November 18

This week we will be continuing to talk about what it means to be an Ally of the LGBTQ-IA community. But we are also going to add in a little bit of Sex Education into the mix. Talking about Sex is always a tricky subject in middle school. After all, who wants to talk about sex with their teacher! Nevertheless, most of us other than Asexual people, will grow up to do it– so we need to talk about how to build healthy, safe, and loving relationships. What a lot of it boils down to is making good decisions.

Have you ever been eating a burger and fries with some friends, and someone just took a fry off your tray and ate it? Have you ever had a bag of chips and someone took some without asking? Me too. The kid who took your food did not have your consent. In romantic relationships, consent means giving another person permission to touch you. Let’s begin with an exercise.

hand hello GIF by MadaGarbea
  1. Take a page of circle stickers.
  2. Walk around the room and place stickers on the back of other students’ hands. BUT, ONLY PLACE IT THERE IF YOU GET PERMISSION. Do not place the sticker any place other than the back of someone’s hand.
  3. After I call time, return to your seats.
Oli Frape typography lettering consent sayno GIF

Now that you’ve done the activity, here are a few discussion questions:

  1. Did someone try to put a sticker on you without your permission? What did that feel like?
  2. Did someone say no to you when you asked them to put it on their hand? What did that feel like?
  3. Did you put a sticker on someone’s hand without their permission? Why?

November 4-15

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So here’s something that confuses 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.

At the same time, though, I hear a lot of students saying things like, “no homo…” and “that’s mad gay!” How can both those ways of thinking happen in the same school?

confused confusion GIF

In your journal answer the following questions:

What are the reasons people say NO HOMO to each other? Do you say it? Why or why not?

In The United States, even though we’ve made a lot of progress in getting rid of negative stereotypes of LGBTQ+IA people, they are still discriminated against. Think about it, why would “no homo” and “that’s gay” be something bad, if being LGBTQ+IA was something positive.

Let’s begin by talking about the idea of gender. It seems simple– “I’m a boy or I’m a girl”. But, as you’ll see, it’s more complicated than that.

There are 4 parts to gender:

  1. Identity–>do you feel like a male or female deep inside?
  2. Expression–> Do you act, dress, and socialize like a male or female?
  3. Biological Sex–> Do you have male parts or female parts?
  4. Sexual Orientation–> Are you attracted to males or females?

Image result for transgender flag

Some groups within LGBTQ+IA are particularly discriminated against. For example, President Trump outlawed Transgendered people from serving in the military. Check out THIS social experiment to learn more.

Image result for intersex flag

The “I” in LGBTQ-IA means Intersex– here’s a video to explain what that means.

Image result for ally lgbt

Finally, what does the “A” mean? Two meanings are often given: Asexual and Ally. Asexual means not being sexually attracted to anyone. Ally means that you support LGBTQ+I people and are willing to stand up against the discrimination they face.

Coming out is hard– just ask anyone who has done it. Maybe it’s time to think about people who come out as brave. As Makers, think about helping kids and teens feel good about being themselves like Jazz did in her book.

If you believe that people should be who they want to be and love who they want– why not create some art that speaks that truth and kills “no homo”.

How about making a 2020 version of this video:

Test your knowledge with this Kahoot:

October 28

For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about the cruelty to non-human animals that we support when we eat meat and use cosmetics that test on animals. Remember, non-human animals feel pain and dream just like we do:

We also talked about solutions, like making our own cosmetics and having Meatless Mondays. You can also make cruelty-free cleaners– for more directions click HERE.

Speaking of Meatless Mondays, here’s a quick chart to show some of the foods we can eat instead of meat. As you can see, they have plenty of protein to keep building our muscles:

Some people argue that meat is the only way to get a lot of PROTEIN. Here are the facts. How about creating some art to make one of these proteins look awesome to eat?
How can we shame the meat industry?
Why eat one and not the other?

October 21

Last week, we discovered the horrors of what goes on inside the Meat and Dairy Industry. You learned that non-human like animals cows, chickens, and pigs are treated like objects instead of beings that feel pain and dream. You created amazing art including:

But creating food out of non-human animals is not the only way they are tortured and murdered. We also abuse and kill non-human animals for the things we wear and the cosmetics we use.

Click HERE to see what it Animal Testing really looks like. *WARNING: SUPER DISTURBING*
View this post on Instagram

#WorldDayForAnimalsInLaboratories GO #CRUELTYFREE !! 🐇💕 The most common tests rabbits endure are the Draize Eye & Skin tests. They hold them in full body restraints so that cosmetics, dishwashing liquid, drain cleaner, and other substances can be dripped in their eyes or spread on their shaved and scraped skin.The restraint stops the bunnies from pawing at their eyes or back to relieve the discomfort and so interfere with the experiment. This experiments cause redness, swelling, discharge, ulceration, hemorrhaging, cloudiness, cracking and bleeding or/and blindness AND IT'S NOTORIOUSLY UNRELIABLE, producing highly variable results. Rabbits are killed after the experiment is over. Also used to test vaccines, drugs,medical devices, diseases and disorders of the eyes, skin, heart, & immune system, as well as asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes & more They are used in labs because they are small & gentle & easy to handle, relatively cheap to maintain & they breed fast, creating new test subjects quickly. They have no tear ducts so, unlike humans, they can't cry out harmful substances from their eyes. This means that in the Draize eye test the rabbit's eye is exposed to more of the test chemical for longer periods, which is one of the main reasons why rabbits are chosen for this procedure In addition to the suffering caused by experiments, the laboratory environment itself is also particularly noxious to rabbits, causing great stress, weakening their immune systems, and making them more prone to illness.  They can also suffer sore and damaged feet from standing in metal caging, and even self-mutilate to relieve their anxiety SWITCH TO CRUELTY-FREE PRODUCTS NOW, not just cosmetics but household & hygienic products, perfumes, stop contributing to this madness! It's as easy as checking the labels! There is no excuse cause now a days there are 100s of companies that are not testing on animals. And even better! Look for the vegan logo, that way you'll know that no animals were harmed Animation made by me [@albaparis] Bunny's photo by @peta #albaparis #veganfortheanimals #animaltesting #animalrights #makeup #animalliberation #makeuptutorial #makeuplooks #makeupartist

