Watching Humble Sophomores Interview Acclaimed Author/Producer=#eduwin

February 26, 2012
Adam Babcock

Adam Babcock

Last week, I helped to facilitate (note: not “teach”) a great #eduwin that was celebrated more by my students than by me as an educator.  After now weeks of working on our gangs awareness / My Bloody Life project, arrangements were finalized to Skype with Alex Kotlowitz, producer of The Interrupters (which airs on PBS tomorrow/Tuesday night).

My students listen attentively as Alex Kotlowitz, producer of The Interrupters, speaks to them via Skype.

The morning began as unique as the day unfolded.  My five “moderators” were standing outside, in charge from the beginning.  Two of them handed out note sheets, while the others picked 15 students to have question cue cards.  Once the bell rang, we re-arranged some of the seats so that everyone could be seen, etc by Mr. Kotlowitz.  The Skype call rang in.  I introduced our guests, my moderators, etc, before handing the conversation over to my students.  (Many of the “adults”  stayed in toward the back of the room, actually, putting the kids at the forefront.  Supportive figures included my building principal, assistant principal and many of my colleagues who had planning periods… thanks again for stopping by!   Theresa Shafer (@TheresaShafer), New Tech Network’s Online Community Manager, stayed close to the moderators to tweet all of the great Q&A).

Our students started with some polite banter / icebreakers.  My students asked Mr. Kotlowitz about his impressions of the Superbowl ads and who he was cheering for.  My kids got a kick out of the fact that he is human and roots for the Giants, yet they were impressed when he took a stance against the idea of commercials in general.

Once the questions started rolling, the great answers began reinforcing some of the themes of not just our project but also of our school culture/vision.  Here’s a bit of a breakdown question-by-question:

-Without having seen The Interrupters  yet, one of the first questions to Kotlowitz was about the documentary’s impact on the filmmakers and on the CeaseFire workers themselves.  I saw some students “awakened” when Mr. Kotlowitz said this film was his first time collaborating.  As a writer/journalist, he rarely produced work with others before producing the film.  Being my students’ first year in a New Tech school, many of my students were nodding in agreement with how beneficial collaboration was to them, too.  This expert was giving a nod to what we preach every day: collaboration is the way of the workplace and of the world now that we are an interconnected (technologically, socially, culturally, etc) global community.  As for the subjects in the documentary, Kotlowitz has said that some of them found the film therapeutic, because they were able to tell their story, process some of the things they had done (all of the Interrupters have done time), and show how dedicated they are to making better, less violent communities.

-Kotlowitz spoke on how violence is now initiated over more “petty” circumstances.  Here, I saw eyes darting back and forth.  Sophomores have some growing up to do, and we hear that word used all the time in our classes, actually.  Here, whispers and heads shook in disappointment when Kotlowitz said murder/homicide rates have halved over the years, but they are over much more petty disagreements.  Violence used to be so tied to the drug trade, but reports now show most violence starts over looks at girls/guys, unwelcome guests at parties, stepping on someone’s shoe, etc

– Kotlowitz mentioned he had done a screening of the film at the Danville prison.  I know caught the interest of some who live close to that area of the city or who go by there.   While so far away, we were still making connections to each other’s communities.

My moderators stepped more and more up to the plate as the interview progressed.  When we had mic issues, they politely asked for a moment from Mr. Kotlowitz and set a norm of coming up to the center of the room.  (I was actually surprised at how timid some were in front of him.  Many of my biggest voices asked their assigned questions with as little as a peep… there was definitely a sense of importance in the room.)

Final papers were due yesterday (which I expect will use the interview as a source), but there are already signs that this Skype interview had impact.  When I created a Google Doc to collect thank-you notes and reflections, I found that many of my students were starting to “get” New Tech.  (More on that later.)

Thanks to the power of social media (which set up this interview in the first place!), various great reads  have popped up.  I’ve collected many of them in my Diigo bookmarks with “interrupters” as the tag.  I have to thank Alex Kotlowitz, the Interrupters social media team (@TheInterrupters), Kartemquin Films (@Kartemquin), and New Tech Network’s Theresa Shafter (@newtechnetwork & @TheresaShafer) for much of this great experience, among others whom I’ve mentioned before.