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.

OCTOBER 12 2021

Last week we focused on GENDER stereotypes and how media like TV and Instagram feed you images of what you should look like, act like, and want. Boys should be tough, muscular, sporty, rich, and, of course, be players.

Girls should dress sexy, be flirty, have perfect skin, and let guys be in control.

If you don’t match what they feed you, then you are not an attractive or important guy or girl. Then, when you look in the mirror, you don’t feel good enough.

To keep a healthy SELF-IMAGE, we need to value what’s important, so we made masks that reflect what’s important about ourselves.

Of course, stereotypes about GENDER aren’t the only thing that affects your SELF-IMAGE. As with the Kim Kardashian commercial above, the media also pressures people to be skinny. Here are some graphics that battle against this pressure:

Sanaa, an 8th grader, was inspired by the cactus graphic. She used pottery, wood, and bottles, to make an art piece about accepting your weight:

Open up your Journal. Write or draw who you see and what they’re doing, when I say the following words:


When I said Muslim did you think of a doctor, a filmmaker, a terrorist, or something else?

When I said Doctor, did you think of a White man, a Native American, someone Transgender, someone in a wheelchair, or something else?

When I said Asian did you think of a dentist, a choreographer, a Chinese restaurant cook, a computer programmer, or something else?

When I said Janitor did you think of a black or hispanic man, a Jewish lesbian, a blind Latina, or something else?

When I said Airplane Pilot did you think of a Black woman, a grandmother, a gay Asian woman, a white man, or something else?

When I said Native American, did you think of a man in a headdress, a young choreographer, a deaf computer programmer, or something else?

We often use stereotypes as shortcuts instead of taking the time to learn about people we meet. It’s hard to change people’s negative stereotypes, especially when TV shows, video games, music videos, and social media keep pushing them onto us. We need to push back by showing the world why their stereotypes are wrong and how each of us is more amazing than the lame stereotypes we’re given.

Use the page below to help you create anti-stereotype portraits. These portraits can shake people free from their negative stereotypes and open them up to seeing each stranger as uniquely awesome. 

Summing it all up, is my favorite poet, Prince Ea:

scared reflection GIF

OCTOBER 4 2021

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?

It’s both an easy question and a hard one. On the one hand- it’s just you! On the other hand, the way you see yourself comes from how your friends, family, and neighborhood see you. It also comes from social media: what you show others on Instagram, Facebook, Snap, and so on…

What you see in the mirror also comes from what the media (music videos, advertisements, movies, TV shows…) tell you that you should look and act like. That’s what we’re going to talk about for our newest social issue: SELF IMAGE.

self image = how you see your abilities, appearance, and personality.

Let’s begin by watching some videos. In your journal, write down all the ways girls and boys need to act, what they need to care about and look like to be part of the world in the videos..

Made with Padlet

Now let’s watch some videos that try to push back against what boys and girls should be like. Again, what do you need to be like to fit into this world and what do you need to own?


Finally, let’s watch a couple of projects that challenge you to think deeper about your self-image:

Hopefully, you’re beginning to see how self-image isn’t something you’re born with and stays the same. Instead, it gets affected by the music you listen to, the videos you watch, the social media you take in, and the way your friends and family treat you. If you believe that everyone should be able to be themselves and not be trapped by what others want you to be like, what can you do about it? Here are some ideas, but please think of your own too!

  • Create a documentary about gender sterotypes. What do people in this school think they have to be like to be accepted. Do they every go against sterotypes?
  • Write and perform a spoken word poem like Prince Ea
  • Make jewlery and t-shirts that show off your true identity!
  • Make a claywork that has a stereotype object like a dollar bill or gun cracking open to reveal something deeper inside like family symbol, a diploma, or a job symbol.
  • make a self portrait with paint or Legos. Your portrait can be surrounded by the people and activities that make you you.

september 27 2021

This week we’ll be talking about the “T” in LGBTQ+IA. It stands for Transgender and non-binary.



