The Benefits of Podcasting in the Science Classroom

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Climate change is one of the most serious crises of our time. The IPCC states that in order to prevent catastrophic climate change, nations must reduce CO2 emissions in half by 2030 in order to keep global temperature rise at or below 1.5 ℃. If we rise above 1.5 ℃, we face extreme risks to our ecosystems, food and water security, health, development and economic growth.

As a high school science teacher, I often wonder how I can best address this crisis with my students. This year, I tried out something new: a podcast for our project “Quest to Save the Earth.” (See the lesson plan here.) In this month-long project, students researched the science behind climate change, conducted laboratory experiments and developed a podcast to present their findings. The goal of this project was to create an informed citizenry that would be able to understand the science behind climate change and that would hopefully help support, develop and implement solutions to this crisis.

The reason I chose the digital media presentation method of a podcast for my students to present their findings was so that they could submit their podcast to the National Public Radio’s Student Podcast Challenge, a new contest for students in grades 5 through 12. Giving my students the option to submit their podcasts to the contest was a great opportunity to elevate student voice.

My students created their podcasts in teams. As the teams’ conversations bounced back and forth while they created their podcasts, I could see that they were deeply engaged and enjoying the project. And the students that submitted their podcasts to the contest were excited by the opportunity to have their voices heard on National Public Radio. Additionally, all of the teams had to submit their podcasts to the KQED Learn discussion: Is a Carbon Tax the Best Way to Slow Climate Change? This upped their game knowing that students from other schools would be listening to their work.


Editor’s Note: KQED Learn is a free, flexible platform for inquiry-based learning, a hub for student-voice, a launching pad for exploration and a showcase for student-made media that inspires students to research, reflect and respond to timely issues.

I am always looking at new technologies to see how they can be used to present science content. This requires me to be constantly learning, but I love to learn—it keeps me young! How can I grade the quality of my students’ podcasts unless I know how to make one myself? In order to gain the skills to help my students create a successful podcast, I first took the KQED Teach course Podcasting with Youth Radio. In this free online course, I learned:

  • the basics of podcasting, including how to create a brief pitch for a podcast of my own,
  • new techniques for interviewing different types of people, and conducted a brief interview with an expert for my podcast,
  • how to find and record great sounds,
  • how to turn raw audio into a story through editing,
  • and created my own edited audio story.

My students started this project by first learning the science behind climate change through peer reviewed articles and websites such as IPCC, WHO, NOAA, NASA/ PBS, and BayArea350. Then, in teams of four, they conducted a series of NASA inquiry-based laboratories in order to see for themselves the science of climate change. The NASA labs gave them greater insights into the processes that cause climate change.

They then studied the politics and possible solutions of climate change by researching the International Paris Agreement, and how California specifically has been responding to climate change by reducing greenhouse gases back to 1990 levels. They also looked at how climate change has been affecting California, such as the drought and the devastating fires. Finally, they researched the viability of possible global solutions such as carbon tax and carbon sequestration, and solutions tied to California’s 2030 climate goals.

After the research stage of the project, they learned how to make a podcast. They used their research to create a script for their podcast, conducted an expert-style interview with one of them posing as a climate change expert and the other the interviewer, and recorded the interview using their smartphones. They learned how to use the free editing software Audacity to clean up and splice their recording. Once their podcast was finished, they created an account on SoundCloud in order to upload their podcasts so everyone could listen to them. Some of them also uploaded their podcast to the Student Podcast ChallengeBelow are a couple samples of student work submitted to NPR.

Aditya and Patrick share the world view of climate change:

Samantha and Michelle present a California-centric view: 

Overall, the project was a great success. My students conducted meaningful research and embraced using podcasts as a way to communicate their conclusions and get their voices heard. I was stressed learning a new technology during the middle of the school year, but KQED had all the resources I needed to succeed. I felt that the NPR contest was a perfect vehicle for my students to get the word out about climate change and reach a wider audience than just our classroom.

We’re looking forward to hearing the results of the contest!


Editor’s Note:

Dan has been a KQED Media Literacy Innovator since 2017. Learn more about the program and how to get involved hereIf you want to learn more about how to make podcasts in your classroom, take our free, online course Podcasting with Youth Radio on KQED Teach.