Have you ever heard of the podcast Serial? Serial is a terribly interesting and addictive (true) story about a botched murder case in Maryland, in which a teen was accused and found guilty of killing his high school girlfriend based on faulty evidence. The show re-examined the decades-old evidence, re-interviewed the witnesses and all-around questioned the outcome of the case. For me and many others, Serial perfectly illustrated how useful podcasting could be as a medium for telling stories.

If you aren’t into podcasts, that’s OK, I forgive you. I hope to get you interested, if not hooked, by the time you finish reading this.

Podcast popularity is exploding in 2016. One might think that it’s a new medium, but actually podcasts have been around since Steve Jobs introduced the iPod in 2001 (hence the name podcast). What is a podcast? Think about podcasts as radio on demand. There are many places to find podcasts, but most people find and subscribe to them on iTunes.

In my search to authentically engage children in the world around them, I have found podcasts to be a great point of connection. They can listen to the latest research and hear from top experts on a particular subject. In our election studies, we listened to the Washington Post’s Presidential podcast to get into the mindset of Presidents Adams and Jefferson. The host offered an idea or posed a question to an expert: John Adams agreed to represent the soldiers from the Boston Massacre.  What does this say about his professional integrity? What would it be like to go on a blind date with Thomas Jefferson? The answer gave deep insight into Jefferson’s personality (he was a bit sneaky and conniving).

Creating a podcast can be useful tool for motivating and engaging students in their written work.  For some of the kids, the opportunity to use the serious-looking microphone is motivation enough; but more generally, the students get excited about putting their ideas out into the world! They have an opportunity to share their thoughts with a large audience without some of the anxiety that might accompany public speaking.

In its most basic form, podcasting allows me to communicate with parents (and anyone who wants to listen) using tone, musical intrigue, and convenience. In our weekly class podcast, Come Into Our Classroom, I explore some aspect of the learning and go a bit deeper into the pedagogy. I feature the students on most weeks, asking them to weigh in on the topic. It’s usually brief, so parents can listen to it in the car or on the go. They can listen with their children to spark conversation. My aim is for the weekly podcast to serve as a window into the classroom, and also to give students the feeling that our work together matters (if it’s on iTunes, it must matter!).

Even though we live in such a visual world, the spoken word is compelling.  It is engaging and it can be addicting.  The art of story telling has found a another home in podcasting. Please check out our 14 episodes (and counting). You can find it on SoundCloud or on iTunes and subscribe!

Here are some kid-friendly suggestions for you to listen to with your children:

  • Brains On! Science podcast for curious kids, co-hosted by curious kids (Check out episode 27: Are Cats Evil or Misunderstood?)

  • Presidential from the Washington Post. Each episode features a different president.

  • Stories podcast is new and interesting stories

  • The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified is a radio adventure series for the whole family

  • Storynory is made up of familiar stories for kids

Here are some adult-geared suggestions:

  • Serial goes into the gritty details of a murder case (and Undisclosed is for those who have questions after listening to Serial season 1)

  • Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me! the NPR news quiz

  • Revisionist History is Malcolm Gladwell’s reexamination of some event in history

  • This American Life finds some fascinating part of life that you never thought about before

  • Nerdcast is POLITICO’s podcast that “geeks out on the amazing circus that is American politics”