A post shared by Alba Paris (@albaparis) on

As you’ve seen from the video and infographics, there are many reasons to buy products that are cruelty-free. But instead of buying cosmetics like perfume and cologne, today we’re going to make our own– without hurting a single animal 🙂

To create a great-smelling perfume or cologne, one thing you’ll need to learn about is aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is when you use scents (called “essential oils”) to help people feel good mentally and physically. Here’s a little guide:

For today’s journal, create a simple set of 5 numbered boxes on a page. We will be passing around scents. For each numbered scent, put two adjectives that describe them. For example:

Wet grass
Nacho cheese
Wet Dog
Cardboard Box

You can use this wheel to help you:


If you’re interested in creating more cosmetics, we have the supplies and an actual PERFUMER (a professional perfume and cologne maker) to help you along.

Aside from actually making cosmetics, what will you create to wake people up to the suffering behind their clothes, sneakers, and cosmetics?

October 15

Pablo creates a fresh remix of the Meatless Monday logo using Shrinky Dink
Ginasia used a Wacom Pad to create a better logo for Meatless Monday

Today is a big of a catch-up week. When I went on StoryBoardThat, only a few of you completed your storyboards. Here are a couple of good ones:

Brahima and Zachari’s StoryBordThat talks about the dangers of Nicotine.

Notice how both of these storyboards show *NEW* information that we learned by researching (watching videos, visiting websites, and playing serious games). Please do not include information you already new like “cigarettes cause lung cancer”. Also, don’t include obvious ideas like “smoking is bad for you”. If you need to gather more information, visit:

In your journal, answer the following questions: What did the boy feel about the dog at first? Why? What caused him to change his mind? Write or draw the story of when you changed your mind about someone.

Last week we started out by talking about climate change. We brought up the idea of how cows’ farts, burps, and poop are causing more heat to be trapped into Earth. But, what really seemed to catch everyone’s attention was how animals are treated in factory farms. Some of you were even brave enough to watch the disturbing videos on PETA’s website about how animals are abused.

Your assignment this week is to create a Powtoon animation. In it, someone is about to eat a hamburger and you tell them why they should think twice about it. To help you, let’s do a quick Pro and Con:

For some ideas, click HERE *WARNING: BAD LANGUAGE*

Oh, and one last thing– isn’t it weird that we drink cow’s milk?

October 7

Last week, we spoke about the HUGE issue of climate change. Many of you felt that no matter what an individual does, it won’t make a difference. How can it? Especially, when companies are polluting our environment and countries are cutting down their forests to make room for cows to eat grass. Today we’ll be focusing on one cause of climate change: The Meat and Dairy Industry.

Want to see what it really looks like?  Click HERE (Warning: Extremely Disturbing)

Like Big Tobacco, the Meat and Dairy Industry care about only one thing: MONEY.  They destroy the environment, treat animals like objectsabuse their workers, and put us, the eaters, in danger. The Meat and Dairy Industry is also a leading cause of climate change:

So what can we do about it? It’s true, no one person can make a difference in halting dangerous climate change. However, if all 42 million teens skipped eating meat twice a week, it could make a huge difference! The question is: how can we get them to do it?

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I gotta say– the Meatless Monday logo needs an UPGRADE. Can one of our Island School artists do it?

That’s where you come in: by making amazing songs, documentaries, commercials, art, and craftwork, you can help convince them. What about telling the story about what happens when you decide to not eat meat twice a week? What does your family say at the dinner table (or wherever you eat)?

Image result for vegan jewelry

What about creating a whole jewelry line from Coke cans that say “free the cows”, “Meatless Mondays”. How about a commercial that advertises trees? What about an amazing song from the perspective of a cow in a factory farm.


Find the longer video here.

Your journal assignment today is:

  1. Draw a cow.
  2. Watch The Hidden Cost of Hamburgers or look through THIS infographic:
  3. Write down THREE facts or ideas you learned. They should include:
    • How much meat do we eat here in the U.S.?
    • How much land and water do cows use?
    • Why shouldn’t cows eat corn?
    • Why are cow farts bad?
    • Why is eating meat bad for you?
    • What can we do to lessen the negative impact of cows?

–> Bonus: What can you create to get other teens to eat less cow?

October 2

Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg began skipping school on Fridays in 2018 as a “school strike” to draw attention to the climate crisis. Her protests have launched a global movement among youth.

So what can we do to combat this massive problem? Keep in mind, the adults who caused this only have a couple more decades to be alive. After that, YOU will be in charge. What are you going to do with the power?

One way to be part of the solution is planting trees. In fact, ask me for an elm tree seed and soil!

Right now, you can also consider taking small steps to reduce your “carbon footprint”. Carbon Dioxide is one of the main reasons for climate change. Buying stuff like clothes, jewelry, and electronics creates more Carbon Dioxide. This is because the factories that make the stuff you buy burn lots of fossil fuels to operate. Burning fossil fuels = more carbon dioxide.

To combat this, you can repurpose stuff you’ve already bought and make it into something useful that you may have shopped for otherwise. Here are a couple of examples. For more, simply Google “Upcycle” and click on images.

