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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Digital Youth Q&A: Jalen

Meet Jalen, a 12-year-old animator, social networker, and gamer from Illinois.
By Ken Ellis
Related Tags: Technology Integration

My name is Jalen, and I live in Illinois. In the Digital Youth Network program, I do graphic design, video gaming, and robotics. I am doing DYN TV, in which we make our own little TV show. And I'm learning photography this year. So I think I have advanced throughout the years in my use of technology and in my use of creating through technology.

See Jalen's full portrait.

Edutopia.org: What was the first piece of technology you had, and why did you like it?

Jalen: I used to play on our family PC when I was a kid. I used to always play on that, so that was probably the first piece of technology I ever used. I think I was three years old when I first went on the computer. I used to like to use the computer to paint stuff in, and I would pull stuff off the Internet to remix it and paint it.

After my first time using technology, I started using it more often. I started using the family PC almost once a week. By that time, I had a Game Boy. My mom said she was going to give me one after I took a shower when I was a little kid, so after I took it, I got my Game Boy. I used to play that a lot. And I couldn't get any other systems but those handhelds, because my mom said I'd become addicted to the other systems, which I did. Well, I used to be.

I was five when I got my Game Boy. I used to play that every day. It was so fun. And after a while, I started getting back on the computer. So I used my Game Boy and my computer equally. I'd spend an hour on each. I would do basketball during the time when I wasn't doing that. And then during the time that I wasn't doing anything, I would just lay down and chill. When my mom says I can't play video games, I just lay down and watch TV. That's technically what "chill time" is, watching TV.

At seven years old, I started drawing more. That's when I really started drawing a lot. And I thought I was really good at it. I still do it, because I like it. It's fun. If people compliment my drawings, I think that's kind of fun.

At ten years old, when I went to fifth grade, I made my first comic book. I don't have that any more, but it was really cool. It was called Kindred Kids. It revolved around me and my friends getting superpowers and then fighting crime and stuff. So I really liked that. It was fun.

After that, I went into sixth grade, and that's when I got my laptop, and I started using that more often. I joined the Digital Youth Network program. The first class I had in the DYN program was probably graphic design, because I missed my first day of robotics. So I went to graphic design, and my teacher's name was Hando. The first thing he taught us to do was design shoes, shirts, and caps.

Throughout a three-month period, we were remixing our own shoes and our shirts and caps and making them match. Sometimes we made shoes, shirts, and caps that represented something. I remember that I made a whole collection of shoes, shirts, and caps for Donda West when she passed away.

Now that you are in seventh grade, what do you do?

I’m in seventh grade, and in DYN I technically do the same classes. I do graphic design, but now we have a new teacher named Ms. Erica. I do video gaming. I do robotics still. I think they're all pretty fun. But last year, I did spoken word, in which I learned how to do poetry, which I liked, too.

But this year, I am doing DYN TV, in which we make our own little TV show. So I think they’re all equally fun when I level everything out. And I'm learning photography this year. So I think I have advanced throughout the years in my use of technology and in my use of creating through technology.

In class, we have assignments such as book reports. So what I usually like to do for my book reports is make a comic. I have it on my computer, and I have little squares where I can put some pictures and have the speech bubble coming out where it says, "Hi, this is a book report from Jalen, yadda yadda yadda." It has all the stuff that you need in a book report. And then in the comic, they talk about the book. Usually, at the beginning of the book report, I have the cover of the book, and I have my name under it.

Also, sometimes our teachers lead us, and sometimes we have to do PowerPoint presentations. This time, my friend Monchor and I are doing a game board, like Monopoly, for our final project on the book that we just read.

And that kind of reflects my graphic-design work and my gaming work, because I know what needs to go inside a game to make it awesome and be big so it will be bought more, make more money, all that stuff. I know how to design a board game, which makes it even better, so it won't be all dull and boring.

Do you mostly work on the computer, or play video games?

I try and level them out equally so that I can have the same amount of fun on my laptop as I have playing my Wii. That way, I can be online and talk with my friends, but sometimes I can play games and be by myself. I try to level them out equally so that I can have the same amount of time learning about the Internet or the computer as I have learning about playing video games. Every time I get on my laptop or play a video game, I learn something new.

Do you have a cell phone?

No. My mom said I cannot have a cell phone until I'm in high school. She asks me, "Why do you need one?" I say, "Because I want one." And she says, "Why do you need one?" I say, "Because all my friends have one, and I need to talk with you and Rakim and dad." I have an iPod. I’m trying to get a new one, because I have a really old one.

What's the Digital Youth Network like? Talk about that program.

DYN is just one of the awesome-est, sickest programs ever. It picks out all these awesome, sick programs, from gaming all the way to poetry. It has at least ten programs that you can do, and it lets you choose. You come to classes on certain days to do those programs. Every Friday, we have something called Freedom Friday. We sometimes talk about topics that need to be talked about around the world, such as global warming.

Two weeks ago, we had something about McDonald's, and they showed the movie Super Size Me. It showed how that food can be unhealthy for you. Sometimes, they have showcases where they show off the work that kids in the program did before. Last year, when they first got the DYN center, we had this giant showcase and we had this giant DYN party.

What is Remix World?

Remix World is a DYN site where you post up all your work or have a discussion about what you think is really important. You get feedback on what you do, and you get Remix Dollars if it's important or if it's something original.

