january 10 2022

This week we’re talking about YOU- yes you.  Whether you believe it or not, each of you has an incredibly powerful story inside of you (probably more than one).  No one’s life is boring. We all struggle with family drama, have weird issues with friends, and do random stuff that we regret. We all have secrets that we hold inside, gross memories, and times we laughed so hard our bellies hurt.  We have all loved deeply and cried when we lost something important.  Yep, each of you has a story.

Reading Book Read GIF by Laura Salaberry

So, you might be wondering what does this have to do with Social Action?  Well, think about it this way: have you ever felt like no one has understood what you are going through– felt alone in your struggle?  When you tell your story, you are offering up the chance for a bunch of people to relate and not feel so alone.  That is Social Action!

So what’s the best way to tell one of your stories. One way is to create a StoryBooth like this:

Click HERE to visit the Covenant House Website

To submit your story to StoryBooth click HERE.

You can take home a camera (or use your phone) to create a documentary about your life:

Gabriela reveals to her mother that she’s been molested.
A family struggles to survive after the father is incarcerated.

Another way to tell your story is through art. Friday Kahlo created a series of self-portraits that were surrounded by important objects in her life.

Yet another way to tell one of your stories is through music.

Kapone talks about the struggles he’s facing after his uncle commits suicide and his sister is out of control. Click HERE for the lyrics.
Alize’s song tells the story of her parents’ relationship. Click HERE to read the words.

In the past, many students have come to me privately and spoke about intense events that happened in their lives– stories about drugs, relationships, and violence.  I told everyone the same thing: TELL YOUR STORY.  But, if your story reveals details that embarrass you too intensely or gets anyone in trouble, change the names in your story and ask me not to reveal you as the author.  If you’re creating a film, choose actors to play the characters from your life.

Can’t wait to learn your story!

january 3 2022

The work we do here in the Tech Café can sometimes feel overwhelming. We go over SO MANY social issues and use SO MANY tools to talk about them. But here’s the thing: my goal is for you to find ONE issue that you truly care about and run with it!

Stick with it like how you need to jump a thousand times to the rim before you can dunk.

Stick with it like a dog shaking its favorite toy.

Stick to it like cotton candy to your face.

Create mind-blowing projects about the ONE issue that get others to understand the problem and help make it better. Here’s some highlights from this year so far:

Let’s take a moment to review what we’ve spoken about in 2021 and figure out what you’d like to stick with and make 🤯 projects no one has seen before.

We started the year by creating PERSONAL POWER symbols. We were inspired by symbols from throughout history and used tools like stamp making, button making, jewelry, and clay to show off our symbols.

Next we spoke about what it means to be LGBTQ+IA and how to be an ALLY.

After that, we talked about how your SELF-IMAGE is affected by what you see on TV, the music you listen to, and the advertisements you see. This can affect what you think it means to be a “real” guy or girl and a “real” black, Dominican, Muslim, Puerto Rican, etc..

We then did a bunch of activities to “walk in the shoes” of people with visual impairment and mobility issues (AKA feel empathy). Seeing how some of these people overcame their disabilities, lead us to see them as having SUPER-ABILITIES.

DECEMBER 20 2021

Getting out of an unhealthy relationship is difficult and sometimes dangerous. Just because it’s a good decision to leave, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Abusers often trick victims into feeling like there is not a problem or it’s their own fault– this is called “Gaslighting“.

To someone outside the relationship, it may seem obvious that the relationship is awful and needs to end. But the victim may still be holding on to feelings from the honeymoon stage and want to ignore the tension and explosions.

When they decide to end the relationship, it’s important to have a safety plan in place. Some steps that should be taken are:

  1. Don’t do it alone– have someone you trust with you.
  2. Have a cell phone around– in case you have to call for help
  3. Don’t make the abuser angrier than is necessary– breaking up will obviously make them angry, don’t make it worse by saying something that may trigger them to be even angrier.
  4. Tell a trusted friend or family member that you’re going to exit the relationship so they can quickly check-in after.
  5. Set a time limit on the conversation to limit possible manipulation from the abuser.