Toilet Paper Roll Speakers
Denim Pocket Organizer
Headbands from T-shirts
Earings from Folded Coke Cans
Soda Can Pendants
T-Shirt Bags– Instead of Plastic!

Can you think of more ideas?!? Go for it, and I’ll post them here and on our Twitter account!

September 26

Remember: Big Tobacco owns the E-cigarette companies

E-Cigarettes are evil. People are taking notice and things are changing. Here’s a sample of what’s happening in the news this month:

For today’s journal assignment today visit The Real Cost and learn a few new facts. Now, draw three boxes in your journal. In the first box, show your friend smoking. In the second box, show yourself talking to your friend and telling them why they shouldn’t be smoking. In the 3rd box, show their decision. If you HATE drawing, you can also use StoryBoardThat. Print it out and paste it into your journal.

An example from Cody
To gather more fact, click on the image above.

We go through so many issues here in the Tech Café and we move through them pretty fast. Remember: even if we move on to another issue, you can keep researching and creating products to get people to quit or never start smoking.

Some things about smoking we didn’t cover are:

1. that cigarette butts are the most littered object in the world– and they are not bio-degradable.

2. Pharmacies that are supposed to be selling you stuff to keep you healthy, sell cigarettes. Why???

3. Secondhand smoke hurts others. SO, smokers: you’re a bad person for creating that smoke:


Last session we talked about the fact that tobacco companies target communities Black and LatinX communities like The Lower East Side. For HOMEWORK, find an advertisement for a regular cigarette or e-cigarette in your community. Draw it in your journal and include where you found it (for example, on the corner of 3rd and Avenue D or on a bodega window a block from my house).

September 23

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

Let’s begin by grabbing your journal, some glue, a popsicle stick, and markers. Create an e-cigarette with a cloud of smoke. As we talk today, write down two facts about e-cigarettes inside the cloud that you didn’t know before.

Last year, we talked about E-Cigarettes and the idea that no one knows what they do to your body over time. These companies are basically using us as science experiments.

We do know that nicotine– a main ingredient in E-Cigarettes–is EXTREMELY addictive and can have seriously awful effects on your life:
Nicotine can create ANXIETY—>your heart beats fast, you sweat, worry, and feel super stressed.
Nicotine worsens mood swings–> going from extreme happiness to extreme anger or depression.
Nicotine creates INTENSE irritability– you get angry too easily–everyone and everything BOTHERS you.
Once Nicotine hooks you, it’s RIDICULOUSLY hard to quit

One pod contains the same nicotine as 20 cigarettes.  Kids who start smoking e-cigarettes find it nearly impossible to quit and often end up smoking regular cigarettes.

September 20

golden state warriors smh GIF by NBA

Even though we discussed the dangers of Nicotine in class, a few Island School 8th-graders were found smoking E-Cigarettes in school! Why? One reason is flavoring:

Bubblegum, Mango, and Cucumber.  Who doesn’t love those delicious flavors?  One reason that kids are so into e-cigarettes is that they are attracted to the flavors added to the “pods” or liquids used to create the smoke.  The e-cigarette companies KNOW this and are marketing 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.

pop popcorn GIF by Regal Cinemas

Beyond addictive nicotine, E-cigarettes contain a chemical known as propylene glycol. Propylene glycol has been linked to “popcorn lung” which is a disease where your lungs crackle when you breathe, makes you cough and feel short of breath.   

Lastly, 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).

So what can we do about it?  Just like what we did with straws and cigarettes, we can get teens to understand why they’re so bad and get them to stop. 

Learn more about E-Cigarettes by visiting Truth.  Next, share that knowledge by making your own film, animation, T-shirts, clay, and jewelry projects!

September 19

happy a plus GIF by Papa John’s

Grade-time! At the beginning of the year, I told you that your journals will be checked every two weeks. Today, during class I will call you up to show off your Idea Journal. Because it’s your first time having your Journal looked at, I’m simply going to see that you completed your assignments– not how well you did them. Next time, I will be looking at that as well. Here’s what I’m looking for today:

MirrorPocketDrawingShirt or ButtonResearch
(3 New Facts
or Ideas)
Extra Credit:
Garbage Can

September 16

Being that The Tech Café is all about Social Action, how do we come up with a problem that matters to us? I’ve thought a lot about this over the years and I don’t want to tell you what to care about. Instead, I created a section of that helps you discover problems affecting our world.

sherlock holmes GIF

Your assignment today is:

  1. Pick a partner
  2. Go to the Problems section (Statue of Liberty) of Techbrarian and find a problem that interests you.
  3. Spend at least 20 minutes viewing the music, videos, websites, and games that you find on Techbrarian.
  4. In your journal, create a piece of art or writing that shows another teenager what the problem looks like. Assume they know nothing about it.

September 12

The stakes can be high if you let negative thoughts invade you.

Self-esteem has been the theme of the week. We’ve talked about the importance of focusing on our positive qualities, blocking out negative messages, and learning to embrace the parts of ourself that people tell us are ugly, awkward, or not good enough.

Many of you all have already done projects that send out these messages over the years:

For your journal entry today, draw a T-shirt or Button. Inside the T-shirt or button drawing, create a design that sends one of these messages:

  1. I love THIS about myself (you can use the words on your mirror).
  2. I’m proud to be a member of this group
  3. I am an ally (friend) of this type of person or group

pocket possum GIF

Homework: Place something small and flat that you find inside or outside of school into the pocket. You will be drawing it later. For example, something neat you saw in a newspaper, a food label, or a piece of grass.

Source: Journal Sparks by Neuburger

September 10

hand GIF by Emory Allen

Today’s Idea Journal Activity involves your “non-dominant” hand– if you’re left-handed, your non-dominant hand is your right. If you’re right-handed, your non-dominant hand is your left.