So, right now, I am the leader in Remix Dollars on the old Remix World. They said they're going to transfer it to the new one, but I'm starting to get worried about that. I became the leader on the old Remix World because last year I did a lot of work on making shoes and making videos. I still jump into a lot of discussions now and then. I used to post up all my poems. I used to do everything. Whatever I did that I thought was cool, I'd post it up on Remix World to see what other people thought.

What is it like to have your peers critique your work?

Well, you give your opinion and you say if you agree or disagree with them, usually. That's what I usually do. It's also how I usually comment on games or movies or art. I usually say what I feel, if I like it or think it's pretty good. Most of the art that they put up, most of the things that they put up are pretty cool.

I think that mostly everybody in this school has something that they've put up on the Remix World site that everybody will like, probably because it's really good and it can connect with anybody. Usually, once I make something, I just put it up on Remix World before I show it to the whole world. I just put it up on Remix World because it is a closed space for people in DYN.

Yeah, I put my stuff up on YouTube. Sometimes on YouTube, I get worse feedback than I do on Remix World. I'm OK with that, because I know there are a lot of people on YouTube that are better than me at what I do because they’ve been doing it longer and they know how to do it better. I accept that, and I try harder to make my work as good as theirs. So, usually, if they give me five stars on Remix World, I get four stars on YouTube.

On YouTube, I usually just put up my videos -- for instance, TV-show clips. I put music under it, and I just cut it up and make it into a cool video. I'm learning how to make cartoons this year so I can make an animated cartoon show or a short.

Do you have friends that don't have this stuff at school or at home?

My neighbor comes over to our house every day. Sometimes he gets annoying, but he always comes over. He comes into the house, and he jumps on the computer and starts making videos all day. And if he's not making videos, we're either playing with our dog or playing video games. So, if he's sleeping over for a whole day, we'll take half of that day to play video games, 25 percent to go outside, and 25 percent just to make videos. But all around, it's just fun.

I'm just wondering if some of your friends in other schools don't have the access you have to technology.

My neighbor doesn't have the access to it, and so he comes to our house. My cousin comes over. He doesn't come over too much, but he doesn't have that much access to any computer or anything, so he doesn’t really know how to do that much. And my brother just got his computer, so he's just learning how to do this stuff, too.

Tell me about a typical day. When do you get up, and what do you do?

I wake up . . . well, I don't really wake up. My mom wakes me up. I put on some of my clothes and go back to sleep. Mom wakes me up again. I brush my teeth, put on my shoes, go downstairs, get my book bag, go to the car, go back to sleep. I nap. Then we end up at the school. They send me in. I'm usually late. I come into the school and go to math class. That's the class we have every morning.

After math, we usually have literacy or science. And then on Wednesdays, after literacy, we have DYN with Miss Asia. We do storyboards. Right now, we're making a trailer for the book that we just finished reading. At the end of the day, at 2:45, I come down here and go to DYN class.

One time in Design, we came into this room and we learned how to do cartooning a little bit. For gaming, we usually go upstairs. They have two different classes: One is to learn how to use the program Flash, which is like a cartoon-animation program. The other one is to learn Scratch, which is what I learned last year. It's kind of like a gaming program. I get picked up at 6 o'clock.

I go home and do my homework. After I finish my homework, we usually have dinner. Now that it's around Christmastime, my mom makes things that she can sell for Christmas. She asks me and my brother if we want to help because we can make a profit, and we take that offer. Any way we can get money, we take it.

So, after we do that, I usually ask my mom if I can play a video game. She says I have to finish my homework and be done with everything. After that, she tells me to read. I read for like 45 minutes, then I go play the game. I play video games from 7:30 to probably 10, and after that, my dad tells us to get in bed. After we do that, I lay down in my bed and, five minutes later, I'm almost asleep. Then my dad comes up and brings us tea. We drink it and go back to sleep. We usually get to sleep around 11:30. That's the daily life of Jalen.

What games do you play? What’s cool these days?

Well, I won't say they're cool these days. These are just the types of games that I like. One of the most recent games that I've been playing, because I just got, it is the new Dragonball Z game called Dragon Ball Z: Infinite World. I've been playing that since Friday. That's when we first got it.

We play Super Smash Bros. on the Wii. It’s fun. It's a different type of game because with Dragonball Z, it's kind of like you have to knock them out. On Super Smash Bros., you have to hit them out of the ring, so it's a lot more fun. And I play Spider-Man games, and I play Star Wars games sometimes.

What's your favorite book?

My favorite book right now is Percy Jackson and the Olympians. I like the whole series, but my favorite book out of all four is The Battle of the Labyrinth. That's the most recent one. It's really good.

What's your favorite movie?

That’s a difficult question. I have two favorite movies, actually. I like Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow, which just came out in September, and I like the Transformers movie that came out last year.

How about music? What's on your iPod?

I like rap and rock music. I like Linkin Park and Tia sometimes. It depends on how I feel.

With all this technology that you're working with now, what do you see yourself doing with it in the future?

Well, when I grow up, I want to be a cartoonist and a video game maker and an artist. Technically, they all come together, though. So that's what I want to do when I grow up. I think that this -- all this graphic design, gaming, all of this stuff that I do -- will contribute to my cartooning and gaming one day.

Ken Ellis is executive producer of Edutopia video.

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