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How can you teach others to make Safe Exits?

Now that you’ve learned to identify healthy and unhealthy relationships as well as how to safely get out of them, quiz yourself!

DECEMBER 13 2021

Part of becoming an effective social justice warrior against domestic violence (DV) is being able to recognize it. But sometimes DV is hard to see: victims wear masks and abusers hide what they do in public. But there is a way to spot warning signs when you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship. We spoke about the cycle of unhealthy relationships (honeymoon –> tension –> explosion), but there are many more Red Flags. Here’s a series of videos that show some of them:

Recognize signs of abuse

Now, using the list below, let’s watch this video. Help identify what signs you see in the videos:

Here is a list of 10 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship. How can you teach others what to look for? One idea: look at the symbols used in the list– how can you create jewelry or clay pieces that show them?

When people are trapped in an abusive relationship, they often do not share with others what is going on. It’s like they are wearing a mask that on the outside tells everyone things are OK. But on the inside, they are filled with darkness. How can we shine a light on these masks?

What do the wires and lock symbolize in this mask?

*Sometimes I hear students say, “I’ve already created a mask”. Please remember that some artists spend their WHOLE LIVES creating different masks. These masks are wildly creative, using all sorts of interesting materials.

As you saw with the short films made by OneLove, sometimes it’s better to see what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like, than to just talk about it. One way to show people about these relationships is to create comics. Watch how to do it below:

The Code for 5th Grade is:

The Code for 6th Grade is:

The Code for 7th Grade is:

The Code for 8th Grade is:


Last we spoke about The Cycle of Unhealthy Relationships: Honeymoon–>Tension–>Explosion–>Honeymoon–>Tension–>Explosion. Opening people’s eyes to this cycle, may help them exit the relationship before it gets worse:

We also watched a rap video about an abusive relationship. In it, the boyfriend made his girlfriend change her outfit when she was going dancing. He FaceTimed her in the Supermarket to make sure she was actually there. He also islotated her from her friends by lying, saying they had made moves on him.

Taking control of someone’s life like that is called crossing boundaries.

Image result for look out for red flags
A Red Flag is a warning sign that tells you something is going wrong.

When your partner frequently crosses boundaries, it is a RED FLAG.

Here’s a StoryBoard with some examples:

Let’s dive deeper into the idea of boundaries.

Imagine if I were to do this activity:

  1. Fist bump someone sitting next to you
  2. Now, lean on each other’s shoulders
  3. Now, go forehead to forehead

When I say that last one, your reaction is likely to be “UH…NO!!!” Welp, this is the idea of crossing boundaries. In Unhealthy relationships, the abuser often crosses boundaries. It’s important at the beginning of a relationship to set boundaries, call out your partner when they cross them, and leave if they keep crossing them. Here are a few boundaries to discuss with your partner:

We can also look at the reverse. What does a good relationship look like? Here are some ideas:

How could you show a healthy or unhealthy relationship in a comic?

Are you in a relationship or wondering whether you’d be a good partner? Take this quiz:

Not into relationships? Click HERE to see some tips for healthy friendships.

Here are a few project ideas for those interested in working to end Domestic Violence:

Take your masks to the next level by adding clay to create DV Monsters or victims:

*Create posters that show what good relationships look like.

*Create posters about Boundaries– what are RED FLAGS to look for?

Create a Pixton Comic showing healthy or unhealthy relationships. –> 6th Graders click HERE to join, 7th Graders click HERE to join, 8th Graders click HERE to join.

Write (and perform?) a spoken word poem about DV like this:

Make a podcast!

November 29 2021

This month we will be talking about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Domestic Violence (DV) will be a big part of this discussion.

For many students at The Island School this social issue will not be easy. Please let me know if you need to take a break outside of the classroom during the mini-lessons– I’ll give you an activity and have one of my assistants hang out with you.

