, but once they're inside, iPods and other learning distractions must be stowed in backpacks or lockers and kept there.

At Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington, Camilla Gagliolo took another approach. Rather than fighting the fad, she's capitalizing on it by giving students iPods and re-imagining them as a learning tool.

"It just makes so much sense. They are so drawn to this technology. They are so excited by it. They're comfortable with it," said Gagliolo, the school's technology coordinator.

Using little more than an iPod and a school computer, Gagliolo and her students have been making podcasts -- online radio shows that can be downloaded to an iPod or other portable MP3 player. Avidly discussing their favorite iPod colors and models while they made recordings of their poems and book reports the other day, the fifth-graders bubbled with ideas for future subjects.

"We could read parts of books, to show why we like them. We could do interviews. If there's a field trip, we could make a recording of it and post it," said Mohamed El-Sayed, 10. "Kids anywhere will like to hear about us."

Podcasting is just one of the interactive technologies, like blogging and hand-held computers, being used to motivate students nationwide. It took off across the country last year, an offshoot of the surging popularity of iPods. A survey of 470 high school students released this month by analysts with Piper Jaffray & Co. found that 61 percent of students had some kind of MP3 player, up from 40 percent in their spring survey.

"This is the kind of technology they use for their daily lives. If schools want to reach today's learners, they can't ignore it," said Don Knezek, chief executive of the International Society for Technology in Education.

Colleges were the first to embrace the idea, giving iPods to freshmen and making podcasts of lectures. Now, podcasting is moving beyond the cappuccino crowd to the chocolate milk set.

In a private school near Detroit, middle-schoolers podcast performances of student-composed musical works. From East Oakland, Calif., high-schoolers paint an audio portrait, in English and Spanish, of their troubled community: "It's hard to see someone die in front of you." Gunston Middle School, in Arlington, has a cheeky student-made podcast that includes poetic commentary on Virginia's standardized testing: "SOLs are not your friends; they'll bring your life to an end."

Teachers say the benefits of making podcasts are clear: The trendy technology and the possibility of a wider audience motivate students. "My students research better, read more, write better and understand the material," said Beth Sanborn, a fifth-grade teacher at Willowdale Elementary School, near Omaha, where students have been making podcasts since last spring.

Podcasts at the school -- on such topics as the Constitution, Native Americans and electricity -- are not only filled with kid humor and snappy music, but they are also loaded with facts. Teachers hope they'll be used as supplementary curriculum material by future students.

"We want our podcasts to be timeless," said Tony Vincent, technology specialist at Willowdale. "We want teachers to play them for their classes."

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