SOCIAL STUDIES: Using Podcasts for Learning

Learning Social Studies helps us learn to think critically, reflect on important issues, empathize with others, formulate opinions, and participate in democratic processes. However, it is also quite a challenging task as it requires a lot of research and many students and teachers have difficulty finding time to read other resources outside of the classroom. Sometimes students need a little extra help in understanding a lesson, and podcasts can provide just that extra bit of knowledge.

Over the recent years, podcasts have become more popular in cyberspace, especially during the onset of this pandemic. The word “podcasts” is taken from “pod” like Apple’s iPod and “cast” from “broadcast”.

Podcasts are not simply monologues or purely voice narrations. These can be interviews, conversations, or audio storytelling productions and a lot of times enhanced with sound effects. Podcasts can cover a variety of topics and can be accessed anytime, anywhere.

“Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production,” says Emma Rodero, a communications professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, who studied how audio productions keep the listeners’ attention. (As cited by The Atlantic)

Since history is like a collection of a million stories, more than a compilation of facts, its many applications make podcasts a great medium for learning. Podcasts help capture the listeners’ interests with compelling stories and thought-provoking discussions while they go about their morning routines, do house tasks or while they ride a bus.  Due to their convenience and ease in production, podcasts have gained some traction in the field of education, especially in learning social studies.

These on-demand resources can be accessed for free and downloaded, making it helpful for learners, especially those who need to rest their eyes from hours of screen time. 

It’s never too early or too late to get your foot in the door of becoming a history buff. Whether you are an adult looking to learn more about Canadian or World History, or you are a parent or an educator wanting to help your teen learners get ahead in their education, there are numerous podcasts out there for you to learn from.

These podcasts will provide wider perspectives as they teach interesting facts about important historical events and may also spur critical conversations about some popular ‘what if’ scenarios in history:

  1. The Secret Life of Canada (for learners aged 15-17) features a series of history podcasts hosted by performers Leah Simone-Bowen and Falen Johnson, highlighting stories that are not often told. A series produced by CBC Radio, it includes free teaching guides on select episodes designed by several teachers from different school boards all over Canada.

These guides have lesson plans, slideshows, and activities that cover the following episodes:

    • The Secret Life of Chinatown is an episode that talks about the origins of Chinese migration to Canada, the causes and repercussions of government laws that discriminate against Chinese people, and the current state of Chinatowns.
    • Secret Life of the Province of Jamaica delves into the history of Caribbean migration to Canada, the legacy of black activists, and the roots of systemic racism. See the lesson guide to access an active reading response activity sheet on the current state of migrant workers in Canada.
    • Secret Life of Water examines how water affects historic trade, commerce, and transportation routes, as well as the influence of settlement on indigenous access to water and land. This podcast also looks into Canada’s present water crisis. 
    • The Secret Life of the North episode explores the North’s geography and history including the Inuit’s unique culture, language, and politics and the effects of colonialism on their communities. 
    • The Indian Act, is a podcast on the federal law that was aimed to govern the First Nations people in Canada. The discussion centers around how it came to be, how it affected indigenous-settler relations, and how its legacy continues to affect Indigenous peoples, especially women.
  1.   Everything You Wanted to Know About” is a podcast series by History Extra, the official website for BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed. Each episode, as the title implies, provides the listeners a 30–40-minute overview about many interesting topics in world history from general ancient history (Egypt, Greece, Persia, etc.), the medieval ages, the renaissance, the industrial revolution, and many more.

This also includes Everything You Want to Know About Canadian History, wherein historian Donald Wright answers questions on the country’s indigenous people, its involvement in the two world wars, the origins of the maple leaf flag, and why Canada didn’t join in the American Revolution.

  1.   The Discover Library and Archives Canada showcases many exceptional objects from their collections, telling intriguing tales about them, and explaining their significance for Canada’s documentary legacy in its series of podcasts called “Treasures Revealed”.

Explore other notable titles from this resource including, Canada 150: Reflect and Reimagine in collaboration with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) which talks about how learning about our history can help us make better decisions in the future. 

  1. Today in Canadian History presents Canadian history in an engaging and accessible manner with over 220 episodes on specific dates or events that kick off to a wider discussion on important issues and facts in the past. 

Created by public school teachers, Marc Affeld and Joe Burima, these short podcasts cover a variety of topics, particularly ones that support post-World War II Canadian history.

  1.   Canada’s History magazine website lists several podcasts from discussions on the Cold War to features on “History Idols”, episodes that highlight important people who have made positive contributions to the country such as Agnes Macphail, John Rae, and Sir Arthur Currie, among many others.
  1. Canadian History Ehx, hosted by Craig Bard, is a rich resource with hundreds of podcasts in different key categories such as indigenous history, small town histories, elections per year (From John to Justin), and Canadian battles like Canada in World War I.

 It also features a series called “Canada Year-by-Year” that looks at every year from Canadian history from the Confederation in 1867 up to the present.

  1. Notice History produced by Know History Canada shows podcasts on how we come across and engage with history in our everyday lives. In its two-season collection, we can find out more about interesting topics such as the history of Canadian Thanksgiving and the national anthem, “O Canada”.

In addition, it highlights the country’s most important historic sites, landmarks, and museums in the Summer Road Trip series where listeners are taken on a virtual cross-Canada tour.   

  1.   Check out Cool Canadian History for a collection of random history podcasts that showcase “everything and anything cool about Canada’s history”. There is, indeed, a podcast for everyone on this site, as their tagline goes.

We hope this list helps narrow down your search for free history podcasts in a sea of resources available online. Because listening is only part of learning, we have also added social studies classes that can help your learner extend their knowledge and engage with the content they are listening to. 

Have fun listening and check out our social studies classes!

Northern Lights Academy Team