Lego Robotics: A line of Lego kits used to explore robotics, mechanical systems, electronics, and programming.
Geographic information system (GIS): A system that integrates hardware, software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information.
Sources: Wikipedia.org, GIS.com
1. Is Luis typical of kids in your community? Why, or why not?
2. Luis has a demanding academic schedule but still spends a lot of time online and with community service. Do these activities complement each other? Or do you think he is overextending himself?
3. How is Luis using technology to improve the lives of his family members?
4. How does the Tech Wizards program empower students?
5. How do you think the Lego Robotics program benefits Luis and the kids he works with?
Digital Youth Q&A: Luis
My name is Luis. I'm 18 years old, and I live in Oregon. Tech Wizards has really helped me out with what I wanted to learn about. It helped me learn about the technology but also about how to express myself with the technology and how to create things that I want to do and share with the community and not just keep it to myself.
Edutopia.org: What does technology mean to you?
Luis: It's a better way to connect with families, connect with friends, a better way to help me improve my studies and find out information and use it for the community, not just for myself. I really enjoy technology, because it's easy to use, easy to obtain, and easy to put in practice.
Tell me about your family.
My mom and my dad are from a state in Mexico by the name of Michoacán. My mom came here in about 1986, and my dad in about 1985. They both came here as rural immigrants looking for jobs. My mom came and stayed with my uncle at his apartment. My dad stayed with his friends. They met at a nursery and actually got married there.
I was born four years later, in 1990. In 1995, my mom had a little brother and had an accident and lost my little brother. About a year later, my other little brother, Giovanni, was born, and I thought that was a really good blessing.
My older sister had been born in Mexico. She's a lot older than I am. She's 29. She came here when she was about 11 years old and took care of me when I was a baby. I remember getting into fights with her. There's a pretty crazy story: She told me that when I was three years old, she took something away from me, and I got so mad, I threw a fork at her and missed her eye by just a few inches. I was like, "Wow, that really happened?"
My sister works at a home for disabled people. She loves working with them. In 2005, my older brother, Umparo, came from Mexico. He works in an auto-body repair shop. He says he likes it here, and he's definitely trying to improve his way of life. He's taking English classes and learned a lot about computers.
Recently, both my mom and my dad have started trying to learn about computers as well. My dad recently got a promotion, a management job, and I've offered to help teach him about computers, teach him how to make Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. So, we are all trying to just improve on whatever we know as a family.
My sister, who's older than me, had the opportunity to go to college, but, sadly, she didn't take advantage of it. She's always told me that I should take advantage of the opportunity to go to college, to increase my abilities, to learn, to teach.
As far as being the first person in my family to go to college, it definitely excites me, but my mom doesn't really want me to leave. She thinks it's not going to be safe on campus. She's always saying, "No, you have to stay until you're maybe 22, until you get married." I'm like, "That’s not how I really want to do it." So I hope we can just go forward together and learn from the experience.
I've always been the person that goes with my mom for clinic appointments and when she needs to speak with someone in the bank and there's nobody to translate. Since I was little, I remember she always said, "Luis, come with me over here. Luis, come with me over here."
I would always ask, "Why can't my sister go? Why can't my sister go?" And she'd say, "You’re the one that's going. You're the one that's in school right now. You're the one that's learning." So I was always the one going with her and going with my dad as well.
Then this evolved since I started learning about online banking a few years back. I started getting them involved with it, saying, "Look, Mom, we can check your bill online. You don't need to go to the bank anymore. You can pay bills there." My sister recently got a computer, and she always says, "You're the first one I called to help me hook it up. Teach me about how to use it." I mean, my sister's 29, but this is the first time she's actually picked up a computer and started using it!
My parents said the only time they ever used technology was the ATM. That was technology for them. They said they took a while to learn how to do that. What I like to explain to them is that I like using technology not just for myself but also to try to help others and to teach others. Like with Lego Logo, I show them how to program, give them advice on how to move this around, change this.
