I had a challenging conversation with the eighth grade on Friday. They insisted that nothing they did would make a difference in preventing climate change.  “Even if the whole entire school stopped using plastic, how would that change anything?”  They have a point.  A small group changing their behavior won’t stop climate change.

Life Drowning GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

But what that argument misses is that small changes made by a lot of people can lead to big changes.  Think about it this way: pretend you live in Michigan, and didn’t want Donald Trump to be president.  But you said, “I’m just one person, my vote doesn’t matter.”  Well, that attitude added up.  Michigan has a voting population of over 7 million (7,541,000) people.  Trump won by under 11,000 votes.  If a small number of people had decided to vote for Hillary Clinton, it would have added up– we would have a different president.  The same is true for Climate Change.

Speaking of the President, he doesn’t believe it’s happening— even though 97% of scientists do.  He withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement– a plan by most countries on earth to stop climate change.

Deniers of climate change, often use an argument that goes something like this: “if climate change is happening, why is it so cold this month?”  What they don’t realize is that climate change and weather are different.  Weather goes up and down–sometimes there are warm days in winter and sometimes there are cold days in the Summer.  Climate means what is happening when you group all those days together.  What is happening to our Climate?  Each year it’s getting warmer and that’s very dangerous.


Climate Change has been in the news this month even more than usual.  It’s getting worse each year and one day, very soon, your life will be affected by it.  Let’s begin by learning what Climate Change is.  I included a Brainpop video (ask for Password) and a more grown-up video that explains it– you choose.

Now click HERE to take a quiz to see what you’ve learned:

-december 3-

This week marks the end of our discussions about Trash and Waste.  I feel like NONE of you watched this incredible video about where garbage goes after we throw it away.  I’ll post it one more time just in case (you know the password):

There’s some really cool art you can create about trash based on infographics like this:

Here’s a cool art piece that shows people laying with the trash they’ve created in a week.  Click HERE to see more:


Today we are going to talk about a new way to do social activism.  It’s called Craftivism.   Craftivism is when you use crafts like sewing, knitting, and embroidery to get important messages out into the world.  Today we’ll be learning embroidery.   Below are a couple of tutorials to get you started:

Embroidery is so much fun, BUT it’s important that the message you embroider shows your passion for one of the social issues we’ve discussed in the Tech Café.    That message should be powerful and memorable.  Creating a message like this is called a “slogan”.   Click HERE for my guide on creating Slogans.

-november 2-

In September, when we were talking about Straws,  I came across this site called There is No Away.   This idea really stuck to my brain:  we throw things “away”, but they really don’t go “away”.  They have to go somewhere–but rarely do we think about or care where that place is.  There’s a great TV episode that talks about garbage.  you can watch it here (ask for password).

There are so many social issues surrounding garbage.  This week we’ll be discussing Food Waste.  Did you know that 40% of food produced in the U.S. is wasted— that equals 133 billion pounds!  In fact, 20% of our landfills are filled with food waste.  Every second, 3000 pounds of food is wasted in the U.S.  Meanwhile, 1 in 6 Americans are hungry.    3000 pounds of food would feed 650 Americans for the entire day.  The video below shows just how much food is thrown out in NYC:

So what can you do?

Change your behavior: (1) Freeze food you're not using. (2) Learn how to compost your uneaten food.  (3) Don't just throw away food because it's passed the expiration date-- smell it and look for mold.  (4) Donate your uneaten food to the homeless.

Change others behavior:  Create projects that show people how much food we waste on The Lower East Side and and why it matters.  For example (1) take photos of food waste in our school and in the community and create art with it. (2) Make a documentary investigating how much food we waste or how much other students know about food waste. (3)  Create a Scratch game that shows people how to avoid food waste. (4) Create "reminder jewelry" that gives food waste tips like "freeze it", "smell test", or "compost king".

-october 29-

Two weeks ago, we spoke about the power and importance of telling your personal story like THIS ONE.  Below are a couple of examples of what it looks like to tell your story through song:  As you listen, ask yourself the following question:

What steps would it take to create a song out of my personal story?