There’s nothing worse than having someone in your home who hurts you and the people you care about. Homes are supposed to be safe and full of love. When they’re not, it can tear your world apart, making it hard not to feel sad and angry. It can interfere with friendships, with school, and every other part of your life. You might blame yourself for not being able to stop it or be filled with a need for revenge against the abuser.

For this social issue, some students who have experienced DV might choose to tell their stories. Telling your story is important for lots of reasons. First, when your release your dark experiences into the world, it can feel like taking a weight off of you. For some reason, that’s how humans work. Second, when you shine a light on this darkness, you can make others feel less alone who are experiencing abuse. Finally, you can help people recognize if they’re in an unhealthy relationship and show them how to get help.

Telling your story can include creating art, music, podcasts, pottery, embroidery, T-shirts, or documentaries. It is important for your family’s safety and privacy that you don’t use your real names or images in this storytelling.

In abusive relationships, there are patterns of abuse. These are things that you’ll find over and over again. One of these patterns is called “The Cycle of Unhealthy Relationships. Here’s what it looks like:

Let’s begin by watching a rap video about a woman struggling with domestic violence. As you watch it, focus on the cycle that keeps happening:

How many cycles happened in the video?

Now that we have begun talking about domestic violence– here comes the hard part: doing something about it. For those of you touched by this issue, how can you help others to see the cycles of unhealthy relationships? How would you paint it? What would your song sound like? How about making a graphic novel? Maybe you can create your own film? What about interviewing someone who has gone through this (but remember to keep their identity private).

November 22 2021

Simah Herman has started an anti-vaping campaign from her hospital bed. Credit: Instagram/simahherman

Last week we spoke about the dangers of vaping e-cigarettes. Many students were surprised at how much nicotine was in a JUUL Pod:

They were also shocked to find out that not only was Nicotine ridiculously addictive, but also permanently changes your brain so that you are more likely to become an adult addict. Nicotine also causes mood swings, depression, and irritability.

But what I think was most eye-opening for students was the idea that the cigarette companies that own e-cigarettes WANT kids to start vaping. Not only do they create kid-friendly flavors, but they put advertisements near schools on purpose! In fact, JUUL bought ads on CoolMath and Cartoon Network! YOU. ARE. THEIR. TARGET.

Test your knowledge about Vaping:

So what can we do about it? We’ve already begun creating songs and art to get the work out about nicotine and the fact that E-cigarette companies want to get kids hooked so they keep buying more and more and more. Some students are even working on projects to get the bodegas near the school to stop showing advertisements for e-cigarettes near our school.

When it comes to art, you can create SUBVERSIVE works that make fun of e-cigarettes and tells the truth about them. Check out this slideshow to learn more:

It would be really cool if someone created a documentary talking about vaping in school. Here’s one that Island Schoolers made about tobacco cigarettes:

-For those of you interested in writing a song about Vaping, I am offering a prize for every finished song with music and lyrics. Here’s an example:

Here’s a SoundTrap tutorial I did for making a Covid-19 song. You can use it as a guide to making a song about Vaping:

November 13 2021

Animated GIF
Smoking E-Cigarettes is D O R K Y

Those students who’ve taken my class before know I’ve done a bunch of lessons on the dangers of vaping. These lessons included facts like these:

Despite these lessons, there are kids (maybe even in this school) who are still vaping! I think there’s a lot of reasons for this. What are some reasons that come to your mind?

Vaping seems harmless– it’s not like stinky cigarettes. In fact, there are amazing flavors! Bubblegum, Mango, and Cucumber– yum!

The e-cigarette companies KNOW kids like flavors and they market it to you on purpose, even though you’re supposed to be 18 to buy their products.

Yep, tobacco companies (they own the big E-cigarette brands like Juul, by the way), are evil. They purposely place tobacco ads near schools and in communities of color.

Have you noticed Vaping advertisements near The Island School?

