Learning Science Through Storytelling
Where and how to start a science story
“Springtime was always the busiest time of the year for the people working at the wool processing factory in Chernihiv, Ukraine,” Ben began. “The workers pulled 12-hour shifts as they sorted the piles of wool by hand,” continued Reilly. “But then they started getting sick.”
The sixth graders’ podcast about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster immediately catches the listener’s attention. It employs a tip they’d picked up from veteran science podcaster Byrd Pinkerton. “I tell the story to a few friends,” said Pinkerton. “I notice where I’m starting. If I’m always beginning at a certain place, that’s probably where the podcast should start.”
Researching topics in groups
Podcasting is an engaging and fun path to deeper learning
All students on Team Tapestry are making podcasts for their final project in a science unit about the structure and properties of matter. Their topics include density and buoyancy, told through the lens of the Titanic, and physical changes in matter, intertwined with a story about glaciers in the Swiss Alps being draped with thermal blankets to protect them from heat.
“We chose podcasting because the process of creating them moves students way past just memorizing science facts,” said Tapestry co-teachers Jesse Weiss and Guy Amdur.
Q&A with Byrd Pinkerton
Students meet a professional science podcaster
To help students think like investigators of the unknown, the classes listened to Unexplainable—a podcast about scientific mysteries—followed by a virtual visit with Pinkerton, one of its reporters, to learn how she shapes a science story.
“Focus on what’s not discovered,” said Pinkerton. “What questions are out there?”
She gave them some production tips, too—such calling a friend and laughing just before recording a podcast to prepare their voice to sound its best.
In the recording studio
A few weeks later, groups of students took turns in John Jay’s media production studio, a soundproof space recently outfitted with four professional podcasting microphones and digital audio mixing board.
They had researched their stories using resources in the school library, storyboarded their narratives, written scripts, and gathered or created audio. They were ready to record.
Back to Chernobyl: "How could something like this happen?" asked Reilly. "Well, to understand this, we have to understand the way nuclear power is generated. It is made through a process called nuclear fission," said Ben.
The sixth grade science reporters were telling an eye-opening story about the properties of matter and, in the process, learning a lot.