My parents always ask me, "Why are you staying out all the time after school? Why don't you ever come home?" I tell them, "I'm trying to help other people. I'm trying to help the community." Once they actually came and saw what I was doing, they said, "All right, yeah, it does make a big difference. It's a lot different than just staying after school and playing video games."
Every six months, we get a group of students to learn about building the Legos and programming the Legos to do something, not just to move around but to actually move blocks from point A to point B or push levers. Recently, we took a group of students to Hillsboro High School, where they competed in the Lego tournament.
It was not just about how well their robot did but also about teamwork, how well they worked together and how well the robot was constructed. They even presented a project relating to climate change and what they can do as young children to help out the environment.
They're not just learning about the technology of how to build robots; they're also learning about working together. I think that's the most important part: working together as a team, learning to compromise.
If some child wants to make the robot go forward and turn left and the other doesn't, they could compromise and say, "OK, we'll make it do this first, but you have to let me do this other part that I want to do." In the future, they might be working on something big, building a space shuttle, and those are skills I believe we should learn at an early age.
Before Tech Wizards, I had a lot of ideas of what I wanted to learn about. Tech Wizards has really helped me out with that. It helped me learn about the technology but also about how to express myself with the technology and how to create things that I want to do and share with the community and not just keep it to myself.
I was very quiet. I was very reserved, just trying to do the work by myself. But once I got to know all the other past students at the Tech Wizards program, they showed me that it's always a team effort, and we always have to work together.
It came as a surprise to me that I'm taking four Advanced Placement classes in one day. It's starting to get pretty tough, but I think I can do it. If I just set an amount of time to complete each class's work, then I think I'll be able to pass my classes well.
Tell me about the Tech Wizards Street Tree Inventory Project.
I was not one of the students involved in starting the program. I came in about two years later. The students that began the program went outside and checked what were the problems in the city, what could be done about them? They decided to do a project on the street trees, the value and the conditions of the trees, and then report that to the city. When I started getting involved with them, I wasn't that sure if I really wanted to do it. It seemed like a big job.
When I first started doing it, I was just learning the software involved in creating the maps called ArcGIS. Basically, you take geo reference points, which means points that have the information of where the tree is in relation to a map.
You just plot those points on a map, and you choose icons for them, and then it's just basic cartography after that, making sure the map looks all right, it has the legend, everything's aligned right. That's what I started with, just making the maps. The other students were in charge of actually collecting the data.
Last year, I was involved for the first time in collecting the data. It was definitely a good experience for me. I didn't know how to use the PDAs. I quickly learned how to use them. I learned you have to be very precise, because it's difficult to change the data after you've already input it into the PDA.
I got a group of friends that came and helped me out. We were a little group, and we divided the whole neighborhood into blocks, and each team would take a block or two. At first, I thought it would be pretty easy -- this is how high it is; this is how wide it is. But actually, it does take some time. There were some blocks with about only 30 trees, and then there were some huge ones that had almost 70 trees, so it varied a lot.
We always start at one of the corners, to be consistent with all the blocks. When we got there, we had our PDA and field notes so we could have a way of checking our work and making sure everything was correct. The information we collected included the species of the tree. We gave it a label to distinguish it from other trees in the area. We collected its height, its width, the canopy size, the conditions.
We're not arborists, but we kind of made a measure. If this tree looks all right, then we'll say "good." We didn't find out until later that we had a scale -- poor, fair, good, excellent -- and we didn't realize that we couldn't rate a tree excellent because we're not arborists. Some of the trees we did label excellent, but then, after we started editing, we had to change all those trees. But that was the information we collected.
We collected it twice, both in the field notes and in the PDA. We made sure we plotted the tree precisely on the map on the PDA, and we either moved onto another block or went back to edit the data.
How did you learn about digital video?