  1. Pick an object from the table. Spend at least 5 minutes using a pencil with your NON-DOMINANT hand. Color it in with watercolor.
  2. Under your drawing, write one fun or cool thing you noticed about using your non-dominant hand.
  3. Bonus: Pick another object and repeat!

A thought: maybe surprisingly cool things come from parts of us that we don’t use often. Maybe we should spend more time doing stuff we’re not good at like playing a new instrument, trying a new sport, talking to a new person, or trying a new craft. Cool things can happen when you push yourself!

September 9

Middle School can be tough, man. One big problem with it is that kids often judge you for surface things like your clothes and sneakers, your face, your weight, and your hair. And what do we do with all these insults? We often take them to heart and beat ourselves up over them.

Sad Spongebob Squarepants GIF by swerk

For example, when I was in middle school, they used to call me “Big Nose”. I had never thought twice about my nose. But after they began saying it, I immediately focused on it and started saying the same thing back to myself. But I’ve been thinking about how to draw strength from insults, so I wrote a song about how I overcame all the dissing about my nose. Click HERE for the lyrics.

Unfortunately, the way I dealt with it was to learn to diss kids back. Maybe I should have created a cool big nose logo and put it on fresh T-shirts that all the kids would fiend for….

The big question for today, is how do you battle against the crap people say about you and what you say about yourself? How can you be brave enough to admit what your weaknesses are and embrace them?

Lima embraces her skin condition called “Vitligo”. Instead of being down on it, she shows it off: The Vitiligo Queen.

What other ways could I have dealt with it? How could I have switched things up and made my big nose a strength?

If Lizzo heard you talking bad about YOURSELF, what do you think she’d say?

For today’s journal entry, draw or paste a mirror. Write all your best qualities that you see in yourself or others have said about you (if you appreciated it). Include qualities you are striving to become (for example, “courageous”).


Open your journal and draw or paste a trashcan on it. Inside the trashcan write all the names you’ve been called by others or the names you call yourself (inside your head). THIS IS A PRIVATE JOURNAL ENTRY. You may choose to share it with a friend or keep it to yourself. The goal is to tell yourself these ideas about me are TRASH. It may also serve as inspiration for art, music, a movie, a shirt…whatever!

September 5

Welcome back to The Tech Café– our Social Action Makerspace! Last year we made incredible art, crafts, games, songs, and films to help solve problems in our world. Here’s a highlight reel of some of our work:

Before we begin our first project, I’d like to quickly go over how the Tech Café works– I know you know most of this already, but here it is anyway:

This year we are embarking on a new project: IDEA JOURNALS. Idea Journals help you to collect ideas through writing, drawing, and painting onto the pages. You can also glue and tape things into your journal that you find or create.

journaling express yourself GIF by Sharpie

NO TWO JOURNALS IN THE TECH CAFE WILL LOOK THE SAME. As you saw in the highlight reel, in our Makerspace students experiment with different low tech tools. For example, we design with embroidery, construct woodwork, mold pottery, and paint. Students also work with different high-tech tools. For example, we create films, code games, and record music. Finally, each student will also care about different social issues. These include homelessness, climate change, body positivity, and immigration. Put together, all these differences will mean each journal will look very different– and that’s a good thing! Click on the link below to see some ways to use an Idea Journal:

Your assignment today is to create a cover for your Idea Journal.

In the highlight reel, you saw 7th graders placing positive messages on the mirror in the girl’s bathroom. The goal was to remind lookers to see their best selves in the mirror. Just like that, have your Idea Journal cover reflect the things you like best about yourself and the qualities you want to continue to build.

Use materials like paint, markers, and pasted images to describe your best self, the things that motivate you, and what inspires you. Feel free to paste words as well. Here’s a quick tutorial:

June 17

Last week we began our Sex Ed unit. We discussed the need to speak openly about our bodies, about pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases.

This week we’ll be talking about what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Start by taking this quiz:

Healthy relationships begin with trust: you need to trust that the person really cares for you, you need to trust that the person won’t hurt you physically or emotionally, and you need to trust that the person will be there for you when times get rough. Below is a quick video that summarizes what NOT to do in a relationship. You can learn more by visiting Disrespect Nobody.

The opposite of a “healthy” relationship is a “toxic” relationship. The videos below do a great job of showing what toxic relationships can look like and decisions you can make to avoid them.

Toxic relationships, don’t have to be just about boyfriends and girlfriends. It can also be about friendships. Click on the cards below to see some more toxic behaviors in friendships and romantic relationships and some humorous responses to them:

In a romantic relationship, deciding to have sex is a big deal. Only you can decide what the right age is, but no matter the age, you need to wear protection NO MATTER WHAT. But how do you know if your partner is ready? The word for being ready is “consent”. This video does a good job of explaining consent:

As a social activist, YOU need to get other teens to know what consent means and why it’s the only way you can go all the way.

You see, there’s something called “rape culture”. It’s a bunch of messages you secretly get from TV, songs, advertisements, and a bunch of other places. It gives you the message that girls actually like getting forced into sex and it’s your right as a man to do it!

Island Schoolers (and all you other teens), let’s send the message that rape culture has no place and consent is the only way to have sex.

June 10

Penis. Vagina. Anus. Sex.  These are some of the most exPLOSive words you can use in the human language.  Why is that?  Why is talking about these body parts and this natural act so scary, embarrassing, and inappropriate?

Welp, in my opinion, it is important to talk about them.  In fact, according to the NYC Department of Education, it is a requirement to teach sexual education (SexEd) in middle school!  Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Talking about how your body develops when you reach puberty helps pre-teens and teens feel more comfortable with the changes they are going through.
  2. EVERYONE has questions surrounding sex.  What is a wet dream? Can girls get pregnant when they are on their period? How old do I have to be to buy condoms?  Is my penis a normal size? What’s the difference between HIV and AIDS?
  3. If we don’t talk about how to have safe sex, people are more likely to get pregnant and/or catch a sexually transmitted disease (STD).  Would you rather be a little embarrassed talking about this stuff or be pregnant or get an STD? Hmm?

