Podcast News

Close your textbooks. 'Podcasts In Class' switches up the lesson plan

Six episodes of the podcasts Tai Asks Why and The Secret Life of Canada have been adapted into classroom-ready lessons, complete with slideshows, videos, activities, and even homework.

New project from CBC aims to bring podcasts into the classroom.

This school project comes with its own hashtag. (CBC)

Paula Nevins still feels a bit of panic around back-to-school time.

"It's like a big tidal wave. You're just preparing for it, because once it starts, it's game on from September to June," said Nevins, who taught English for 15 years.

This year, she hopes to throw a lifeline to fellow educators facing that wave. Nevins, who left teaching to become a literacy consultant, is part of the team behind a new pilot project from CBC Podcasts called Podcasts In Class, which launches Sept. 3.

The pilot, among the first of its kind from a public broadcaster, involved Nevins and several teachers in different school boards across Canada. Over the summer, they designed teaching guides around select episodes of the podcasts Tai Asks Why and The Secret Life of Canada. These guides include slideshows, videos, activities, and even homework —and are available free of charge without restrictions.

The initiative builds on something many teachers were already doing on their own.

"We often hear from teachers that they use our podcasts in the classroom. Providing them with comprehensive support materials seemed like a natural next step," said Leslie Merklinger, the head of CBC Podcasts.

We often hear from teachers that they use our podcasts in the classroom. Providing them with comprehensive support materials seemed like a natural next step.- Leslie Merklinger, Senior Director, Audio Innovation

"We really wanted to make something that teachers could find and just use, not just a set of bullet points. Here's something that's already been kind of curated and vetted, and it's accessible and easy," said Nevins, who works at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

Nevins is one of seven teachers across three provinces and five school boards who contributed to the project.

'21st century learning'

Many students, like Tai Poole himself, are engaging with a wider range of digital media in the classroom. (Yasmine Mathurin/CBC)

While the guides make it easy for teachers, the podcasts themselves make learning easy for students. Studies have shown that listening to stories can increase a person's empathy, and in turn, help them absorb information.

"When you really hear someone's voice and it becomes really personal [whereas] reading an expository piece can somehow be a little bit more removed," said Nevins. "It's 21st century learning. It's digital media. It's something they can listen to while riding the bus or walking to school. It's just a new entry point instead of, 'OK, open your textbook to this page, and read this bit.' It's a new form of literacy."

The teaching guides will cover six episodes, with more currently in development. Tai Asks Why and The Secret Life of Canada were chosen because they tackle topics that can be difficult to teach, like climate change, black history, and Indigenous history.

"Our series are hosted and produced by people who have done extraordinarily deep research, and have passion and personal connection to the topics covered. They find ways to have teachable conversations in an accessible and authentic way. In that sense, these guides can give educators the tools to navigate topics that they might not have otherwise felt particularly comfortable teaching," said Merklinger.

Maureen Carolan, Paula Nevins and Jennifer Pouw are among three of seven educators who spent their summer working on podcast curriculum. (CBC)

After the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action, which includes teaching students about residential schools, treaties and Indigenous peoples' historical and contemporary contributions to Canada, Nevins says that many teachers were up for the task, but didn't know where to start.

"It's a big area of need for teachers. It's such an important thing to do, and it's an important call for us, but it's an area where many teachers don't have this in their educational backgrounds," said Nevins.

"There's so many misconceptions and stereotypes, and teachers might have some of the legacy knowledge from their own history classes, which has such a colonial point of view," she said.

By shaping teaching guides around two Indigenous-focused episodes of The Secret Life of Canada, Nevins hopes her fellow teachers will gain a foundation from which to start breaking those misconceptions.

"It's really doing a service to enable teachers to share that learning with students. And it is something that all Canadians need to know," she said.

A wider view of history

Through episodes like "The Province of Jamaica," The Secret Life of Canada aims to tell a wider array of Canadian histories — like the story of largely Caribbean Sleeping Car Porters. (Morse Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the podcast hosts themselves are feeling the weight of this pilot project. 

"To be honest, if you had told me when we started this podcast that it would end up being used in the classroom, I would have thought you were lying," jokes Leah-Simone Bowen, one of the hosts of The Secret Life of Canada

Her co-host, Falen Johnson, echoes this sentiment. "I remember back in the very early days of making Secret Life we got an email from an educator asking us to not swear so she could use it in the classroom and I was shocked. I had no idea that it would be used this way. So yeah, we stopped swearing."

I learnt nothing about black and racialized Canadians or Indigenous people in school and it affected me.- Leah-Simone Bowen, co-host of The Secret Life of Canada

Johnson, who is Mohawk and Tuscarora from Six Nations Grand River Territory, is excited about the possibility of students learning from their podcast, because she knows first hand how important it is to learn history from a wide variety of perspectives.

"It is a bit scary! I think we both feel the weight of the responsibility of telling these stories and knowing that they are going out into the world and potentially transforming how we view this land we live on," she said. "I hope we can help by delivering the information, but I also hope we can help by being generous with understanding that we are all trying to play catch up and that it is OK not to know."

"I learned nothing about black and racialized Canadians or Indigenous people in school and it affected me," added Bowen, a first-generation Canadian whose family is from Barbados.

"I think it's significant for a young person to see themselves, and their people in the past, so they can envision their own future."

Both Tai Asks Why and The Secret Life of Canada are heading to a classroom near you! (CBC)

The guides at a glance

Tai Asks Why: For learners aged 10 - 12.

The Secret Life of Canada: For learners aged 15 - 17.

Find them on The Secret Life Of Canada, Tai Asks Why & Curio.Ca

Please pass them on to the teachers in your life!

Blog post written by Amanda Buckiewicz