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West Tualatin View fourth-graders say new podcasts plug them into lessons on technology
by: Ray Pitz, Brendan Withycombe reads for an upcoming school podcast at West Tualatin View Elementary School.

Grabbing a high-end condenser microphone, fourth-grader McKenzie Metcalf goes through her paces, trying to reach the perfect sound level.

'Testing 1-2-3,' she said. 'That's good.'

With that, Metcalf and her fellow fourth-graders at West Tualatin View Elementary School are ready to record their most recent endeavor - a podcast of student book reviews.

Fourth graders at the school are responsible for designing, editing and recording the podcasts, audio pieces that can be downloaded to such devices as iPods or mp3 players.

'They learn how to use microphones, set a sound system, write their scripts,' said Jill Mohr, the school's technology specialist.

Mohr said the technology to broadcast the podcasts was made available through a generous grant from the West Tualatin View's Parent Teacher Club, resulting in the purchase of a video and sound system as well as a high speed computer for video editing.

The podcasts can be downloaded at iTunes or heard on the school's Web site: www.beaverton.k12.or.us/west_tv/podcasts.

'We have a core group of students we're working with training,' said Mohr. They can go to itunes to get it as well.

Students take turns doing research and recording.

'Everybody does all the parts involved,' said Alicia Streit, a fourth-grade teacher.

While attending a technology conference several years ago, Streit said she learned how important podcasts were predicted to become with the ability to reach a wide number of people on the Web.

'Now people all over the world are listening to this,' said Streit. 'It's just a real interesting thing on how students publish their work.'

Adding graphics

Students began experimenting with podcasts last year. This year, they have produced several including the 'Medieval Times,' an audio information that gives students a taste of what life was like in the Middle Ages, and 'All About Space,' which provides an informative look at space travel, stars and more.

'We research our topic and write a report on that topic,' fourth-grader Emilee Phillips explained.

Madeline Leonard, another fourth-grader, said students use Garageband, an Apple software download, to record their voice and then add music. Leonard said she's found Garageband an easy program to learn and now that she has some experience, 'it's way easier.'

Meanwhile Metcalf said she's had a great time with the podcasts.

'I probably like the recording and the music,' she said.

Kyra Patton's favorite part of the production is recording the podcast and listening to it when it's completed.

Now the students are working on a World War II podcast.

'We're actually going to add graphics,' said Mohr, noting that those with video iPods will be able to download images along with the audio portion.

Technology hook

And how do fellow students like the podcasts?

'Most people, I think, think it's pretty cool,' said Leonard.

Also, West Tualatin View fifth-graders produce a 10 to 15 minute broadcast - 'All Star News' - every other month, editing the entire production on the computer.

Meanwhile, the school is moving toward becoming even more technologically advanced with the purchase of 24 GPS systems, thanks to a $4,600 grant from Lowe's home improvement stores. The equipment is on order.

'So all the students (in a class) will be able to have one,' Mohr said.

The devices will be used in math and science curriculum and other activities, said Mohr, who as a volunteer with the Yamhill County Search and Rescue, said she's seen how important satellite communication has become.

Mohr said the learning experience regarding high-tech gadgetry goes beyond having the equipment for it's own sake.

'Sometimes technology is that hook students need to become involved in what they're studying,' she said.