There are a bunch of resources on, but my absolute favorite is 100 Questions You’d Never Ask Your Parents (ask me for the password).

As you learn more about SexEd, some of you may decide that this is an issue you care about.  In past years, my students have created videos,  songs, and art to help other kids feel more comfortable with their bodies and their relationships.  What will you make?

June 3

Even though it’s a short week, there’s a lot going on in The Tech Café and in the news. We’ve been doing a lot of arts, crafts, and filmmaking surrounding Catcalling. For those who haven’t seen it, here’s Josh and William’s documentary:

I’d still love to hear someone make a song that talks about what it feels like to be catcalled and why it’s not OK. Here’s a song that doesn’t perfectly capture the anger, shame, fear, or ignorance of it all, but at least shows that catcalling exists:

In other news, many states have been trying to pass laws that ban or limit abortions. These include Louisiana, Missouri, Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, Iowa, and North Dakota. Some of these state laws have been blocked by courts, but others still may pass. The law in Georgia is called the “heartbeat bill” because once the sound of a heartbeat is detected at 6 weeks, an abortion is no longer allowed.

The problem is most women do not know they are pregnant until they miss their period after 4 weeks. This gives them only a small amount of time to figure things out, get the money, transportation, and location for an abortion.

Here’s the point of today’s lesson:

death GIF by Julien Piau
Whether you believe abortions are right or wrong, millions of women have them each year.   When abortions are illegal, women often have them done in unsafe ways-- leaving them injured or dead.

You can learn more about what an abortion is by watching the video below:

So where do you stand with this issue? Do you believe that we should ban abortions even if it means women are going to get them illegally and put their lives in danger (pro-life)? Do women have a right to control their own body (pro-choice) or should the rights of an embryo or fetus be considered first (pro-life)?

2 out of 3 abortions take place in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy. Click HERE to see the stages of growth during pregnancy to get a sense of what is being aborted.

In years passed, women used hangers to give themselves abortions.

Knowing that states are trying to limit access to abortions, are you interested in speaking up against this or are you happy that it’s happening? It’s not the Techbrarian’s place to decide, but if you’re interested in supporting safe choices for women seeking abortions, you should create arts, crafts, music, and films to express that!

May 28

This week we’re continuing our work on ending Street Harassment, AKA Catcalling. Students felt that females should be able to walk down the street– wearing whatever they want– without fearing what will be said or done to them. Click HERE to read stories of Catcalling and show the writers “I’ve got your back.” Click HERE to see the CatCallsofNYC Instagram page.

Here are a few great videos on the subject:

Beyond cool art, it would be awesome if some of you interviewed each other about your thoughts and experiences with catcalling. It could look something like this student documentary:

May 20

Man, we have been making some amazing art for people with visual impairments using screws, drills, nails, and canvas.

Moving forward, there are so many ways we can enhance our art by adding textures like string, clay, sandpaper, and feathers. It would also be great if you added a description of your art written in braille placed on your art so that with visual impairment can further understand what they’re feeling. For viewers who are not visually impaired, consider adding colors to your screws and canvas as well.

In other news, I’ve been reading this incredible book called The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. It’s a deep book about life as a Dominican girl named Xiomara living in Harlem with a very religious mom and a twin brother who is gay. She is a poet and writes the whole book in verse (poetry). Early in the book, she is talking about walking down the street and getting harassed in the summer:

Shake my head as even the drug dealers posted up

near the building smile more in the summer, their hard scowls

softening into glue-eyed stares in the direction

of the girls in summer dresses and shorts:

“Ayo, Xiomara, you need to start wearing dresses like that!”

“sh&%, you’d be wifed up bore going back to school.”

Especially knowing you church girls are all freaks.”

But I ignore their taunts, enjoy this last bit of freedom,

and wait for the long shadows to tell me

when Mami is almost home from work,

when it’s time to sneak upstairs.

Reading this passage reminds me of our unit on Street Harassment (AKA “Catcalling”. We asked the question, “why do men feel like it’s ok to make sexual comments to females whether or not they are dressed in “sexy” clothes?” We saw examples of catcalling in videos like this:

Last week I played a game that brought back some of these ideas about Street Harassment as well as tying into our talk about stereotypes. You can click below to play it:

So, the question for the week: What can you do to prevent Street Harassment? What can you make to let boys and men know it’s not OK. What strategies can you use to wake them up to how it feels and remind them to step up and be a good human (what if it was your sister getting whistled at?).

May 13

Last week was jam-packed with activities including learning Braille and continuing our work on prosthetic arms.

We also spoke about the importance of “People First” language when talking about disabilities: People have disabilities, but they are not disabled. I mean, would you call Marcus handicapped or a boxer with a disability?

This week we are going to talk about art & accessibility. The word “accessible” means being able to physically reach something or understand it. So, here’s a question: how can we make visual ART accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired? Here’s one solution:

So, what do you think? Are you ready to grab a drill, some screws, and create an accessible piece of art?

May 6

Last week we saw the amazing skateboarding feats performed by Dan Mancina who happens to be blind. What if we stopped looking at someone like Dan as disabled and start looking at him as a person with a disability? What’s the difference? It’s called “people-first”. When you use the word “person” first and their disability second, it helps everyone focus on what’s important: that we’re all the same: people– some of whom have disabilities.