OK, so we know that the tobacco companies are trying to get kids to vape. But really, what’s so bad about doing it?

pop popcorn GIF by Regal Cinemas

Well, once upon a time, a bunch of microwave popcorn factory workers began having the most disturbing thing happen. It became hard for them to breathe– and when they did there was this crunchy crackly sound that came out. After doctors saw the workers, they began referring to it as “Popcorn Lung”. Not long after, scientists discovered that Popcorn Lung is caused by inhaling a chemical called Propylene Glycol which is released when manufacturing microwave popcorn. Now the popcorn factory workers wear protective masks to avoid inhaling it.

But guess what’s in Vapes? Propylene Glycol

Here’s another reason not to Vape. The heated coils in e-cigarettes release small metal particles into your lungs that can cause cancer and problems with your body’s ability to fight off diseases (AKA your immune system).

But by far the worst ingredient in E-Cigarettes is Nicotine. Nicotine is EVIL. It is EXTREMELY addictive and can have seriously awful effects on your life:

Nicotine creates INTENSE irritability– you get angry too easily–everyone and everything BOTHERS you.
Once Nicotine hooks you, it’s RIDICULOUSLY hard to quit

So what can we do about it?  How can we get teens to understand why Vaping is so bad for you and get them to stop. Here are a few ideas:

  • Create “Pledge” bracelets out of metal or leather (or both) that people can wear if they agree never to vape.
  • Make posters that show teens the dangers of vaping that we can put up around school.
  • Create “Pledge” bracelets out of metal or leather (or both) that people can wear if they agree never to vape.

November 8 2021

This week we will continue to talk about how art and invention can help improve the lives of people with disabilities. Stephen Sanchez broke his back in a work accident and could no longer walk. This bodysuit changed that:

This week we will continue to talk about how art and invention can help improve the lives of people with disabilities. Stephen Sanchez broke his back in a work accident and could no longer walk. This bodysuit changed that:

David Aguilar was born without a hand and used Legos to create his own. Below is the story, but you can click HERE to see Version 2 of the arm.

Below are two sets of Lego Instructions to build your own robotic hands– one powered by air (pneumatics) and the other powered by electric motors:

Of course mechanical inventions aren’t the only way of improving the lives of people with disabilities. Experiencing great art can as well. But how does someone with a visual impairment “see” art? One possibility is to have them TOUCH it. This is called Tactile Art.

Students have already created pieces like this in The Tech Cafe. You can check them out below. Grab a drill, nails, canvas, and paint– then make your own! Don’t forget to add a message in Braile to your audience.

November 1 2021

Up until now, there’s been a missing piece to the puzzle of how The Tech Cafe works. You see, Dr. Lahana has been giving you the issues that he feels are important to talk about. But these might not be the issues that YOU care about! So, for the first 15 minutes of class today. Take a computer and headphones, then go to Once you’re there. You can explore the journal or dive deeper into other social issues on the site:

As you explore, use your journal to write down one or more interesting or surprising things you learned.

One of my favorite books of all time is called STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST. In it, the author writes:

It’s true! Nothing is ever brand new. Instead, great new art and new inventions steal from old ones and make them BETTER. So, for those of you interested in creating art today, I’d like you to do a gallery walk.

Find one or more posters that inspire you. Maybe it’s the colors they chose, the symbols they used, the style of lettering, or the cause they are fighting for. Take a few notes in your journal and then create your own social action poster for a cause YOU care about. Feel free to steal as many ideas from other artists as you want!

For my inventors, stealing often involves learning how machines that have already been created work, then improving on them. Today, you will be building a lego design involving gears and the mounting of a battery pack and motor. Many of you struggled last week with getting your motor and battery pack to fit on your design without having to hold it. This build should help!

OCTOBER 25 2021

Last week, we spoke about the SUPER-abled people who have overcome physical challenges to successfully live in a world built for those with typical bodies. Here are some more examples.

