Podcasts as PD?

Using podcasts as part of ongoing professional development

Image of a collage of a variety of podcast icons

Professional development (PD) does not only benefit teachers, it is a requirement. While school boards endeavor to provide PD that they believe is valuable, individual teachers know best what they need, and self-directed PD is more specific and rewarding.

At the beginning of each year, as part of their Annual Learning Plan, teachers set out their personal learning goals. Attending courses and workshops are wonderful, but sometimes ambitious, ways of pursuing one’s teaching interests; often teachers choose to review resources in their areas of study.

Podcasts are quickly becoming a popular professional resource for teachers. Much like informative talk radio shows that you might find on CBC or NPR, podcasts are audio files that can be downloaded onto your computer or phone and listened to at your convenience. To effectively manage the podcasts you want to access, it is best to download a specific application, often called a “podcatcher”; you can search online for one that best suits the device you are using.

At the moment, there are over 500,000 podcasts to choose from with an estimated 18.5 million episodes. To help you find some shows that could potentially provide professional development in your subject area, some possible places to begin are listed below:

Physical Education
SHAPE America Podcast is a monthly show that provides tips from leaders in the physical education community to challenge your thinking, allow you to discuss important issues, and give you new ideas to try within your classes.

ConnectedPE is a British podcast produced by the ConnectedPE online training community. It focuses on personalized coaching, discussion and professional development for all areas of physical education.

RadioLab is a very popular podcast and one of the giants of the podcast community. Focusing on science and culture, this past summer they produced a six-part series, “Gonads”, that covered several topics around gender, fertility and sex. While all six episodes would appeal to any teacher who covers health topics, the “Sex Ed” episode is particularly interesting.

Math Ed is a podcast for math teachers who want to delve into the craft of teaching math. Each podcast is a long interview with international researchers in the field of teaching mathematics.

Scientific American Mind is a podcast spun off the bimonthly magazine of the same name. There is a great episode from August 7, 2013 that features Toronto’s John Mighton, founder of JUMP Math. If you have heard of the innovative JUMP Math program and want to know more, this is a great place to begin.

Freakanomics Radio is a podcast of the NPR radio show hosted by the author of the Freaknomics series of books. If you teach statistics or want to inspire students to see math in everyday life, this podcast will provide surprising stories and case studies.

The Secret Life of Canada is a podcast that describes itself as “a history podcast about ​the country you know, the stories you don’t.” An essential podcast for any teacher of Canadian History, it will change the way you think of many of this country’s traditional understandings of itself.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History consists of rambling adventures through world history. Deeply researched and actually fun to listen to, Carlin’s infectious storytelling is great for hooking people’s interest in history.

In Our Time is a BBC podcast that provides serious instruction on moments in history. Each episode features a trio of professors with expertise on that episode’s particular topic, and compelling conversation ensues. This podcast would be of particular interest to those who teach ancient history.

Grammar Girl is a podcast of hundreds of short (three to five minute) episodes which give you clear instruction on elements of English grammar. Need to know when to use “that” or “which”? What punctuation does one use with the word “however”? Grammar Girl has you covered. Great to share with students!

The Paris Review will take you back to your days of studying English in university. Need a break from teaching English and need to consume some of it? This podcast will bring you the best readings and interviews from the esteemed literary journal.

Can’t Lit describes itself as “a podcast on all things Canadian and Literature.” If you want to increase the Canadian content of your courses, this show’s vibrant conversations will give you lots
of options.

Lab Out Loud is a very listenable podcast that offers inspiring stories about teaching science as well as discussions about the challenges faced by science teachers. Their recent episode on science teachers spending their own money on lab supplies is particularly good.

Science Underground is hosted by esteemed scientist and inventor, Ainissa Ramirez. She explores the science behind every day things. How do fireworks work? What’s that fastest way to get ketchup out of the bottle? Do animals gossip? Episodes are entertaining and informative.

Life of the School is a great example of a podcast made by a teacher for teachers, in this case specifically biology teachers. These conversations between biology teachers cover the everyday challenges and joys of teaching science.

Visual Art
Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education, a community of Art educators dedicated to lifelong learning. Episodes of this podcast deal with practical issues that face art, such as plagiarism vs artistic inspiration, new ways to teach colour theory, and managing art room culture. These are real art teachers talking about real art education issues.

KCRW’s Art Talk will keep art teachers up to date on current issues in visual art. Each episode is only three minutes in length, but they have surprising depth and interest. Subscribing to this podcast will provide you with weekly inspiration.

99% Invisible is another classic podcast with wide spread appeal. While only some episodes deal with visual aesthetics, all episodes cover topics related to design. Smart, entertaining and very well-produced, 99% Invisible is an engaging listen for anyone interested in the arts.

There are several aspects of podcasts that make them ideal sources for the professional development of teachers and educators. First, somewhere out there is a podcast perfect for you. Podcasts are so simple to create and distribute that if there is a topic you want to hear discussed, there is likely someone who is already doing it. Second is the convenience of listening. You can subscribe to a podcast so that new episodes automatically download to your phone. Using a Bluetooth device you can listen while commuting or washing dishes. Third, podcasts are free. Some may ask for donations but, for the most part, you can listen at no charge.

Once you begin following one or two podcasts, you will quickly learn that podcasters form like-minded communities, and soon you’ll be introduced to other shows with similar content. You might even find yourself making suggestions or contributing to a podcast. Participating in these communities will bring your professional development opportunities to a whole new level.

Don’t forget to share your new found enthusiasm for podcasts with your colleagues.

About Randy Banderob
Randy Banderob is an Executive Assistant working in the Educational Services Department at Provincial Office.

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