Image result for freckle art

Think of it this way. Rashawn has a ton of freckles. They cover his face and they’re hard for other people not to notice. So who is Rashawn? Is he “Freckled” or a person with freckles. Do you see how the first example, puts the main focus on Rashawn’s freckles and not on him as a person? Anyhow, many people with disabilities prefer not to be called “disabled”, “handicapped” or, of course, “retarded”. Here are a few more examples:

Positive PhrasesNegative Phrases
Person who is blind
Person who is visually impaired
The blind
Person who is deafThe Deaf
Deaf and dumb
Person who uses a wheelchairWheelchair-bound
Confined to a wheelchair
Person with a disabilityThe disabled
Person with an intellectual, cognitive, developmental disabilityRetarded
Mentally defective
Person who is hard of hearingSuffers a hearing loss
Person with a physical disabilityCrippled
Person who is unable to speak
Person who uses synthetic speech
Person with a psychiatric disabilityCrazy
Person who is successful, productiveHas overcome his/her disability
Is courageous (when it implies the person has courage because of having a disability)
Person who is in recovery from a substance abuse disorderAddict

Click HERE for a lot more examples of people first language.

We are all made of the same stuff, right? Brains and skin, blood and breath. We all laugh at stupid stuff and get heated when someone does something super annoying. And, (this is the part that we need to push ourselves to see) we all have talents. The tricky part is to find those talents, grow them, and show them to the world.

For Christopher Duffley, a 10-year-old boy who is blind and autistic, it took his uncle to rescue him and a religious community to embrace him, for his talents to shine through. Nowadays, Christopher has a podcast where he interviews inspirational people. He records and edits it with a laptop that has a bunch of accessibility features enabled:

Which brings us to today’s topic: Tools to help people with disabilities to shine. One of the most important tools for people who are blind is Braille. Invented in the 1800’s this is still the main way for people who are blind to read and navigate the world. Today, let’s begin by learning 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. BONUS! Try to do the same thing, but with words instead of letters!

Now, let’s explore some of the accessibility features on our Macs (you can find similar features on all your devices). One rule: whatever you “enable”, please “disable” when you finish this activity.

1- Check one of the videos below about Accessibility controls on the mac (you can find more HERE):

2- Enable one or more of the Accessibility Controls for VISION.

3- Now, put on one of the special glasses we created last week.

4- Open up Google Docs. Try to type the Happy Birthday song without any spelling mistakes.

April 29

Before Spring Break we were talking about how having EMPATHY is essential for being good inventors. After all, if you don’t know what someone is going through and how it really feels, then how do you create a solution to their problem? To do this, we tied up our hands to limit our mobility and wore special glasses to simulate visual impairment.

We also learned that having a disability doesn’t mean you can’t do awesome things like start funny YouTube channel and be a great athlete. Here are a few more examples:

Part of the reason that those facing physical challenges can rise above them are the inventions people have created to better their lives. We saw amazing prosthetic legs, collapsible walking sticks, and modified computer keyboards. Of course, there are a million more inventions, like this:

Island Schoolers have been creating inventions for the disabled too— like these cardboard prosthetic hands:

Spend some time looking at the Hero Arm to get some more ideas on how to enhance your cardboard hand. Perhaps you want to add motorized movements? Maybe a vibration motor that signals the arm everytime the hand squeezes shut?

OK, so now here comes this week’s question: we are calling people who have issues with their bodies DISabled. We have been making inventions so that they’ll be “normal”. But, what if our inventions made them SUPERabled? For example, what can you do to make a prosthetic hand light up dark rooms? One that plays music?

April 15

The last few weeks have been spent finding better ways to express ourselves than using the same old boring curse words. We also spoke about the horrible history and present-day pain brought about by slurs like the N-word and homophobic name-calling. While we will be moving on to a new topic, please continue to make posters, art pieces, songs, and films about more creative ways to curse.

This week, we’re going to switch gears and talk about empathy and how it can help us create art and inventions to help others. Let’s begin by learning what Empathy looks like:

As you can see in the film, empathy means feeling someone’s pain by putting yourself in their shoes. It means thinking about a time you’ve felt something similar. Sympathy means feeling bad for someone, but not making it too personal. You care about someone’s suffering, but don’t feel it. Having empathy for people with different abilities can help us to design art and inventions to better their lives.

(The following ideas and activities are borrowed heavily from Mouse’s Design with Purpose Course)

Except, what if the person you are designing for is very different from you? What if they have totally different abilities? Let’s take a look at a video of someone with a very different set of challenges than most students at this school:

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

Activity 1

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?

Activity 2

For your next empathy activity:

Get a sheet of paper and a pen.
1- Take a roll of masking or duct tape and use it to tape up your hand and thumb together.

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

a hand totally taped up

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?

April 8

illustration gay GIF by Martina Scott

Of course, the N-word is not the only slur that is used at the Island School. How many times each day do you hear:

Yo, no homo, but…

Stop, you f-ing f@gg#t

That’s mad gay

Using language like that is called “homophobic“. Last year, we watched the animation In a Heartbeat.  While we watched the movie, the reactions ranged. Some were negative like “ew!”, “f@gg#ts” and “yuck!”. Some were curious: “is this saying it’s ok to be gay”? Thankfully, some were positive: “aww he broke his heart!”.

Image result for no homo

Afterward, some people argued that “God put us here to be straight–being gay, goes against his wishes.”  Others said, “you should be able to love who you want to and it’s no one else’s business.”  A bunch of other people said: “I don’t mind gay people, I just don’t want them around me.”

A lot of students felt that this last comment was homophobic. After all, if you don’t want someone around you, then you DO mind them.  So, for those students who are pro-LGBTQ rights, what kinds of projects can we create to get the word out that these slurs are not ok?

