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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Digital Youth Q&A: Dana

Learn about Dana in this in-depth interview.
By Ken Ellis

My name's Dana, and I'm nine. I guess you just use a computer all the time in your brain. Sometimes people ask you to redesign this, or they say, "Help me do this." Or sometimes, I'll just be able to choose whatever I want to do. And then we all come together, and we explain what we do, what we did.

See Dana's full portrait.

Edutopia.org: Why?

Dana: Because I have lots of games on it, and I like to play games on my dad's iPhone.

How do you use your dad's cell phone? What do you do with it?

I play games on it when I'm waiting in the hospital, because I got a broken finger. And so I play games on it, and that's the only thing I do on my dad's iPhone. And I watch some movies or TV shows on it -- like WordGirl, Arthur, and Harold and the Purple Crayon -- with my sister.

What else do you do with technology?

I do things on my computer, like go to iTunes, and I watch videos on it. And we play on the Wii, me and my dad.

What were you doing with the iPhone at Kidsteam?

Oh, I was just checking out Notepad and books.

So, were they trying to have you write?

Yeah, write some sentences, and they were asking me, "If you were to do a ten-page report, would it be doable?" But I didn't think it was, because the keyboard was too small for my fingers.

Tell me about the People in Need Web site you worked on with Kidsteam.

There are people in need in Haiti, and we're trying to design a new Web site for them.

And how does it go when you work with your friends, and they come up with all these ideas?

They come up with all these ideas, and then we share them, and then they pick the best ones and maybe turn it into an idea for them.

Where do you get your ideas?

From your mind and your brain. I guess you just use a computer all the time in your brain. Sometimes people ask you to redesign this, or they say, "Help me do this." Or sometimes, I'll just be able to choose whatever I want to do, that sort of thing. And then we all come together, and we explain what we do, what we did.

When was the first time you tried any technology?

When I first got my computer, I was very, very excited! It was when I was seven. I've had it the past three years, because it just turned 2009, and I got it in 2007. Then I got my first game, which was Kid Picks. And I loved the Internet, so I kept on going on it.

So, what do you do now, for the most part?

Go to iTunes and watch videos and play some games. I go on Webkinz World.

Tell me about Webkinz World. What is that?

You can get pets -- not a natural pet, more like a stuffed-animal pet. And it has a special tag, and you can log its code on to the Web site, and then you'll see your animal. You can name it. And so then you can play with it and do things with it.

So, you have to feed it, you have to take care of it, you have to go play with it every single day, or else it will die. But I would play with it every single day. You have to take care of them, feed them, and play games with them to keep them happy, healthy, and in shape.

Isn't that a lot of work?

No. You just play with them for five minutes, each of them. And that takes about an hour, half an hour.

Tell me why you like Webkinz.

Well, I guess I just like them because they're animals that you can go online with. And you can feed them, play with them. But you can't talk to them!

You told me that you have how many? And you have to keep them alive? Isn't that a lot of pressure?

No. I have 21. I'm getting number 22.

You do that every day -- spend an hour playing with your Webkinz?

Almost. I like to listen to Jewish classical folk music and just Jewish music. And I especially like listening to my cantor Lisa and Ms. Carol's music.

Why?

Because I think it's nice.

And how much time do you spend on your computer?

When I get home, I spend time until my tutor comes or it's time to go to Kidsteam.

How long is that?

About half an hour. I normally listen to my music, and I clean up my room all the time.

You clean up your room all the time?

Yes. I like cleaning my room.

Have you made anything? Tell me about what you've made with digital media.

Oh, I've made songs, I've made movies, and I've made productions. Well, it was Hanukkah. My uncle gave me a Hanukkah present that was to go to his studio and record four songs, and we recorded "Light One Candle," and "The Hills Are Alive," from The Sound of Music. And I made all these other songs on my computer, on GarageBand.

Where do you come up with those ideas?

Well, I'm into choirs, and I like to sing a lot.

Do you use your technology to help you with your homework at all?

No, we can't use computers to do our homework.

Wow! Do you think that's a good thing?

Yes.

How come?

You learn more.

OK -- well, that's an interesting thought. Don't you go on Google and learn stuff?

