Review by Vanessa Aranda, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2017
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NPR One

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Trusty podcast app has quality content, but lacks learning supports

Subjects & skills
Skills
N/A

Subjects
  • Arts
  • Social Studies
  • English Language Learning
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
9-12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: A well-curated library of newsy, compelling podcasts from reputable sources.

Cons: Not designed for classrooms, so it lacks additional resources, accessibility, and scaffolding.

Bottom Line: An enticing free option for connecting current events to content through podcasts, but student engagement hinges on how you incorporate it.

Even though NPR One wasn't necessarily designed for classrooms, it's easy to find connections to just about any subject. Studying the War of 1812? You'll find several recent interviews and insights that can help bring a 200-year old war home for students. Is the theory of gravity flying over students' heads? Students might be intrigued to hear how it even baffled NASA. Can't figure out how to introduce students to the super-complicated issue of superdelegates? Have students listen to a superdelegate defending the system and a recent example of how it potentially changed an election. Beyond sparking interest in tough topics, there's a lot of other use cases. Check them out below:

  • Spur-of-the-moment questions: If students crave more knowledge on a topic -- especially those related to current events -- NPR One's shows can be a reliable resource. Teachers can search key words and immediately have a focused menu of options to share with students. 
  • Openers: Looking for a way to kickstart a lesson, or keep students engaged on a daily basis? Check out the regularly updated shows like NPR National News, Morning Edition, Daily 202 or Civic Matters which are conveniently only a few minutes long. Other short podcast series explore different subjects, like Sonoma Spotlight on music and film, but those may be unique to your local radio station's offerings. 
  • Homework or flipped classroom: If you feel confident that students can equitably access NPR One, ask students to listen at-home or on-the-go to a show related to a class topic and then be ready to share out in class.
  • Student-led research: Regardless of grouping or levels, students can go beyond text-based research and dive into multiple modalities with NPR One's shows. For instance, if students are working through a unit or lesson on immigration, they'll find podcast topics on the Bracero Program, Irish immigration, Chinese immigration, and the 2017 travel ban. 
  • Direct instruction: Some podcasts require higher vocabulary or deeper processing, and could benefit from teacher support. A podcast explaining the math behind satellite-launching rockets might be best suited for a whole class setting where the teacher can pause when needed to offer illustration, explanation, and pointed questioning.  
  • Planning: Looking for quirky tid bits of information that help make a lesson more interesting? Try searching for key words related to upcoming content; listening to an interesting podcast might help you feel more prepared to dive into the subject with your students.
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NPR One is a podcast app that offers daily updated, streaming news, stories, and shows from NPR, local public radio stations, and other publishers like Slate, FiveThirtyEight, and Al Jazeera. It's pretty simple: users browse or search for content, listen to shows or save them for later listening (cleverly limited to a manageable 20 episodes), and follow shows that they enjoy. Browsing is organized into a host of categories: Recommended, Featured Shows, Deep Dives (thematic collections), Followed Shows, Catch Up (news), Recently Heard. Search is basic (just enter a keyword, no filtering) but can help connect students or teachers quickly to relevant topical content. Users can create an account which NPR One claims will help better personalize results.

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NPR One can help students brush up on currents events, get more engaged civically, conduct research, or build knowledge in every subject. Government and history classes will get the most use from this app, with regular use helping build informed citizens, but there are also podcasts that relate to anything from science to psychology or fashion to forensics. Teachers might find NPR One useful for planning and prep, collecting anecdotes and interesting information to pepper throughout lessons. The content is much more lively than traditional educational content -- students won't find textbook-style regurgitation, nor test prep. It's just really good, well-told information that adds another layer to the learning. Students can hear how the stuff we talk about in class actually matters in the real world. It takes students from memorizing information to being able to engage with and discuss it, both in and outside of the classroom. 

However, like any modality, student preference may factor into how effective NPR One is in your classroom. When I used it in my classroom, reactions were mixed: one of my students said the podcasts forced them to focus and offered a nice change of pace, another politely informed me that it put them to sleep. As a purely auditory experience, shorter podcasts or prepared questions might help students stay tuned in; unfortunately, NPR One doesn't provide any extension resources to help with the latter. Encouraging students to choose topics on their own may also pique podcast interest, but also has its limits and challenges given students will need access and will be listening to different shows. Still, there's a lot to like about NPR One. With any luck, the next time your students stroll into class with ear buds on and you ask what they're listening to the answer might surprise you.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

While podcasts can be novel ways to learn, some students will likely find listening boring. The app is well designed, but offers littler interaction.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Listening in classrooms has been dominated by lectures and presentations. NPR One offers fresh, dynamic auditory learning experiences that build new listening and research skills while informing students about their worlds.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

One-sentence summaries give an overview of the podcast, the date can help put news content in context, and the time length helps plan lessons. There are no transcripts for the content or additional teacher or podcast resources or guides.


Common Sense Reviewer
Vanessa Aranda Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Robert P. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
Broome Street Academy Charter High School
New York, NY
Ira Glass is the best coteacher

In my class, we use NPR One to connect students to an extended knowledge base. While a successful classroom teacher has, early in the year, built a sense of trust in their students, wherein the students trust the teacher's knowledge of the content and its application, there is always the sense, even in the most trusting group of students, that the teacher is themselves an outsider from the real-world experience of the content.

NPR One connects students to real, relevant experiences of educated individuals that are connected enough, in the sense of applying, the content to explain it and imbue its importance to students.

All with the calming voice of Ira Glass!

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