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Teachers Redesign Social Studies With Popular Podcast

In an age of quarantines and remote learning, "The Missing Chapter" podcast gives two educators another tool to keep innovating.
Phil Horender Phil Schoff
Canajoharie High School social studies teachers, Phil Horender and Phil Schoff, started "The Missing Chapter" podcast.
Published: January 22, 2021

We experienced a revolution five years ago when we combined our Global I and Global II courses and redesigned our lessons into a collaborative, streamlined, co-taught class. This new approach allowed us, as educators, to maximize our strengths, rethink our priorities, and concentrate on the needs and demands of our students. We completely transformed our students’ social studies experience—and came up with a great idea for a history-based podcast in the process.

The demands on teachers have been fairly consistent over the last few years: Incorporate more technology in the classroom; make learning fun, meaningful, and different; and develop lessons around students and their personal interests.  

And then the age of quarantine and remote learning arrived. While virtual teaching certainly has its drawbacks, it did provide educators with helpful tools for having “conversations” with students from afar—among them, the podcast. 

We (the two Phils) get pretty excited about history in our classroom, so some of our students suggested we take our show on the road, so to speak, and start a podcast. We’ve always wanted to progress as educators and improve from year to year, and we’ve always wanted to start a podcast, but having students take the initiative to ask us to do one was the final inspiration. 

Called “The Missing Chapter,” our podcast allows us to elaborate on lessons beyond our standard 40-minute class time and delve deeper into specific topics. Creating the episodes has been extremely fun and rewarding, and the shows have augmented student growth in ways that would not have been possible in the classroom. 

Telling history mysteries

We take great pride in busting the myth that history is “boring.” The fascinating twists and turns of history provide endless material for our shows. We’ve explored intriguing topics such as: The fateful wrong turn that sparked the beginning of World War I; a little-known side of Edgar Allan Poe; an unknown musician who may have launched the New Orleans jazz movement; one man’s miraculous survival after falling overboard from the Mayflower; a person who was ironically involved in the beginning and the end of the U.S. Civil War; a long-forgotten story about the Mohawk Indian tribes, and the list goes on! There’s always an element of surprise, irony, coincidence, and, some may even say, providence in these stories. 

Only three months into our podcast adventure, we were astonished to see these incredible stories have reached national and international levels, with 5,000 downloads and streams since October, from listeners in 41 states and 22 countries. 

“The Missing Chapter” has featured numerous guests, including our co-workers, who teach an array of subject areas. The show has also helped foster a sense of collaboration throughout our school, giving our colleagues the same feeling of pride that it has given us. And it has created an opportunity for our colleagues to collaborate across multiple disciplines.    

Separating fact from legend

 As history teachers, we understand the importance of accuracy.  We have thoroughly vetted the stories we tell, using information from reliable, reputable, and credible sources. Or, if we can’t verify certain material, we either won’t use the information or we’ll make it clear that some parts of a story are surrounded in legend or mystery. 

We hope that you will share this with your class and that it will offer you an opportunity to connect in new ways with students of all backgrounds and learning levels. For us, that has been the greatest reward of creating the podcast. In a sense, we have found our own missing chapter.

Phil Horender and Phil Schoff teach Global Studies at Canajoharie High School in Canajoharie, New York.

How to Use "The Missing Chapter" in Your Lessons

“The Missing Chapter” podcast is available on all major providers, including Anchor, Spotify, Apple, and Pandora. It is free to download and stream at home or in the classroom. 

 We have also premiered podcast shorts—abbreviated episodes that may be easier to use in a classroom environment. 

And, if you have questions about the content or the podcast, we encourage you to reach out to us on social media or message us through our website. We produce and release a new episode every Saturday morning and often have students ready to discuss the storyline when we return to school on Monday. 

Want to launch your own podcast? Here are some tips for getting started:

• Choose a topic you are passionate about. Your audience will hear your enthusiasm.

• Come up with a subject that can sustain multiple episodes.

• Invest in a powerful microphone with multiple recording options that deliver great quality.

• Do your research. A typical 40-minute podcast needs to keep listeners’ attention from start to finish.

• Ensure the accuracy of your resources.

• Use an online platform, such as Anchor, to make recording, producing, and saving easier.

• Practice before you click "record." Use notes or talking points and talk naturally. Don’t read directly from a script. The difference between talking and reading is the distinction between a good podcast and
an audiobook.

• Have fun with it!

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.