Sunday, November 9, 2014

Project Stream of Consciousness

Lightning has just struck my brain. I have an idea. It's still percolating and forming and all of that, but I had to write it down before losing it forever into the depths of my mind.

So, lately, I've been kind of addicted to Serial. It's a podcast from This American Life that tells a single story over about 12 episodes, and for its first season it's recounting Sarah Koenig's investigation into a 1999 murder in Baltimore. It's kind of a big deal, and it will suck you in and obsess every idle thought.

Can we leverage this for the classroom?

Here's what's happened to me since listening:

A friend posted on Facebook about the podcast. I was curious, so I listened to the first episode after school one day while doing some mindless work. I was drawn in instantly, and consumed the next three episodes that very afternoon. The next day, I listened to three more and abruptly hit the limit; the podcast is still in process, and new episodes aren't posted until Thursday mornings.

However, there's a whole subreddit full of folks just like me (some with an even worse case of Serial obsession). People are posting links to old Baltimore Sun articles from the time of the case. There are interactive Google maps with markers posted for key locations in the mystery. There are threads dedicated to recounting and discussing the various persons of interest's roles and timelines. Someone found the appeal briefings that were just recently filed.

Let me tell you, I've NEVER had an interest in reading appeal briefings. I follow the news, but haphazardly and kind of without focus. I listen to a morning radio show, but that's about the extent of informational audio I consume in the average day.

But man...I'm like a junkie right now. The mystery has sucked me in, and I'm doing everything I can to try and piece this thing together and make sense of the case.

I've just started thinking that this high level of engagement could work with students, too. What if I (we) were able to create such an engrossing story that kids felt a strong desire to pursue whatever information they could find? What if students were expected to put together briefings, piece together information from a variety of sources to present evidence? To use collaborative tools like Google My Maps and Docs to compile information and share/discuss theories? We could hook students much the same way as SK (Sarah Koenig, as they refer to her on the subreddit) by releasing weekly, episodic chunks of information that students could listen to over and over and analyze?

The engagement would not be universal, no doubt; the podcast has a lot of followers, but not everyone will be as hooked and engaged as I and many others are. However, we could probably get kids who ARE hooked to consider and peruse all kinds of things they otherwise wouldn't! We could create news articles, nonfiction reports, and info snippets for students to discover. We'd be hitting almost all the CCSS ELA anchor standards in one fell swoop!

I know this kind of thing has been done before. I remember in sixth grade being part of a mock trial, and I know there are countless simulations you can find at teacher supply stores that hope to have the same effect on students. Has anything web-based been done yet, with high production standards and cognitively demanding tasks? If there has, I'd love to see it; I kinda think I would've heard of such a thing, though.

I may have to get on this. I'll try to crowdsource as much as I can, and bring together a variety of folks to play different roles. First thing I need to do is find an idea. It's awfully tempting to go cheesy an make an ancient civilization mystery, or an explorers mystery. I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong about this, but it limits the content to one grade level, really, and I doubt it'd resonate with kids as much as something modern day would. I'll have to think about this some more...
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