There are many things I hate about my smart phone, chief among them the way I reflexively turn to it for the latest disturbing headline. This reflex is especially strong, I might add, when doing something like writing a blog post. So much easier to check on the state of the world and panic for a few minutes than to figure out what I want to say and how to say it. A few months ago, I got rid of nearly all the games on my phone, but I kept the Washington Post and New York Times apps with the justification that I need to be an informed citizen. (I’m sure I could be a responsible but slightly less up-to-the-minute informed citizen. I read in our local paper recently that in 1918 news of the Armistice came via wire to the train dispatcher and then was communicated to the town through the ringing of bells. Everyone rushed into the streets to celebrate together. Today, we would post our hurrahs to social media and text group chats. I’m just saying. Our news spreads fast, but we’re missing something.) So, in summary, my relationship with my smart phone is still a work in progress. My kids, at twenty and nearly seventeen, do not share my ambivalence, though I see them exhibiting the same reflexive tendencies I have. They tell me my ambivalence is the same ambivalence every generation before me has expressed about the latest technology. I think we all have a point.
That said, one thing I don’t hate about my smart phone is my podcast app. When I was a kid, I used to bring a transistor radio to bed with me. Late at night, furtively searching through the channels and the static, I could often find a spooky mystery show. (The spookiness was always conveyed via wuthering sound effects, ominous doorbells, and not-subtle background music cues: da da da dum.) I listened with my ear pressed against the speaker so that I could keep the volume as low as possible. Given my early love of radio, it is probably not surprising that I am a fan of the podcast. I listen when I drive, when I do chores, and in bed at night. Listening to podcasts is one of the few ways I know to turn off my brain at the end of the day, though I do have to choose carefully. Can’t do too creepy (My Favorite Murder) or political (too many to name) if I’m hoping to sleep. But if I choose well, I’ll listen for five or ten minutes then happily drift off. The next day, I usually remember if I was intrigued enough to want to go back to the episode fully awake. If you are new to podcasts or in the market for one, some of my favorites are: Stay Tuned with Preet, Slow Burn, Serial, This American Life, The Ezra Klein Show, TED radio hour, Fresh Air, and Crime Town. Occasionally, a podcast I drift off with will enter my subconscious, giving my dreams a Wizard-of-Oz-like quality. I’ve also listened to a number of podcasts that have an education focus. Gotta be truthful here: there are quite a few that have put me to sleep and I have not wanted to revisit them the next day. Podcasting, it turns out, is an art. The dull ones tend to be dull in similar ways. Often the podcaster is clearly uncomfortable with extemporaneous speaking. The result is something similar to what my son calls his PowerPoint classes: Me: What did you do in x class today? Almost 17-year-old: We listened to our teacher read off PowerPoint slides and took notes. Me: What are you learning about? Almost 17-year-old: I have no idea. Others are dull because they simply take too long to get interesting (long rambling introductions of the hosts, way too much prologue). If they don’t intrigue me in the first ten minutes, I probably won’t get back to it. (There’s an easy analogy to teaching in there. How many times have I lost my students in the first ten minutes of class?)
One teaching podcast I have found compelling is Jennifer Gonzalez’ Cult of Pedagogy. You can either listen (get an app on that hateful smart phone if you don’t want to be tied to your computer), or read the blog posts (https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/blog/ ). If you check out Cult of Pedagogy, look for the episode “Frickin’ Packets” (episode #92) and if you can, watch the video that inspired it. Spoiler: a student is fed up with worksheets. More recently, Episode #108 continues the theme that students need to do something with the material they are learning if we want them to remember it, or better still, make meaning of it. I didn’t find her suggestions earth-shattering, but they were smart and helpful and not a bad list to check in with once in a while. Another podcast I would recommend is Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. This morning I listened to Episode 135: Real talk on how to make differentiation less time-consuming. What I liked about the episode was that Watson brought together a cohort of experienced teachers who talked about their successes and failures as they attempted to meet the needs of their many students (I related all too well to the teacher who tried to run five different differentiated lessons in the same class with the result of chaos). Their reflections were detailed and specific enough that it felt a bit like visiting another teacher’s classroom. Other podcasts challenge my thinking in different ways. Not long ago I listened to an episode of The Bedley Bros Ed Chat. The two hosts interviewed Craig Barton, a math teacher from the United Kingdom, who believes very strongly in direct instruction. I was not entirely persuaded, but his argument was compelling, and he was a fun and interesting speaker. I can imagine him doing direct instruction in a lively, engaging way. And that leads to an intriguing question: What is the effect size of a fun, charismatic teacher who really knows the content area? And that’s one of the things I appreciate about good education podcasts: they leave me with ideas to chew on and actions to take. Reading the latest awful headline isn’t nearly so productive or satisfying. What podcasts do you love? Share them with us on our Facebook page or Tweet us (@AstraInnovate).