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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Digital Youth Q&A: Dylan

Learn about Dylan's life in this in-depth interview.
By Paul Stern
Related Tags: Technology Integration

My name is Dylan. I'm 13 years old, and I'm an eighth grader. It is not at all isolating if you're on a social-networking Web site, or a forum, or email, or even playing a game with someone online. I've gotten several emails asking my nonprofit organization to help an organization, and those all came in through technology.

See Dylan's full portrait.

Edutopia.org: Let's start with ThinkQuest. What is it all about?

Dylan: ThinkQuest is a Web-based competition that's made by Oracle that gets children ages 9-19 to participate in forming and collaborating with other teams to make Web sites. I've done it four or five times. The project we were working on was called Sentenced for Life. We were trying to make more people aware about animal cruelty and how it could be possible to stop it.

I collaborated with people from several countries. We used online forums and chats and conferences to communicate, so we all got in touch with each other when we needed to. I collaborated with other children from Argentina, Japan, and India to work on this project. We had different people working on designing the layout of the Web site and other people creating the content for the Web site. I mostly created the content for the Web site and came up with ideas for games and movies.

It's a fun experience, because being able to collaborate with people all around the world is very cool. You don't get to do it very often. I think it's pretty amazing to be able to have a conversation with people from other countries that easily, but honestly, since I've been doing it for a really long time, I've gotten used to it.

What was your very first technology experience as a little kid?

When I was really young, one or two, my mom set me up on the computer with this huge ball mouse with the most gigantic button in the front of it, and I used software called My Very First Software to learn the basics of using a computer. From then on, my mom used educational tools on the computer to help teach me phonics and the alphabet. Honestly, I'm not sure if I would know my alphabet if I didn't have technology.

What do you do that's technology based for fun?

I go online onto social-networking sites like Facebook. I go on YouTube a lot, and I play video games online with other people.

Can you tell me about Rock Band?

Rock Band is a game in which there are pieces of hardware shaped like instruments, and you press buttons to simulate playing the instrument. The game looks at the patterns of what you're playing and sees if you're hitting the notes right. Rock Band is a fun game in which people can join together to play a classic party game. It's kind of like karaoke, except with more instruments added into the mix. I play that a lot with my friends, and we never really do very well, actually.

Can you describe Aegis Wing?

Aegis Wing is a very simple game in which you're in a little starship, and you shoot little bullets at other starships, and you can collaborate with other people online, like play with someone in a completely different location.

Does having access to these technologies make you feel connected?

It is true that through technology, I collaborate with a lot of people, so it is not at all isolating if you're on a social-networking Web site or if you're on a forum or email or even playing a game with someone online. I've gotten several emails from people asking my nonprofit organization to help their organization, and those all came in through technology. Without technology, I probably wouldn't have gotten those.

Can you tell me about your nonprofit organization?

My nonprofit organization is called Lil' MDGs. It was originally a nonprofit organization I cofounded with two of my cousins, but it's now an initiative of Jayme's Fund for Social Justice, another nonprofit organization.

Tell me about the MDGs, the Millennium Development Goals.

The Millennium Development Goals are eight goals set by the United Nations at the Millennium Summit in 2000 that are supposed to be met by 2015. An example of a goal is to cut in half the amount of people in poverty by 2015. Another example is to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. Another is improving maternal care.

Does Lil' MDGs have a particular focus?

Its mission is mainly to get children more involved in trying to help meet the Millennium Development Goals. I like to make videos and write stories about the MDGs. I also held a contest asking people to do any sort of contribution possible, like send in a poem about what they feel about the MDGs. I feel that if the information is on a Web site, it's much less intimidating than reading a huge book, even if it is the same amount of information.

You've been making movies for a long time, haven't you?

I've made movies with my friends for maybe one or two years. I use a Flip video camera to film, and I use iMovie to edit the videos, but I am in the process of learning to use my recently purchased Final Cut Studio. Apple's iMovie is nice and simple. It gets a very good job done in a very easy, simple way.

Tell me about the plot of yesterday's film that you were putting together.

Yesterday's film was very simple, because we had to do it on such short notice. I was the one filming. I wasn't in the movie at all. But two of my friends were bullies that walked up to two of my other friends who were two nerds at school. And they started throwing snowballs at the nerds. In the next video clip, the nerds came back to the bullies and got back at the them and threw snowballs back at them.

We usually come up with better plots than that, but if we're just trying to think of something to pass time, then, yeah, that's a typical thing we would do.

You're an unusually busy guy for an eighth grader. Can you describe your daily routine?

I wake up at around six o’clock to get ready to go to school. At 7:15, I go to the high school for my math class. At about 8, I go to my regular middle school for the rest of my classes.

After going through all of the classes, I have some homework or something to do, so I get on the bus and get back home at about 2:30. At 2:30, I sit down, eat something, watch some TV, and do some of my homework. And then I play with my friends for a while.

On Sundays, I have piano at five o'clock, and I have karate at seven o'clock. And then at the end of the day, I finish up whatever homework I didn't do and go to sleep.

Tell me about your board meetings.

I'm on the board for Jayme's Fund for Social Justice, so I go to its board meetings to listen to what the other board members have to say. Being a board member, I try to contribute to the organization to make it as good as it possibly can be. I try to recommend which organizations we should help at a certain time. I help organize the events that we do, like some concerts that we have every once in a while.

A few students at Southern New Hampshire University were at the board meeting, and they had made me a piece of fabric with calligraphy written on it that says things about me and what they think I did. I was very honored by it. I can't believe they would go through so much effort just to make me something like that.

Can you also talk about a couple of nondigital activities?

I know how to solve three Rubik's puzzles, and I use things called speed stacks, which are cups that are supposed to be stacked in as fast a way as possible and then unstacked just as quickly.

In school, what kinds of technologies are useful to you?

In school, we use technology every once in a while to help us reinforce what we did in class the day before. In my Web-design class, I use the computer a lot to design my Web site.

And you're learning HTML?

I am learning HTML right now. I think it's very fun, except most people in my class would disagree with me.

In Spanish, is using the computer lab a good way to help reinforce grammar and get you to learn Spanish?

I think going to the computer lab is a very good way to reinforce what we learned in class, because a lot of students think of technology as a much easier, less intimidating way of looking at what we just learned.

Tell me about Nestlé, your pooch.

I have a chocolate Labrador retriever named Nestlé, and I love to go on walks with her all the time. She is, however, lazy every once in a while. I often end up riding my bike and letting Nestlé follow me when I take her for walks.

Paul Stern is a writer and video producer at Vox Television, a production company in Boston.

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