Podcasting Amplifies the Voices of a Unique Group of Students at Bed-Stuy Brooklyn School

By Michael Peterson (Coach Mike), teacher, Abraham Stockton School

Knowing the Neighborhood

I’m an educator at Abraham Stockton School, PS 297, in Brooklyn teaching fifth-grade kids aged 10/11 about wellness  – everything from the physical to emotional and social wellness. I grew up in the very same neighborhood that the school is in. We are a very diverse group with a lot of the neighborhood below the poverty line. When I went there in the ’90s, it was the height of the crack era, which was a very tough time for our neighborhood, as well as the rest of America. To put it plainly, no one was coming to our neighborhood to help us amplify our voices or to be a representation of our community.  

Having graduated from the same elementary school where I now teach, I am uniquely attuned to the community and my students’ needs. Technology is not introduced to them on a consistent basis, at the levels that other neighborhoods or other schools are introducing it, because of the access to the materials that they’re able to use. On top of that, their voices are never really amplified, unless given the opportunity to amplify their voice.

But we’ve discovered that technology allows us to do that – to be heard. No matter where you’re from, no matter what economic or socioeconomic status you’re in, if you are able to record something and upload it, you’re represented across the globe. To me, that’s what the most exciting thing about being able to use technology and that’s really what we’re bringing to our school.

I’m using technology that many students are already familiar with to show them the power of their own voices.

Finding the Right Technology

When I went to this school, we actually did a physical time capsule. You pile a bunch of things in a tube. You bury it somewhere around the school and hope that it pops up 50 years from now.  So, I thought the kids would probably want to hear their voices and hear about their own personal anecdotes 10, 5, next year. I decided to use podcasting to create our sound time capsule.

This idea, to show students the power of their own voices.  With a background in technology, I had been aware of podcasts for many years. However, when I came across Soundtrap, a cloud-based music and recording studio software, I thought to myself, “Oh, this is a great, easy-to-use tool that I can integrate into how I teach and what I want to teach around wellness by recording the students’ voices and creating a podcast.”

A lot of children today are watching YouTube, or listening to YouTube, or listening to their favorite website like Nickelodeon.  They’re hearing these podcasts, but they don’t know that they’re podcasts.

When my students began using podcasting to record their own voices, I could see the wonder flash in their eyes. Normally, they are used to hearing the voices of others – teachers, parents, celebrities, etc. – they barely get to hear their own. But the ability to record something quickly, at high quality, play it back, and then share it with the world becomes an eye-opening experience for many. It’s this aha moment like, “Oh, my goodness. This is what I’m watching or what I’m listening to, and here, I can do it myself? This is bizarre. OK. I can use technology for something other than entertainment.”

But I didn’t stop at simply showing my fifth-grade students how to record and upload a podcast. Our school is now in its second year of building a sound time capsule – one that records the thoughts and anecdotes of each graduating class. The goal is to create a school-wide art installation, combining the artistic talents of students with the voices of those who have walked its halls. Former students can return and remember while new students are able to learn about those who came before them and leave their own voice to be heard by future generations.

Creating New Opportunities

This integration of technology with students’ actual experiences also creates a vital learning opportunity that inspires them to want to learn more. At first, the kids were very taken aback at the sound of their own voices. They were not only surprised but also very interested in what the process is. “How does this technology work? How does this actually read this so easily?” That was really what the initial response was.

From my own experience at PS 297, and subsequent career and travels, I recognized how powerful those opportunities can be. When I was a student here, I did a public speaking class, and we were brought to a neighboring high school. That’s about as far as we went. Now, a student can say, “I want to be remembered for…” and we can amplify that to the entire world if we want to. That’s really exciting and amazing.  This process not only promoted student engagement in my classes, but it also bled into their understanding and questioning of the world around them.

Looking to the Future

The time capsule is a project that we’re going to integrate into every single graduating year at the school pretty consistently alongside some other projects that we’re working now. We have a full-blown media room that’s being built in our school that should be finished in about a month, and so we’ll be setting up our podcasting with Soundtrap in the media room.  

The desire to discover combined with powerful technology and the even more powerful creativity of childhood create a learning environment that entices students to ask questions and dive deeper than they would otherwise. It also allows them to tie what they learn in the classroom to what is going on in the world around them. Kids today are more likely than ever to encounter technology in their everyday lives, and weaving tech into their education allows them to connect what they learn in the classroom to the world around them.

My big goal is the hope that they can begin to come back and teach, and do what I did, and show them the importance of – everyone calls it “giving back”, but it’s not giving back – it’s being human. From the end, how important it is that humanity, as a community, comes together and shares knowledge and motivates one another. Inspire, share knowledge, and educate one another.

And what do my students think about how technology is affecting their education and their lives? All you have to do to find out is sit back, press play, and listen.