Students’ podcast project shows ability beyond their years

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Students in Lisa Keller’s third-grade class at Longview Elementary School demonstrated Wednesday their successful use of copyright, reading and technology, all wrapped up in one project.
“I’ve watched technology at the high school, and have seen many good programs, but Mrs. Keller’s class just blew me away,” Longview Principal Travis Monroe said.

As part of Superintendent Dr. Keith Wolfe’s report to the Punxsutawney Area School Board, four students — Vincent Gigliotti, Cassidy Love, Brady Schall and Madison Stonbraker — described a recent project in which they studied the book “Young Pioneers,” about people their age traveling the Oregon Trail.

Billy Humble also took part in the project, but was unable to attend Wednesday’s presentation.

Keller said from there, she challenged the students with six chapter topics containing suggestions about pioneer life. A group of the three boys and another group of the two girls examined the chapter topics and wrote in the first-person voice as if they were traveling the Oregon Trail.

Their family stories would then be turned into multimedia projects — or podcasts — to be shared with others here and elsewhere.

Melissa Fedigan, the district’s Classrooms for the Future Coach who helped the third-graders collect sounds and images for their podcasts, said the students voluntarily skipped recess a few times because they wanted to get their projects just right.

Stonbraker first described finding pictures to accompany each story developed by groups in the classroom, which taught students about copyright, fair use and documentation when using photos from the Internet.

Next, Gigliotti described writing stories that can be broken into chapters, which taught them to honor historical integrity while offering entertainment value.

Schall discussed recording themselves for the audio portion of the podcast, which illustrated reading in a slow yet clear voice.

Both Keller and Fedigan said when they would tell the students that their recordings were good enough, Gigliotti would say, “Maybe the world will hear us, so it must be our best!”

Love talked about making sure images and words coincided with each other, as well as sharing the stories with others, whether it was the class at Longview or an eighth-grade social studies class in the Upper Darby School District south of Philadelphia — which they did Feb. 25.
Fedigan said the students in Upper Darby were preparing to study their own unit on prairie life.

“If you can impress a middle school kid from Philly with a third-grade class, that’s impressive,” Monroe said.

The Longview students shared their podcast with the Upper Darby students and then answered questions from the eighth-grders via Skype, an online video conferencing system.

The students displayed different chapters from each project for the school board Wednesday, during which Monroe said, “I would put this against any kid of any age in any district — this is amazing stuff.”
Board member Roberta Dinsmore, who was on hand for the live conferencing with Upper Darby, said while the board could view portions of the podcasts Wednesday evening, they would have been equally impressed to see the third-graders answer the eighth-graders’ questions thoroughly and clearly.

“To me, this was what education was all about,” she said.

Keller said the five students were divided into a boys’ group and a girls’ group, and that it was amazing to see that while they used similar facts about the Oregon Trail and prairie travel, the stories were very different.

She said the projects were based on guided reading, and of these five students, she said, “Based on their reading ability, they’ve got the ability to handle something like this.”