Students meet reptile expert via pod-casting

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 25, 2006

He's paddled his way down the Macal River in Belize, tracked giant alligators in Florida, crocodiles in Cancun, Mexico and captured wild cobras in India.

Through the wonder of modern technology, Dr. Brady Barr, National Geographic reptile expert and world traveler to more than 50 countries, visited with science teacher Randy Fullington's students at Greenville High School last Wednesday.

Through podcasting – a method of distributing multimedia files over the Internet for playback on mobile devices and personal computers – Fullington's students were able to don headsets and interview Barr via the computer, learning from the master himself all about the wild, wild world of reptiles.

&#8220Dr. Barr is an international authority in the world of herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians) and we were very excited it worked out for us to do this,” Fullington said.

Ninth grader Sheena McCloud was one of those who got to personally interview the renowned reptile expert and former classroom teacher.

&#8220It was a new experience – and it was fun,” McCloud said.

&#8220To be able to come in contact with someone who knew so much about reptiles was really interesting.”

Fellow ninth grader Taylor Thornton agreed.

&#8220I was pretty nervous at first, then it was fun. Talking to a famous person I never met, I thought I might mess up…not a lot of people can say they did something like that.”

Fullington was chosen last November as one of only ten teachers in the state to participate in the 21st Century Schools Initiative, a project of the Alabama Best Practices Center.

The organization, which aims to move state classrooms into using the very latest in tools and strategies to teach, is supported by a grant from Microsoft Corporation Partners in Learning Program.

&#8220We have some kids here who never get to go outside of a 40-mile radius of Greenville. Through the latest in technology, here is a chance for them to talk to a famous expert who has traveled the world,” Fullington said.

As a 21st Century Fellow, the science teacher says he is always looking for ways to promote new technology with his students.

Podcasting seemed like a perfect way to marry the technology many students already enjoy outside of school, such as MP3 players, with academic studies.

&#8220I wanted the kids to do a podcast on reptiles, so we could create an online broadcast that can be downloaded in MP3 format and posted on the Web…that way anyone can download and listen to it all over the world,” Fullington explained.

The science teacher began searching for an established herpetologist online as the students put together lists of questions.

He emailed the National Geographic Channel's Website, and was pleasantly surprised when Barr sent a personal email in return.

&#8220(Dr. Barr) told me he would love to do the interviews with the kids. He even downloaded all the software to the Internet to allow us to do this, which was great,” Fullington explained.

Some of the questions asked by the GHS students included queries on the average lifespan and weight of an alligator; causes for attacks on humans, and how well alligators can adapt to their environment. Other questions included how long, on average, an alligator is at birth; how they mate and what the endangered status of the alligator is.

They also got to learn about some of his misadventures, such as being pulled overboard once by an angry crocodile.

Now that the interviews are over, the recorded material will be put in MP3 format and uploaded to the Internet &#8220so people can listen to it when, how and where they want to,” Fullington said.

When the finished product, which Fullington likens to a radio show, is done, it will be posted on his classroom blog at

Barr, a former high school science teacher, is featured on several shows on the National Geographic Channel, including &#8220Reptiles Wild.” In 2005, Barr's history-making achievement of capturing all 23 croc species in the world was recorded in &#8220Dangerour Encounters: Countdown Croc.”

Fullington is pleased his students had the opportunity for their own &#8220wild animal encounter” of sorts.

&#8220For the kids to have the chance to do this with Dr. Barr is just awesome. Not many students or teachers are doing podcasting yet.”