I started the digital-video class when I was sophomore. I started learning through my mentor, Cecilia. She taught us about the different types of wide shots, close-ups, and mid-shots. We also learned about the different types of cameras, the lenses, how we should zoom. We started doing interviews. What are good questions? Yes-or-no questions aren't very good; you need more in-depth questions, comprehensive questions.
We divided into groups, and each group did its own project, and it could either be related to something fun, like a music video, or something more in depth, like a community project, such as filming the local flea market, which we did in our first video. Some groups filmed a soccer match, so there were a lot of differences in what everybody did, but we had to make sure we knew the techniques, even on a simple level, and apply them to our videos.
We've been asked by the Red Cross to produce an instructional video on child safety, on when they're home alone. Yesterday, we watched a video that they had, and we noticed that it seemed outdated -- like, the phones looked old. They were using corded phones. There was no mention of cell phones or the Internet. So we definitely want to make an updated video to show the kids what they should do, how they should use the Internet and cell phones in case of an emergency, or just to be safe at home.
Describe a typical day in your life.
In the morning, I wake up around 5:30. I usually turn on the computer, check email, just really quick. I go downstairs and have breakfast. I come back upstairs by around 6:30. I either have to take my mom to the bus stop or to the Mac rail station to go to work.
I come back, wake up my brother, and make sure he gets ready for school, and then we both brush our teeth. He has breakfast. We go out the door maybe around 7:20. I drop him off at his middle school, then I go to school. I probably get there around 7:40. School starts at 7:55.
My first period of class on A days is precalculus. My second class is accounting. My third class is geometry, and my fourth class is English. And after school -- it depends on the day, but on a Monday or a Thursday, I usually stay after school to do extra work. And on Tuesday, I go to the SMILE club -- a science, math, and engineering club. It's not very technical. It's more fun, but we do get to learn a little bit about the different properties of chemicals.
I've been involved with that club for about five years, since middle school. Every year, around April, we go to the OSU SMILE Challenge in Corvallis, at Western Oregon University and Oregon State University. We do engineering projects related to the ocean or genetics. On Wednesdays, I have the Tech Wizards Program. I usually get there around 3. We have snacks, and then we have a fun icebreaker activity. We get into our groups, Legos, video, Web 2.0 software.
After that, I go pick up my brother at my cousin's house and drive home. I either drop him off, or he comes with me to pick up my mom at work. She works about 10 miles from our house. We come back, and my mom starts dinner.
I go to my room, check my email, check my Facebook page, Wikipedia, and YouTube. I check my email through Gmail. I check the news on Yahoo. I go to technology Web sites to see what's up, what new technology is coming out.
I also check my Facebook account and see which friends are on. I talk to them about my day, talk to them about homework. I check YouTube, watch videos. The most important is Facebook, because that's where I get to talk to my friends. That's where, if I can't go out, I at least know they're there and they can talk to me.
If I need help with homework, they're there. I also can text message them. It's a kind of multitasking task, so I can be working on a project, on a paper, on Word, and then be chatting with them through Facebook.
I come back, help my mom out and set the table. My dad and my older brother arrive, and we have dinner. My parents usually watch TV downstairs. I sometimes join them, or I'll go upstairs and watch TV. When I'm checking my email, I'm actually doing homework as well. I finish everything up and watch maybe another half hour of television and then go to bed, maybe around 10.
Who has been influential in your life?
My science teachers. I've known them for the four years I've been in high school, and they've always been a really great help -- Mrs. Jones, Mr. Gray, and Mr. Poff; I've always known them. Since science is usually the hardest class I take, they usually try to motivate me to stay on top of my homework and make sure I study for tests.
My mentors from Tech Wizards, Cecilia Heron and Lisa Conroy, they always try to find opportunities for me to demonstrate how can I help the community. So, I'm really thankful to them for that.
Of course, the biggest influence in your life is your parents. They're the ones that teach you your morals, to be active, and to actually do something with your life.
When did you first learn how to use a computer?
