Exploring Podcasts to Teach Math

In class, I spent about a half hour perusing the general podcast area of iTunes to see what caught my eye.  I first went to the technology section.  I started to listen to a few different podcasts but none interested me within the first minute so I moved on.  They seem to be chatty without diving into their topic and I found myself impatient with them.  I moved on to TED because I have seen some entertaining and interesting talks in that forum before.  My first link to a TED podcast was audio only but the announcer indicated that a video version existed.  I decided to filter my searching by video podcasts to take advantage of the fact I was sitting at a computer while investigating.

After browsing through the various categories, I eventually landed on photography related video podcasts.   I watched “The Naked Photo” by Riaan de Beer (2010) and found it very interesting.  Photography is an interest of mine but I haven’t studied it or have learned about the artistic qualities that make photographs interesting.  It is on my list of things to do.  When I stumbled across “The Naked Photo, I was hooked.  The program is not about technology or what kind of camera should be used or whether black and white or color is preferable.  Instead, the series is about what makes a great photo great.  The author analyzes well-known photographs and explains why they are great, “to strip down photos to their bare essence” (de Beer, 2010, Epsiode 1).  In class, I watched the introduction and the beginning of the first installment, a piece on Ansel Adam’s “Monolith” (de Beer, 2010, Episode 2).   I chose not to watch the entire program because I wanted to explore the iTunes University section and I could watch it later when I had time to focus on the program and the photo.  However, when I came back to the video podcast at home, that particular episode would not load or play.  I was disappointed I did not get to listen to the show.

Coming back to the assignment to subscribe and watch/listen to an entire podcast, I decided to explore the general area some more.  A series titled, “A Brief History of Mathematics” by BBC Radio (2010) caught my attention and I listened to its introduction and to the first installment on Newton and Leibniz.  I found the podcast really interesting. I subscribed to the 15 podcast series and look forward to listening to all of them.

Professor Marcus du Sautoy tells a brief history of the rival between Newton and Leibniz over who originated the calculus.  What I really liked about the podcast, though, was the context for calculus and the ways in which is used in science and beyond.  Per Professor Sautoy, “In my view, Mathematics is the language of the universe.  Mathematics is the queen of science” (du Sautoy, 2010).  He explains how calculus is important in many scientific endeavors from mechanics, to electricity to magnetism, to the solar system.

Professor du Sautoy declares, “Space Travel depends on it” (du Sautoy, 2010).  The podcast plays an interview with Astronaut Jeff Hoffman, “The basic rocket equation which tells how rockets work uses the calculus.” “Space travel without Newton and his calculus would just be inconceivable.”  But, calculus is not just science.  Professor du Sautory interviews a hedge fund analyst who, through sophisticated financial models, uses calculus to predict financial markets to make bets.  The formulas used are based on an idea formulized over 300 years ago.

Interestingly, I wanted to find some video podcasts to take advantage of the screen I have on my home Mac but also on my iPhone.  But, after listing to “A Brief History of Mathematics” (du Sautoy, 2010), I liked that it is audio only.  I can see downloading podcast series and listening to them in the car.  I think the series can help stimulate lesson plan ideas on how to connect mathematics to the real life, concrete ways in which the math is used.

In the University section, I listened to MIT’s OpenCourseWare series on calculus.  Per Professor Strang, he wanted to present a course on the highlights of calculus because the video podcasts he found were “very serious, too mathy” and he wanted to create a series that would be “a little help or second look at calculus” for high school and college students (Strang, 2010, Episode 1).

Professor Strang’s video podcast was not much different than if you were in the class with him (Strang, 2010, Episode 2).  The technology is not used in any manner that enhances the lesson but is used purely to gain access to the lecture and to that particular instructor.  I have watched other video podcasts targeted at teaching some particular math concept, and they were the same way.  The technology was used to record a lesson and open the content up to anyone who cared to watch it.  I am not discounting the importance of extending accessibility.  Video podcasts allow students unable to enroll in a particular math class to be able to study topics independently.  But the video podcasts are also helpful to students in a math class.  Many students struggle to learn math but sometimes students are able to connect with one instructor where they could not with another.  The video podcasts give students access to multiple instructors and teaching styles.  As a math teacher, video podcasts can be part of a intervention strategy for students having trouble.

The iTunes U episodes were more than 2 months old, but I decided to use them because math is not really a time sensitive subject.  Plus I thought the MIT OpenCourseWare series is a valuable, free resource for students.


de Beer, Riaan (Producer). (2010, August 22) The Naked Photo [Episode 1]. The Naked Photo – Introduction. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from iTunes > Podcasts > Arts > Visual Arts > Riaan de Beer.

de Beer, Riaan (Producer). (2010, August 22) The Naked Photo [Episode 2]. 1-Aug 2010 – Ansel Adams – Monotlith. Retrieved October 4, 2010, from iTunes > Podcasts > Arts > Visual Arts > Riaan de Beer.

du Sautoy, Marcus (Professor). (2010, September 27) A Brief History of Mathematics [Episode 1]. Maths: 01 Newton and Leibniz. London: BBC. Retrieved October 8, 2010, from iTunes > Podcasts > Science & Medicine > Natural Sciences > BBC.

Strang, Gilbert (Professor). (2010, April 20) Highlights of Calculus [Episode 1].  Gil Strang’s Introduction to Highlights of Calculus. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare. Retrieved October 9, 2010, from iTunes U > MIT.

Strang, Gilbert (Professor). (2010, April 20) Highlights of Calculus [Episode 2].  Big Picture of Calculus. Cambridge MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare. Retrieved October 9, 2010, from iTunes U > MIT.

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