Next, we explored EMPATHY and how it can help us build better inventions for people with disabilities. Here’s another example of an invention to help people in wheelchairs:

This invention would not be possible without GEARS!

To further understand how inventions like this stand-up wheelchair works, let’s explore GEARS:

Gears are found in tons of everyday inventions like bicycles and watches. A few important ideas you need to know about gears:

  • When two gears come together it’s called MESHING.
  • When two gears mesh they move in the OPPOSITE direction (A and B below). Add another gear, and it once again goes in the same direction as the first (A and C below).
  • When a LARGE gear drives a SMALL gear , the SMALL gear goes FAST. When a SMALL gear drives a LARGE gear, the large gear goes SLOW.

For your activity today, design a “gear train”– a bunch of gears meshed together so that the first gear drives the others:

Now add A LOT of gears!

This week we will also dive deeper into a revolutionary invention created to help people who are blind and those with visual impairment to read and write. It’s called Braille. For this activity, you will be reading and writing Braille:

  1. Choose a partner.
  2. Take a braille tablet, stylus, and a piece of paper.
  3. Study the chart HERE.
  4. Place a piece of paper in the tablet and write a single letter (Your partner should NOT be watching you).
  5. Take the paper out of the tablet and have your partner close their eyes. Pass the paper to your partner and have them read the braille.
  6. Have your partner try to identify the letter.
  7. Repeat, but this time switch who writes the letter in braille
  8. Now, do the same, but this time, choose a 3-letter word.

OCTOBER 18 2021

We’ve spent the first month forming symbols of our personal strengths so that we can draw on them to do social action. We also spoke about the importance of blocking stereotypes that poison our self-image. Helping other kids see the toxic images that the media feeds to us and teaching them to block it out is a hugely important social issue– please keep working on creating paintings, pottery, embroidery, and stamps for this issue if you care about it!

For our next topic, we will be talking about inventions to help people with disabilities. Let’s begin by learning about some of the challenges that people with disabilities face and how they overcome them:

Have you ever heard the expression: Walk a mile in someone’s shoes? What does it mean?

Imagine if I created a large clear cube with wheels and a navigation system to get you where you wanted to go. It would never get close to anybody so you'd never bump into them.  It would be big enough so that people would move out of the way on the sidewalk.

Now imagine if, instead, you created a set of small wheels (like Heelys)in a pair of shoes that also contained a navigation system to get you where you wanted to go.  Which would feel better to use?

Great inventors get into the shoes of the people they are trying to help. But they don’t just try to think the way they think 🧠, they try to feel how they feel ❤️. How does it feel not to be able to walk around a new city and find the Mexican restaurant you are looking for? The better you understand how something feels, the better your solution will be. That’s because you can judge whether your invention would make you feel better.

FEELING what other people feel is called EMPATHY. The trick to feeling empathy is to find a time in your life where you faced a tough challenge. Go back to the time and feel the emotion you felt then. Then, tell yourself, THIS is something like what that person is feeling.

Now, because we are trying to EMPATHIZE with humans with different abilities, let’s do a couple of activities to experience their world.


1- Click on the maze below and print it out:

2- Now, take a pair of goggles that have been specially transformed. See if you can complete the maze with them on.

After you finish, be prepared to answer these questions when we meet back up:

  • What was it like to try to complete the maze?
  • How would it have gone if you didn’t have to wear the goggles?
  • How do you think being visually impaired changes the way you live?


For your next empathy activity:

1- Get a sheet of paper and a pen.

2- Take a roll of masking or duct tape and use it to tape up your hand and thumb together.

3- Using just your taped hand, try to sign your name on the paper 3 times.

After you finish, be prepared to answer these questions when we meet back up:

  • What was it like to have limited mobility?
  • What changes would you have to make to your daily activities if your arm was like this permanently?

Here are a couple of project ideas:

  1. Create the navigation shoes using Lego, wood, and/or cardboard
  2. Make a Cardboard Prosthetic hand by clicking HERE.