Getting kids thinking like investigative reporters

I've spent my morning and evening commutes this week getting caught up on the Serial podcast, which just about everyone, it seems, is listening to. If you're not one of them, I recommend checking it out. It's excellent.

Serial tells one nonfiction story through a series of (roughly) half-hour long episodes released week by week. Season One revisits the 1999 murder of a teenage girl in Baltimore County, MD, and the eventual conviction of her ex-boyfriend, who has always maintained his innocence.

The beauty of this long-form format is that it allows investigative reporter Sarah Koenig to dig deeply into an intensely complex story. She re-examines evidence, picks apart the nuances of courtroom testimony and police interviews, and mixes in tapes of her conversations with Adnan Syed, who is serving a life-sentence for the murder.

The case itself is fascinating and the storytelling is wonderful. But for me, one of the most fascinating things about it is to hear the struggle that Koenig herself has as she tries to piece together what happened and match that against the case made against Syed. As she digs in, she constantly wrestles with fact from fiction, truth from lies, what the evidence seems to say vs. what it actually says, what's important and what's not, why this piece doesn't fit with that piece. And ultimately, would a seemingly good-natured and well-liked person be capable of committing such a brutal act?

What does this have to do with education? (After all, this is an education blog!)

I'd argue that the struggle that Koenig went through as she pieced together this story is a wonderful and inspirational example of the kind of investigative thinking we should strive to make the norm in school -- where nothing is black and white, where sources must be constantly evaluated, where pieces of the puzzle don't always fit smoothly together, where finding an answer takes a team, and where conclusions should be double- and triple-checked. The most powerful learning happens through struggle and perseverance. It's messy.

Was Syed wrongly-convicted? I'm only seven episodes into the series, and it's not clear that that ultimate question will ever be answered conclusively. But if it's not, that doesn't mean Koenig's investigation has been a failure.

Photo: walknboston