Can one of you brave souls interview other students and get their opinion on homophobic slurs? How do they feel when they hear them? Is it no big deal? Without naming names, do they have a friend or family member who is LGBTQ? Do they feel comfortable around them? Does everyone in their life accept them?

April 1

Last week, we talked about cursing (AKA profanity). We learned that profanity comes in 3 forms: (1) cursing God and spirits, (2) having to do with sex or excrement (poo or pee), and (3) slurs. Using the first two types of profanity at the right time and place– out of school with friends and certain family members– is OK. However, Slurs are NEVER ok. Slurs include talking negatively about someone’s gender, sexual orientation (LGBTQ+IA), culture, religion, and, of course, race.

This week, we’ll be talking about the most notorious slur: the N-Word. The N-Word is used quite a lot at The Island School– and I know we’re not alone. So here’s the first question: Is it ever OK to use it? Some people argue that it is OK for black people to call other black people the N-Word. They say: “we are taking the power away from white people and making the word our own”. Some people believe it’s ok for anyone to say it— it’s just a word.

But many people, including myself, believe that you can’t separate a word from it’s history. The history of the N-word is all about hate, violence, disgust, and discrimination. It was (and is!) a stereotype of black people saying they are lazy, stupid, dangerous, dirty, worthless nobodies. YOU might not find it offensive, but saying it around others reminds them of these stereotypes. It’s like smoking: you may think it’s ok, but you are damaging others with your second-hand smoke.

So, what do you think? Are there times when it’s ok to use the N-word? If not, what can you create to help people say “NO” to using this ugly word?

March 25

brazil flip GIF

If you’ve ever spent time in The Tech Café, then you know what happens when someone curses in here. LANGUAGE! you’ll hear me yell. Some students ask me (1) “why does it matter if I curse?” and (2) “what, you don’t ever curse?” The answer to question 1 is that, to me, cursing inside a classroom says, “this is not a special space and you are not a special enough person to me –Dr. Lahana– to be on my best behavior”. So yeah, I take it really personal. Just like how you’d behave on your first day at an awesome new job or if you were on stage doing your graduation speech or if you were having a deep conversation with Barack Obama, time in the Tech Cafe should bring out the best parts of you. The parts that are caring, creative, and passionate.

a christmas story GIF

Question 2? I definitely curse. BUT it’s all about time and place. I do it after work and only when I’m with certain friends and family (or by myself).

Next question: Why do we curse in the first place? Both VSauce And XDINAF do really good videos on the subject. Some interesting highlights from those videos are that there are 3 types of curse words:

  1. GODD@MN1T! Ones against God, Spirits, or demons.
  2. F-U YOU POS! Ones about Sex or poop.
  3. Slurs. These are saying something hateful about someone’s race, religion, culture, class, gender, or sexual orientation. To be clear, this type of curse is NEVER ok.
quentin tarantino oscars GIF

According to these videos, cursing is not all bad. It can help lessen pain! It can make people like you more! It can also be used to let people know that trouble is coming.

But, returning back to the original point, cursing at our school is out of control. Students use the words in class, in the hallways, and especially in the gym. With all that cursing, it sometimes feels like kids forget that these are even bad words! Bad words are supposed to be different then regular words…they are supposed to SHOCK US. But with so much cursing, the words have lost most of their power. In the end, cursers just look sad– like their brains can’t think of anything original to say.

confused the lord of the rings GIF

So, Island Schoolers. Do you think it’s possible to get students to not curse as much? How can we create a movement to make this happen? Can we give students better alternatives to curse words like THIS?

I mean, it’s weird, usually I find a million things Online about our social issues. This time, I’ve found very little about the “cursing problem”, how people avoid cursing, or how they’ve found alternatives. Maybe one of you needs to make a documentary answering these questions!

March 18

As you know, The Island School shares our building with P94, The Spectrum School. Many students at this school have a condition called Autism. Autism can take many forms, but autistics often have difficulty holding conversations that appear “normal” to those who don’t have autism. Some autistic people have trouble speaking or understanding what others are thinking or feeling. Another characteristic of autism are repeating motions like flicking their fingers in front of their eyes or rocking. Autism is a “spectrum” disorder meaning that some show little of the signs mentioned above, while others show them all. Let’s learn more:

1 in 59 people in the United States are autistic. If you’d like to get a sense of what if feels like to be autistic, watch this video:

Do you know someone who has autism? What has been your experience with that person?

There are a lot of myths about autistic people. One thing YOU can really help with is teaching others what’s not true about autism. Here’s an ugly graphic that can help. Can you make one that actually looks good?

People without Autism are sometimes called “Neurotypicals”. Lots of people with Autism and those who care for them believe that being Neurotypical isn’t necessarilly “better”. In fact, being autistic gives them strengths. For example, people with autism often have amazing math, computer, musical, and artistic skills.

Autistic people often pay attention to details that others miss and have great memories. Maybe we need to start focusing on these strengths when we think of Autistics! Can you create something that puts out that idea? Can you help people better understand Autism? Or do you want to be like this guy?:

disability GIF

March 4

So, last week, many of you were not convinced that Speciesism matters. Who cares if animals feel pain– I LOVE BACON! Welp, this week, I’m going to give it one more shot. I’ll try to convince you that reducing the amount of meat you eat, switching away from cow’s milk, staying away from wearing animal skin and fur, and using cruelty-free cosmetics like this makes sense. Here’s the problem, though, the videos that will help to convince you are so ugly and violent, it will be too hard to handle for some of you. So this weeks journal should mostly be viewed on your own, if you feel ready to see some truly horrible acts.

Now, lets watch a little bit of a Twilight Zone episode that deals with Speciesism. Spoiler Alert: it reverses the idea of Speciesism–making us no longer at the top of the list.