The first time I remember using computers? Maybe in kindergarten. We had these really old computers. All we would use them for was Math Works and Reading Works. I really liked using them. I thought they were great.
But the first time I actually got involved with computers was when I bought this really old Windows 3.1 computer from my uncle. He had just bought it at a garage sale, and I bought it and started playing around with it, seeing what I could do, noticing how to change the fonts, how to open programs.
After that, I went through a lot of older computers I had bought at thrift stores and garage sales, and I opened them up to see what was inside, how things were connected. But I actually started getting involved with digital media when I bought my own computer, about four years ago. It took that long. I kept nagging my parents for years to buy me a computer, but once they bought it, I started trying to do everything, like burning CDs, making small videos, getting on the Internet.
The first major trip I took was to the Dominican Republic, about two years ago. I was a little bit speechless when Lisa Conroy called me. She said, "Luis, I was thinking. Would you like to go to the Dominican Republic?" I asked, "What?" I had never traveled anywhere besides Mexico and the United States, anywhere foreign like that. So that experience was great. I got to definitely learn about the culture. The weather is very humid over there. It's really hot, even in the rain!
Last summer, I got to go to San Diego as part of the national GIS team, which includes students from other states. We presented the Street Tree Project at the annual GIS users' conference, the biggest conference of geographic-information-systems users. I got to explain more about the process because, by then, I was involved in collecting the data.
The recent trip I took was to Chile. That was one of the most fun trips, and I learned the most from it. We didn't go there just to present; we went to teach at a local school. We taught the students about GIS and what they could do.
Because a lot of the students had to walk to the school, they decided to create maps to see the distances, how far each student had to walk, and they mapped the bike routes in the city and how safe they were and what condition they were in. That's the part that I really enjoyed, just teaching them and showing them what the opportunities were for making maps and showing them to the community.
What does the conceptual age mean to you?
"We have left the so-called information age and have entered the conceptual age, where our abilities to think freely and conceive of new things are needed to address human and environmental issues of the future."
This quote was given to me by the 4-H program director, Lisa Conroy. When I first heard this quote from her, it really impressed me, how it described what I've been trying to do and what this whole program has been trying to do.
I always thought of the information age as what we were doing, but I didn't realize that the information age was more about just discovering the ideas and beginning to know the new technologies. The conceptual age is when you apply those ideas and actually put them to use in the community, teaching people how to use the technology and why the technology should be used in the first place.
In the 4-H program, we go out and learn about the environment, learn about water levels and how they've been rising or falling because of the environment, because of what's going on. The idea of moving beyond the information age and entering the conceptual age is not just about obtaining information for yourself, just for your own knowledge and your own benefit, but also about doing it for the benefit of others, teaching others how to use the technology and how to implement technology.
When I started learning about digital media and started learning about the GIS programs, I realized that they wouldn't just be for me, but I had to teach others, too, and that's what I'm beginning to try to do. I want to teach others through the GIS program, how to make the maps and what kind of projects they can do.
The reason I’m so involved in trying to teach others is because of all the opportunities that I've gotten. I realize that it's because of others that I have them. They just presented them to me, and I took advantage of them. I used the opportunity to excel myself, and I want to show others that they can do the same.
Digital technology has improved the quality of my life, because I no longer have go to the bank to check my balance. My parents just say, "Luis, check my account, check my account online," and we don't have to waste gas to go to the bank. The same goes for news. If we didn't have TV, we could still get by with learning all the information just on the Internet, because every news source puts all the information on the Internet. We would have no need for television as well.
What do you want to do in the future?
When I'm older, I definitely want to just keep studying, keep learning about technology and coming back to the schools, to programs like 4-H, and become a volunteer and show students what skills I learned when I was in 4-H so the program can keep sustaining itself and keep going forward into the future.
Career-wise, I'm hoping to go into either computer engineering or video editing. I'm still undecided on that. But it's definitely digital media or electronics.