If you’re transgender it means that the gender you’re assigned at birth doesn’t describe what you feel deep in your heart. Instead, most transgender people feel that they are of the opposite gender.

“Bi” means two. If you have a binary gender identity it means you feel like either a (1) girl or a (2) boy. If you’re non-binary, it means you don’t see yourself as falling in the category of girl or boy. Instead, you may feel like a unique blend of genders (gender creative) or neither a girl nor a boy (agender).

So why is this important to learn about? Well, first off, there are likely many people in your life (or maybe you yourself) that are transgender or non-binary, but are afraid to say it. The problem is that when you can’t be your REAL self it’s depressing. Many transgender and non-binary people get bullied, kicked out of their homes, and may consider suicide because of this rejection.

What can you do about it? BE AN ALLY! Help create a welcoming vibe at the Island School and in your community. If people are being homophobic or transphobic, stand up for them!

It’s also important to learn the “pronouns” transgender and non-binary people want to be called. Here’s an explanation:

What can you create to help people better understand Gender Identity and create a more welcoming environment in our school and your neighborhood? Here are some ideas:

  • Create a clay symbol to show the acceptance of all gender identities
  • Make Ally buttons
  • Make a children’s book like this one from Jazz, to help young children to under different kinds of gender identities

september 20 2021

Related image

One of the ways this class works is that we talk about problems that are really happening in our lives. Here’s a problem I’m having that started last week.

On Monday, at recess, I heard a student going around saying, “Hey, you heard? ***** is gay.” On Tuesday two students were teasing each other: “yoooo, that’s mad gay!” On Friday, another student started his compliment of another’s sneakers by saying, “No homo, but…” All three of these comments are homophobic–can you explain why?

This really confused me. In many ways, The Island School seems like a really welcoming place for the LGBTQ+IA community. We have gay, lesbian, and bisexual students who speak about their sexuality openly. On the other hand, you still hear people saying the stuff I heard last week.

So here’s my first question:

Is the Island School a safe place to be LGBTQIA? Why or why not? Tell a story to prove it.
Are you surprised that Lil Nas X faces homophobia as a rapper?

In our Makerspace, what can we create to help expose the homophobia we see around us and teach each other how to be more welcoming to our LGBTQ+IA community? Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a documentary film that interviews people about about how to get rid of homophobia in our school. Or, create a fictional movie about someone experiencing homophobia in school.
  • An Ally stands up for the LGBTQ+IA community (even if they themselves are not LGBTQ+). Make an ALLY symbol out of clay, as a stamp, or button. Click HERE to learn more about what an Ally is.

september 13 2021

I don’t have to tell you, there’s a lot wrong in this world. People continue to get sick from COVID-19 and many refuse to get vaccinated. Kids are feeling depressed after all the death and isolation created by the pandemic. There are homeless everywhere, lots of guns leading to lots of unnecessary deaths, women on tv and in video games being nothing more than sexy bodies to stare at (instead of creative and powerful minds to listen to), police and politicians treating some races and classes better than others, advertisements everywhere making you feel bad about yourselves, kids getting bullied online, the climate changing in scary ways, people getting addicted to all sorts of things…just to name a few.

Are we just going to stand there and let this all keep on going?  Are you just a kid who has zero things to say about any of this and zero power to DO anything about this?  


Doing something about all these problems is called Social Action.

Social action can be dangerous.  You are fighting against problems that are often caused by people with lots of money or power or both.  Going up against them is risky. As game maker Zoe Quinn said, “lf video games have taught me anything, it’s that if you encounter enemies, then you’re going the right way.”  

And remember, during this journey, even though i don’t have all the answers,  I always have your back.   Whatever you need to make your project happen, we’ll do it.  period.

Because social action is dangerous, we need to focus on each of your strengths. Every superhero has their powers, what’s yours?

Over the next month, you will select your strength and create a symbol to represent it. In the process, you’ll learn how to use a bunch of the tools in our Makerspace (AKA The Tech Cafe). By the end, you’ll have your superpower symbol to wear proudly in preparation for your social action adventures. So let’s begin: