Scriber Lake High School English teacher Marjie Bowker has poured her heart into her students since she first began teaching. Seeking unique ways to keep her students engaged, Bowker created a Scriber Lake Writing Program in 2011 that encourages her students — who come from across the Edmonds School District — to speak up about the struggles they’ve been going through.
In 2019, Bowker decided she wanted to add audio to her English classes and reached out to Foundry10, an education research organization focused on expanding ideas on teen learning. She met with Foundry10 program developer Chelsi Gorzelsky and by 2020 they were ready to add an audio element when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“When I met Marjie — it just clicked,” Gorzelsky said. “In January 2020, Marjie and I made plans for our pilot of a unique English class that would incorporate digital audio to enhance student learning. And then the state locked down. We became uncertain and struggled to figure out how to serve our students.”
When classes returned via Zoom, Scriber librarian Rachel Ramey suggested the pair try a podcast to connect students new to distance learning. The students had already asked about creating a podcast, so Bowker and Gorzelsky thought, why not?
However, rather than simply incorporating a podcast into English classes, Bowker created an entirely new course dedicated to learning through podcasts.
Gorzelsky said the students’ pilot went better than anyone thought.
“In those early days of the pandemic, we figured it out together, and our brave group of students produced ‘Scriber Under Quarantine,’ our very first episode,” Gorzelsky said. “Our pilot has proven successful in ways we could never have imagined!”
First, the students planned to read a fictional book and create a podcast role-playing game using characters from that book. However, that idea quickly morphed into using stories by Bowker Scriber Lake writing program Books in which students wrote about their struggles.
“Our focus was to showcase the stories that were written in our book and bring those topics into our podcast discussion,” Bowker said. “We chose the story that we wanted to show and then the kids would pull together in their heads the whole discussion about it and the questions they wanted to ask the student body.”
The class began producing each episode with a story written by an author from Bowker’s writing program. They then discussed which parts of the story resonated with the students in the class and which parts did not. Students had the opportunity to respond to the story in the interview montage segments of the podcast, asking and answering questions inspired by the central story. From there, the original writers were invited to talk about their stories in an interview. Employees were also surveyed to get a broader perspective.
While some kids weren’t thrilled with how to create a podcast, Bowker said most students seemed more engaged than ever.
“It was very conducive to online learning,” she said. “You know children; They will all tell you that no one paid attention to Zoom. So it was a way to encourage participation and get kids talking to each other.”
Looking back on virtual learning, the podcast class is one of the only positive things Bowker can remember. She said it’s worked so much better online than in person that it’s almost a blessing in disguise.
“When I look back on Zoom school, it’s the positives that I think of,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was speaking by name to a bunch of black boxes. In the other classes, I felt like I wasn’t talking to anyone.”
Both Bowker and Gorzelsky said teaching the class was a lot more work than they anticipated.
“Our students had school-issued Chromebooks,” Gorzelsky said. “That was our first and possibly biggest technical hurdle. Chromebooks aren’t capable of running industry-standard DAWs — digital audio workstations — like ProTools, Ableton, or Logic.”
Bowker said that with shorter class times, a lot less was getting done per hour than she had hoped. As a result, the class only created one podcast each quarter, rather than the two that were expected.
“The goal of the podcast was to bring the Scriber [Lake High School] community together, and it was so powerful to hear a school-wide discussion in a podcast format,” Gorzelsky said.
The podcast didn’t get as much traction as Bowker had hoped. In fact, she said she’s not sure how many students outside of class know it was created. Despite this, Bowker said she was incredibly proud of how hard her students worked. With such a practical project, she was glad that the students dealt with the material so intensively.
“The kids that were in the class are really proud of it,” Bowker said. “It was very student-centric and they had to be awake for it. You worked really hard.”
According to Bowker, this course would not have been possible without the help of Foundry10.
“If it’s technology or art that I’m not familiar with, Foundry10 can … take you places,” Bowker said. “You can fill in for anything you’re not good at. They are very professional and so generous. I think they are the best kept secret.”
Gorzelsky had the same attitude towards Bowker.
“I learned so much from Marjie about interviewing and composing a narrative theme across episode segments,” Gorzelsky said. “We all contributed our strengths; Marjie facilitated the interview and storyboard processes and I taught Marjie and our students how to use digital audio tools.”
Gorzelsky added how inspiring it is to see children openly discussing issues that have such strongly negative connotations around them.
“Working with the Scriber students and staff has had a profound impact on me,” said Gorzelsky. “These youngsters dig deep into subjects that most adults are not brave enough to tackle, and they inspired me to take my own stories and put them into writing. It’s hard to put into words how transformative my experience with them has been, but it feels like finding the heart and soul of things rather than just the concrete technical aspects.”
While the podcast course at Scriber Lake High School is no longer offered — a “Zoom-only special,” as Bowker described it — she hopes students will take what they learn and use it to find new ways to climb the highs and depths of life to process .
“It has been my pleasure and privilege to do this work,” said Gorzelsky. “I like to say some people feel sound, some people see it, most of us hear it. Sound is omnipresent in our lives, so why shouldn’t it be a bigger part of education?”
You can listen to Scriber Lake student podcasts here.
— By Lauren Reichenbach