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Tools of the Trade: Podcasts

By Rita Sorrentino

radio“Radio: it ties a million ears to a single mouth.”

In All the Light We Cannot See, author, Anthony Doerr, uses this powerful statement to emphasize the propaganda broadcasted across Germany to support Hitler’s agenda, and to give us a glimpse into the character Werner Pfenning, a boy with an enchantment for tinkering with electronic circuitry and a passion for seeking new knowledge and ideas through radio communication. Before only state-sponsored radio programs filled the airwaves, Werner and his younger sister, Jutta, secretly listened to a French Professor who sparked their curiosity about the changing world. The idea that “the brain has power to create light in darkness” lingered with Werner while he tried to block out the ultimate future awaiting boys growing up in an orphanage in the German mining town of Zollverein.  

allthelightwecannotseeIn another part of the world, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind girl living with her father in Paris, learns about the world through her Braille books and her father’s creativity and dedication. When the Nazis occupy Paris, she and her father flee to Saint-Malo to live with her reclusive great-uncle Etienne who uses his radio transmitter on behalf of the Resistance. From here the plot thickens; darkness is navigated and sound is explored revealing, and at times concealing, the intentions and potential of the human spirit.

Words, written or spoken, public or private, are powerful things. They can heal or hurt, inspire or inhibit, and create or condemn.  Every day we make choices about our use of words, listen closely to words of others, and engage in wordplay through various texts and media. In our teaching and learning environments, podcasts are pathways for using the power of words to support teachers, engage students, and extend learning anywhere, anytime. Podcasts widen the audience for students’ work and connect us with professionals in our field to support learning in this digital age.

Getting Started

In its basic form, a podcast is an audio recording that is created with software, published on the web, and available for tuning in and/or downloading to be listened to at a convenient time. When you find ones you really like, you can subscribe and the content will be delivered right to you. For instructions on creating podcasts with and for your students, Richard Byrne offers a straightforward explanation in Some Relatively Easy Ways for Students to Create Podcasts. No matter the device used, there is software, web tool or app to get your started.

Learning in Hand

Tony Vincent from Learning in Hand also gives an informative workflow for creating and subscribing to podcasts. He created Radio Willow Web, a podcast for kids and by kids with his students at Willowdale Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska.

Although his Our City Podcast is no longer accepting submissions, you can still access the work of students from around the globe who submitted recordings about the city they live in. Tony continues to support podcasting and is a staunch advocate for mobile learning. This handy template offers a framework for researching, collaborating, designing, and publishing podcasts – especially for elementary students.

BAM Radio Network

BAM, an acronym for Body and Mind, is a large education radio network that connects voices of the education village. All episodes are archived and categorized:  Educators Radio, EdTech Radio, Leaders Radio and Parents Radio. Something for everyone! You can play the episodes, subscribe on iTunes, and create your own playlists. A recent addition is HookED whose goal is to provide practical ideas from effective educators to keep your students hooked in class every day. Check out Matt Miller’s Ditch That Textbook for a list and brief description of other recent additions that he recommends for summer listening.


Jeffery Bradbury created TeacherCast as a place for teachers to help other teachers. On its podcasting network, Jeff and guests explore current topics to enhance teaching and learning.  In Radio vs Podcasting, Jeff and guest Rob Greenly help us understand the difference between radio (access by turning on) and podcast (delivered to your device by subscription.) In How Can I Create and Implement Podcasting in My Classroom, we learn about all aspects of podcasting to help harness its potential power : how to create, use, and distribute podcasts in a reasonable amount of time. You can join the TechEducator Podcast LIVE on Sunday evenings at 7:00pm as well as subscribe via RSS feed.

Family Stories: I Remember

Brian Kelley invites family, friends, and followers to participate in his new podcast project. I Remember is a conversation about ancestors, heritage, and family stories shared with a broader audience. In Episode 1, Diane Dougherty shares the story of her family’s Italian-American heritage. You can subscribe to the podcast, I Remember, through iTunes or any free podcast app on your mobile devices. Search for “I Remember podcast” and/or Brian Kelley. You can also listen to the embedded audio directly from his blog, Walk the Walk: a writing teacher’s blog.  Contact Brian at if you would like to share some of your family heritage.

podcastMore and More

iTunes provides a directory for numerous podcast series.  In the Education category, there are alphabetic indexes for K-12, Higher Education, Educational Technology, Language Courses, and Training.  Many publishers offer podcasts with book reviews, author interviews, and conversations on current educational topics. ReadWriteThink makes a wide range of resources and lesson plans available for integrating podcasts in the classroom. What are your interests and experiences with podcasts? Please share  in the comments below.

The pace of life and amount of information coming our way has changed drastically since the days of Anthony Doerr’s  characters using  radio signals, transmitters, and frequencies. With the convenience of digital devices and the multitude of free podcasts, learning is literally at our fingertips.  Start exploring and line up your favorites. Listen up, everyone!


Rita Sorrentino profileRita Sorrentino is a recently retired teacher from Overbrook Elementary School in Philadelphia. Rita is finding new pathways for working with teachers and students to use digital tools for reading writing, speaking and listening. She presented ‘Beyond Superheroes: Using Comics Across the Curriculum” at the PETE&C Conference in Hershey in February. Rita joined the Pennsylvania Writing Project in 2004 and the Philadelphia Writing Project in 1994.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. kathy barham #

    I love the way you connect the technology in that gorgeous novel All the Light We Cannot See to today’s podcasts. I agree with Judy, your writing is beautiful!


    June 10, 2015
  2. jmjd #

    Great resources, Rita. Thanks. (Oh, and the writing is something else too.)


    June 10, 2015

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