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Learning at your fingertips

A podcast can make the dullest lesson fun. Su Clark reports on a promising experiment

Listening to one of their first podcasts, the pupils at Knightsridge Primary in Livingston were disappointed that it crackled. They could hardly hear what was being said. But guided by their science teacher, Wilma Missenden, they soon discovered the problem: small hands fiddling with the MP3 player.

"The players are small, but the pupils have wee hands and they didn't understand to hold it still and not jiggle it about," explains Mrs Missenden who, along with learning support teacher Margaret Taylor, is leading a science pilot in conjunction with Dundee University. "They soon learned not to cover the microphone."

The MP3 players have been paid for by money given to Professor Susan Rodrigues at Dundee University by the AstraZeneca Science Teaching Trust to fund ways of making science fun in primary schools.

Seven schools, six from West Lothian and one from Stirling, are using MP3 players to make audio recordings of science explorations to engage the children. Knightsridge was one of the first.

Mrs Missenden, science coordinator at the school, has been an enthusiastic participant, rolling it out across the year groups. "It gets you away from workshees; it's all action, all discussion, and it gives control of their learning to the children," she says. "It's also a great way to work with those reluctant writers who have fantastic ideas in their heads but can't get them down on paper."

She is particularly pleased with the environment project she's been doing with P1-2, many of whom do not yet have the skills to record their ideas on paper. "We've looked at buds growing and I took a picture of a mini-beast up close. I think it was an ant," says 5-year-old Bronagh MacKenzie from P1. "We recorded saying what we saw, which was fun."

The next step is for the children to take the MP3 players home to interview their parents about what is happening in the garden. "It is a great way to connect with parents at home," says Mrs Missenden.

She also hopes to recruit parents for the P6-7 project on thermal insulation. "I want them to interview their parents about what conductors and insulators are," she explains. "Working this way involves more than just science, the children have to think how they are going to ask the questions and what sort of responses they will receive. It gives them different skills."

The whole school has been involved. The P1-2 computer club has been using podcasting to enrich its project on pets, while P3 has been recording the progression of a topic on magnetism which has included building magnetic games. P6 has been working through basic series circuits, and P5 and the P4-5 composite class have been working on musical instruments.

"We are going to record the instruments we made and then explain how we made them," says Ben Corbett, aged 9. "It is fun listening to the noise of the instruments and hearing us talk. It makes science fun," adds Chloe McCord.


Killin Primary

P4 and 5 pupils have been looking at how the body works. "Though the context was science, the children have been developing their problem-solving as well as reading and writing skills," says headteacher Sandra Logan.

Led by P4-5 class teacher Emma Connelly, the pupils made a podcast of a song they had written about organs. They are also developing a news broadcast with short news flashes about how the different parts of the body work.

Torphichen PrimaryWestfield Primary

Linking science with expressive arts and other curricular areas through podcasting has led to some interesting projects. Marnie Ferguson and Louise Burton, probationers at Torphichen and Westfield respectively, have led projects where P5-7 composite classes which were studying weight, created raps explaining the key facts about gravity. Another group researched Newton and Galileo online and, using drama, created podcasts of interviews with both.

Bridgend Primary

P6-7 pupils conducted an experiment about electricity. This involved asking pupils and adults to predict what would happen to the brightness of a bulb in a series circuit when another bulb was added. They also surveyed children with a view to reporting their findings via a podcast.

Greenrigg Primary

Teacher and project co-ordinator Rae Topping has been recording her P5 class discussing what it thinks living things are and what they need to survive. Pupils have also made podcasts of talks about flowering and non-flowering plants and of mosses, ferns and lichens and their descriptions of what they could see.

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