Tim Roberts Internship posts Internship third post: Using Smithsonian Sidedoor podcasts in the classroom part I

Internship third post: Using Smithsonian Sidedoor podcasts in the classroom part I

In the last few weeks I have spent my internship developing lesson plans using a podcast, Sidedoor, which draws on Smithsonian artifacts to portray stories involving biology, art, history, archaeology, zoology, and astronomy. I was assigned to identify and incorporate podcasts with a historical focus, with the larger purpose to help with a Smithsonian Learning Lab desire to increase public audiences’ usage of Sidedoor.
To date I developed two lesson plans. One studies the status of Hawaii as a US territory, using a podcast about Hawaiian women’s efforts to gain the right to vote. Another studies the early history of Muslims in America, using a podcast about a Senegal man enslaved in North Carolina who wrote an autobiography. Both lesson plans make use of other Smithsonian digitized artifacts relevant to the podcasts’ topics to develop historical thinking questions, which students answer over multiple classes. Each lesson plan comprises a “collection,” maintained by the Smithsonian Learning Lab.
Through revising each lesson plan based on a few reviews by my internship supervisor, I am coming to appreciate how detailed and “user friendly” a digital historian must make an online project to attract teachers and students to use it. For example, I initially wrote all discussion questions in a collection’s summary page. The supervisor showed me a way to attach questions to relevant artifacts, which alleviates users’ need to go back and forth between the discussion questions page and each artifact. Likewise, where I initially included a podcast in a collection-lesson only through an imbedded URL link, the supervisor recommended that the podcast audio file itself be an artifact in the collection-lesson. This inclusion allows users to stay in the lesson the whole time they are working, rather than click on links that take them to different websites.
Thinking about matching online history lessons that develop historical thinking skills with target audiences, I realize that the two collection-lessons described above are suitable for upper division high school and beginning college students, a community of learners with which I am already comfortable teaching. My challenge for another lesson is to develop it to offer skills development for younger students. Can a 30-minute history podcast and Smithsonian artifacts be used to teach eighth graders? After listening to several Sidedoor podcasts, I have found one that focuses on the African American neighborhood of Washington DC, Anacostia, which may lend itself to a lesson targeted to students in the District of Columbia who already study local history and may have particular experience with visiting Smithsonian museums or participating in its various local outreach programs. But, generally, I conclude that Sidedoor is pitched to adults, perhaps particularly older “lifelong learners,” and assume a level of background knowledge and mature listening capability beyond young teenagers.
One solution to this issue would be to develop a podcast series particularly focused on secondary level students. But keeping the commitment to Sidedoor, a lesson plan needs to break the podcast into multiple segments, focus less on interpretive or guiding questions, which are important in the two collection-lessons described above, and more questions asking about specific podcast content.
The collections platform developed by the SI Learning Lab is clearly targeted toward usage by teachers. For example, it offers a menu option for collection developers to identify, for display to users, curriculum-standard history skills on which collection-lessons focus. As a college professor, I am not well versed in history skills that are considered standard by high school and particularly middle school teachers. So to develop a meaningful or applicable lower level collection-lesson requires acquaintance with secondary curriculum development.

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