Like the Twilight Zone episode, a few students are making projects that flip around Speciesism. For example, Elemiah is making a game where non-human animals are trying to capture and eat humans. Jevin is making a foil pig and covering it with a jacket made out of human skin (felt).

But why does Speciesism matter? It matters because we are causing unimaginable pain to other animals without thinking twice about it. For example, here’s where your milk comes from (WARNING: VIOLENCE):

If you feel prepared to watch more of these types of videos, go to PETA’S (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal’s) site where they investigate what happens to non-human animals you use.

So, now that you see the horrors of animal abuse, what can you do about it? Check out this video about an organization fighting for change in the way we treat non-human animals:

Are you ready to make posters, videos, jewelry, games, and art that shine a light on what’s right when it comes to how we treat other animals? Are you ready to take a break from eating them at least once a week? Let the world know and we can spread our #CrueltyFree message on social media.

February 27

So, you’ve heard of racism and sexism, but have you heard about Speciesism? This is when we, as humans, feel we are superior to non-human animals.  In fact, we are so supremely better than other animals that we can kill trillions of them, use them as entertainment (think: circuses, bullfighting, rodeos), experiment on them, and use their skin and fur to clothe and decorate us.

Ok, so now that you’ve seen what we do to other animals, do you see how this is Speciesism?  How about creating an art piece that persuades others that animals should have rights and that we need to end cruelty to them? A foil cow covered in human skin (brown fabric)? A clay sculpture of a lamb covered in gems with the words “she is not worthless…”. Jewelry stamped with a reminder to take a “meatless monday”?

February 14

So, we’ve been talking about stereotypes and how they can lead you to judge people negatively. Sometimes people can even see themselves negatively because of stereotypes that we see in movies, commercials, video games, music videos, and social media. To battle these stereotypes, we’ve begun creating anti-stereotypes– individuals that don’t match what you see in the Media. By making a lot of anti-stereotypes it can teach others that judging someone by how they look, leads to a lot of mistakes.

Yudith’s Anti-stereotype: A Female Muslim Programmer who is gay and loves breakdancing.

Today, we’re turning to the subject of hair. In the past, I’ve shown a fantastic Sesame Street music video called “I Love my Hair“. Why was it necessary to create this video? Well, many people of color feel like they need to change their hair from how it grows naturally into being straight. In fact, many men and women have been discriminated against because of wearing their hair naturally. In NYC, it’s now illegal for employers to do this.

People of color in this class with curly/wavy/afro-texture hair, have any of your friends, family, or strangers judged you based on your hair? Are you given the message that only a certain kind of hair is “good hair”? It’s time to call this out through filmmaking art, music, jewelry, clay, and game design. Here’s a woman in the Dominican Republic doing something to battle discrimination and promote natural hair:

February 7

Close your eyes. What’s the first type of person you think of 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.

Something we did last year, that all you artists might want to try this year, is to use the page below to 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.

Here are a few videos that help to banish stereotypes.


Last week we spoke about the negative stereotypes brought to you by media like Facebook, music videos, movies, games, and advertisements. How do we combat them? One way, is to pick a stereotype– like we did with “thick”, “curvy”, or “plus-size” females– and create messages that battle the negativity and focus on the positive.

Let’s return to the idea of stereotypes. How do you identify them so you can battle them? Sometimes we see a stereotype so often, we come to believe it, and don’t even recognize when it’s being presented to us. Other times it’s hidden. Last year, I created a handy guide to finding hidden stereotypes. Here it is:

Watch a few commercials and see if you can recognize one of the stereotypes shown in my guide.

Now that you’ve had some practice identifying stereotypes, how can we battle against them? Here are some videos that do just that:

So who are you? Do you look, feel, and act like your stereotype or are you different? Take a picture in Photobooth, print it and then add words, colors. and pictures that represent you. Feel free to include words and pictures that DO NOT represent you and make big fat X’s accross them.

How about writing a poem to battle stereotypes? Here’s a recipe from DesignForChange:

I AM by (Your Name)

I am (2 special characteristics you have)
I wonder (something your curious about)
I hear (an imaginary sound)
I see (an imaginary sight)
I want (an actual desire)
I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

I pretend (something you actually pretend to do)
I feel (a feeling about something imaginary)
I touch (an imaginary touch)
I worry (something that bothers you)
I cry (something that makes you sad)
I am (the first line of the poem repeated)

I understand (something that is true)
I say (something you believe in)
I dream (something you dream about)
I try (something you really make an effort about)
I hope (something you actually hope for)
I am (the first line of the poem )


scared reflection GIF

Who do we see when we 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 what you show others on Instagram, Facebook, Snap, and so on…

Finally, what you see in the mirror comes from what the media (music videos, advertisements, movies, TV shows…) tell you should look and act like. That’s what we’re going to talk about this week.

Let’s start by looking at a set of images and a Drake Video. You probably recognize some of the people and places. As you look at at the images and video, enter into the Padlet what you should look like and act like to be part of each world shown.

Made with Padlet

Imagine if you had a 5-year-old. First off, congratulations– although it would have been nice had you waited a little longer to be a parent. Anyhow, for your sweet child, which words would you want them to hold in their minds as they grew up? What would you want them to see in the mirror? Here’s are a couple videos that may give you ideas on what you could tell your child as they grow up.

For your next project, how about creating something that helps people see and feel positive things when they look in the mirror? How about jewelry with positive messages to keep people’s spirits up?  How about a Scratch Game about a compliment shooter that saves people who feel bad about themselves? How about creating a poster in Canva to tell others they can be themselves without having to be tough, skinny, or anything else from the Padlet images.

Last idea: print or draw one of the mirrors below. Inside of it, draw your your son or daughter’s face. Next, add ONLY 5 WORDS that you want to describe their life. These can include the same ones from our Padlet.

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