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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Digital Youth Portrait: Dana

A nine-year-old aspiring singer revels in Webkinz and games and helps develop tech-design ideas with a cohort of peers and adult researchers. More to this story.

Digital Youth Portrait: Dana (Transcript)

Dana: My name's Dana and I'm nine. And my favorite thing of technology is my dad's iPhone 'cause it has lots of games on it.

When I first got my computer, I was very, very excited. When I was seven. And I love the internet, so I kept on going on it. I love this picture.

Allison: Dana's a very special girl. She comes from Kazakhstan.

Both she and her sister, we adopted.

Dana: My dad giving me my first toy. And then my dad signing the contract.

Allison: She is a child of song and from the moment she wakes up, to the moment she goes to sleep, if she's not talking, she's humming, she's singing.

Dana: [singing] For our health, our homes, our families, for the precious gift--

Allison: Her father and her mother have something to do with technology, and so she's always had the stuff around. But it's always been around as if it's been furniture. It's not, you know, this special thing. She's using technology as a digital native, as immersed because it's there.

Dana: This is the pet of the month. It's called Doogal. You can just buy them. It has a special tag and you can log its code onto the website, and then you'll see your animal. You can name it. Personally, I have twenty one. 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. And that takes about an hour. About to change sites 'cause also like to go on PBS Kids Co.

Allison: She happens to adore PBS.

Dana: You can make your player here, just by doing anything that you want really, and then I can change their shirts and their hair.

Allison: But she's a kid that just happens to go to the places that are suitable for her, and we have conversations about what's appropriate and what's not.

Dana: So I'm supposed to hump and try to get all these candies, and when I fill up, I go busing through the house. Oh, and red light means I have to be careful, 'cause mom's going to come soon, so I have to get down. So I'm pushing my luck here. Look out, mom's coming.

Ben: We have a general guideline, which is, be responsible and do stuff that's appropriate. And if you find yourself on a place that's not appropriate, just shut it down. If you're kind of interested, but you're not sure, come ask us and we'll come talk to you and you'll never get in trouble.

Allison: The children that are digital natives today are still children. They are children who love stories--

Teacher 1: Mine looks like a clown.

Allison: They are children who wanna be respected.

Teacher 1: Here's kind of his little forehead, and that's his little hat.

Allison: They are children that wanna love learning.

Student 1: But I do know that. I'm talking about like the double digit.

Student 2: Like twenty three divided by--

Allison: They don't just wanna search. They wanna use what they've searched for and do something with it. They wanna be creative. They are probably more digitally native at home than they are in school.

They should be allowed to pursue their passions.

Dana: Remember that?

Jari Graves-Highsmith: I do.

Dana: That's probably here.

Jari Graves-Highsmith: In the winter, when you were a little older?

Dana: Yes.

Jari Graves-Highsmith: Okay.

Having Dana show me where she has a personal website and go through her photos, it's an extension of self. And we have to be able to figure out how to let technology have that ability for kids to individualize who they are and bring who they are to the school.

Allison: And so what number sentence helped you with that?

Dana: Thirteen.

Jari Graves-Highsmith: For Dana, 'cause she has some interesting learning challenges, it provides an easy access for her to be able to get information down in writing, or to organize her thinking visually, and that really helps and supports her?

Man 1: What do you think about this keyboard? Can you type an actual sentence on there--?

Dana: It's way too small.

Man 1: What do you think would be ideal for you?

Dana: Slide it out.

Man 1: Slide it out?

All right, try this one.

Allison: What happens at Kids Team, two afternoons a week and two weeks during the summer is that we help to make new technologies better for kids.

Child 1: We work with mostly is the National Park Service a lot. Some of their games on their website are sorta cheesy, so we are the people who like fix it up and stuff.

Mona Leigh Guha: The kids are our design partners. They absolutely have as many good ideas as the big people do. The children are experts in being children, and even though we were all children once, we weren't children in 2009. Sometimes we'll take a look at an existing technology, for instance, People in Need, which is a website that supports people in need in Haiti, and is looking to try and support more interaction between children.

Dana: And so you can click on one of these families.

It says, "Learn more. Help this family."

And so it tells you a little bit about it.

Man 2: All right, go for it.

Woman 1: Nadia and Sasha are right--

Allison: Actually, the favorite technique of all of our children is what the kids call bags of stuff, but the adults call low tech prototyping.

Allison: And what we do is, we take bags of art supplies and we start to build things.

Woman 2: Now what do we need the microphone for?

Child 3: You can also do like a video chat.

Dana: Sometimes people ask, "Help me do this," or sometimes it will just be a "Choose whatever you wanna do sort of thing." I guess you just use the computer all the time in your brain. And then we all come together and we explain what we did.

Child 4: So I thought you should be able to send stuff to the people.

Man 3: So it was streamlining the video taking process. We also talked about making it easy to add pictures too.

Child 5: You can just put the camera on your computer and then you can do the video.

Man 3: Good work. All right.

Dana: For our health, our homes, our families, for the precious gift of sight.

Lisa Levine:: So the way I want you to use this video at home, after you've practiced with me a couple of--

Video work and the internet are the next big wave of how we're trying to reach out to teens and youth, to pull them into the Jewish music scene, either by teaching via the internet, conferencing via the internet, connecting in so many different ways through videos and music. So that's how she got sucked into it.

Dana: Generations of community, united hearts and souls and they all shall dream dream, and you shall see visions. And our hopes will rise to the sky.

Lisa Levine: Excellent. Awesome.

Allison: We have to understand that literacy is just not about text, and it's even not just about what's visual. It's about the combination of the visual, the oral, the interactivity and being able to support children in all different ways. The technology is a way to do it, so you don't need the gifted teacher all the time. You can get a kid with passion at home doing the things, and then going into school and saying, "Look, look what I've done."

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Video Credits

Produced and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Coordinating Producer

  • Lauren Rosenfeld


  • Steve Jensen

Camera Crew

  • Brian Buckley
  • Brett Wiley
  • James Pride
  • Ken Ellis

Production Support

  • Amy Erin Borovoy

Production Assistant

  • Doug Keely

Senior Video Editor

  • Karen Sutherland


Webkinz: Toy stuffed animals that come with a unique secret code that allows access to the Webkinz World Web site, where the user owns a virtual version of the pet for online interaction.

Digital native: A person raised in a technological environment who accepts that environment as the norm, and who often has grown up surrounded by digital devices, such as mp3 players and cell phones, and regularly uses these devices to interact with other people and the outside world.

Sources: Wikipedia.org, DigitalNative.org


Discussion Questions

1. Is Dana typical of kids in your community? Why, or why not?

2. Technology is just an ordinary part of Dana's family life. Is this true for you and the kids you know?

3. Dana is very enthusaistic about the virtual world Webkinz. What do you think she's getting out of the experience?

4. Dana's parents give her a lot of freedom to explore online, and ask her to talk to them about anything that is inappropriate. Is this practice similar to Internet-use policies in your school or home?

5. Dana's mom defines literacy as "the combination of the visual, the oral, and the interactivity." What implications does this definition have for teaching and learning?




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