During computer class, I go on Google, and I have to search up some things for science. I was doing the peregrine falcon, so I had to research a lot of things at home.

So, there you go -- you did use it for the purpose of homework.

A little bit. It wasn't really homework. It was just work that we were supposed to do.

What video games do you play?

Mario Golf and Super Paper Mario. And I play a little bit of Littlest Pet Shop, and we've played a little bit of Brainsville Academy, and just the tiniest bit of Raving Rabbids.

What about movies or shows?

We like Aristocats, Winnie the Pooh, and other Disney shows, except for High School Musical, we don't watch. We don't watch Camp Rock or anything like that. We don't watch Hannah Montana, because we don't like them. I'm not really the kind of girl who likes that stuff. So now we're watching PBS Kids Go. And, actually, I find it more educational, especially for me and my sister. And we play Super Mario Galaxy with my dad.

Do you have a book that you like?

I like the Rainbow Magic series. And I also like the American Girl books.

Somebody asked you about your life goals. Have you thought about what you want to do?

I would love to be a professional singer when I grow up, and also a doctor.

OK, there's probably a need for singing doctors.

No, I mean a veterinarian.

Oh, that's good! So, what do you think you're going to be doing in ten years?

I'll probably be in college, because I'll be 18.

Do your friends do the same stuff you do?

No.

Why not? Do they have the same technology?

I don't think so, because I'm sort of different, and I like to do a lot of different things than my friends do. So some of my friends are sort of the girly-girl type, and my friend Megan, she's sort of in between. She's sort of half tomboy, half girly girl.

And so I guess I'm nothing like my friends, because when I'm just going somewhere, I don't dress in matching clothes. I just wear a purple shirt, and I wear T-shirts, and no regular overshirts. And I won't wear my jacket, because where I was born, it's always cold there, so I'm used to the cold. So I can just go out there with no coat and long sleeves and short pants. It doesn't really matter to me.

Do your friends play other games and go to other sites?

I go on PBS Kids Go. They like to go to Disney, the Miley Cyrus band page, Game Brock, the High School Musical page. I'm not that kind of person.

Cool! So, give me one last piece of advice about technology for the nine-year-olds out there.

Never, ever listen to Camp Rock's music, especially track 9.

That's it, huh? Don't listen to track 9. You equate technology so much with music.

I never go to Miley Cyrus. I can't do it. It's awful.

Do you remember where you were born, growing up there?

I was adopted when I was ten months old. So I remember I was in this baby orphanage, and I remember one person's name slightly. My friend's name was Zuzanna, with a z, so it'd be "Zuzanna" instead of "Suzanna." So, that's all I really remember. When I turned five, I started to read English a little bit.

You've done really well!

Yes. And now I'm learning Hebrew, a little bit of Yiddish, Spanish, just a faint amount of Creole.

And technology?

And technology! But nobody can really speak technology.

Tell me a little bit about your mom.

My mom, she runs Kidsteam. And she likes working. Well, I'm not positive, but I think she likes to work. And she likes to listen to me sing a lot.

Tell me about your dad.

He's the same thing with technology. Technology and him fit together like a puzzle piece, because every single time I say, "No, you're . . . you're . . . no! Your office is abandoned from you!" I mean, because he spends all of his day on the computer, and I'm like, "No! Your office is now wrecked." So I don't want him going into his office, because I know he's going to sit there and do his email.

So, is there something you'd like to say to all the kids that may not --

Always use technology?

I didn't even get to finish the sentence!

Oh.

Some kids don't have any access to computers, don't have any access to technology, like your pen pal. What do you think of her, and what does technology mean to you?

I don't know. All I know is that she doesn't have any kind of bed or home. Her home is built out of metal, and she does not have any mattresses, beds, or things like that. She has to go to a community center every morning, and she stays there overnight sometimes so she can have something to eat. They don't have clean water. That's why you trick-or-treat for UNICEF.

So, what do you think is going to be the next thing for you in technology? What would you like to do soon?

I guess I would like an iPhone, and I would love to have my own microphone and my own recording studio, so I can record myself. That would be really, really awesome with technology for me.

Ken Ellis is executive producer of Edutopia video.

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