Lyrics can be found HERE

This is a song called Scowling Crackhead Ian. I don’t like the word “crackhead” and it does not belong in school.  However, I think it’s a powerful example of a personal story through song, so I included it:

Lyrics can be found HERE

Like Scowling Crackhead Ian, your song does not have to be a rap.  But, for those who would like to do that, I created a rap guide last year that helps you to create one:

Here are a few free instrumentals that you can use for your Personal Story song:

-october 26-

flowers GIF by Maori Sakai


Our work in The Tech Café is all about making the world a better place.

The problem is, we often don’t care that much about people who are struggling.  To understand and share the feelings of others is called “empathy” and it’s not always easy to do.
sad best friends GIF by Lisa Vertudaches
Yep, it’s hard to put ourselves in the shoes of someone begging for money on the street, someone whose boyfriend is beating them, someone addicted to smoking, or someone trying to enter the

U.S.A. for a better life.

But without empathy, we cannot truly solve these problems.  Only when we put ourselves in their shoes and feel our heart ache for them– even for a few moments– will we be able to create powerful songs, outreach projects, videos, animation, jewelry, and art to make a difference.

Today, you’re going to learn Dr. Lahana’s 2 steps for building empathy™.

Step 1: Realize that everyone has a struggle.  Sure, some are dealing with more pain than others-- but no one has it easy.  Once you take that outlook, your job is to find out their struggle and imagine what it would feel like if it was you dealing with it.

Step 2: Once you realize what a person is struggling with, do an act of kindness that lets them know the world is not a dark place.

So, what are you going to do or create this week to make someone’s world better?


Juppi Juppsen animation loop illustration media GIF

It’s storytime, my friends.  Read it below and then let’s discuss:

Imagine that one day you wake up as a robot that cannot talk, dress, or move itself around.  You, the robot, are wearing a simple white t-shirt and simple white pants.   Your eyes are open, but you realize that someone is now controlling you.  The man that is controlling you stands behind a curtain.  You cannot see his face. He has never spent time with someone like you or your family...although they have seen TV shows with someone who kind of looked like you in it.  This stranger goes to the mall and buys clothes for you that match ones he'd seen in a rap video. The stranger has no idea what you like to wear, but they dress you up anyway.  

Muchmoji GIF
The stranger than presses a special remote and you walk down the hall to your kitchen.  The stranger swears "!@#$", realizing that the fridge is empty.  You stand there, unable to move.  He returns 20 minutes later with bags of stuff they think you might like-- food that he'd seen in the same TV show with that kid who kind of looked like you.

The stranger than presses the button that controls you to go to school.  On the way out of your apartment, your mom stands smiling at the doorway.  The stranger has no idea what to have you say to your mom, so he has you say, "later bruh!"....something you'd never say. 

When you get to school,  the stranger has you give a random handshake to your friend.  Your fingers are flying, making shooting noises, and banging around like a pigeon stuck indoors.  Your friend shakes her head and walks away....

adventure time mind blown GIF

OK, so that might have seemed a bit random, but let’s push forward.

Why did the stranger dress you, feed you, and have you behave in such odd ways?

It’s because he didn’t know you, right?  Well, here’s the thing:  the people who create most media (TV, movies, video games, commercials) don’t know you either.  They often do not look like you, live in your neighborhood, or have life experiences like yours.

But, because they are the ones telling the stories, it doesn’t matter!  They can make you say or do anything, whether or not it makes you look foolish, scary, or crazy.

And that is why you need to tell your own story– through media like podcasting, art, game design, music, and filmmaking.  Tell your story; because if you let strangers tell it, they won’t get it right.  Worse, when they get it wrong, they will miss out on how amazing your are. How, even though there are moments of drama in your life, you still manage to make your friends laugh, have the courage to learn something  brand new, be there for a friend who is super upset, and never, ever, call your mom “bruh”.

that's all folks no GIF by Lil Yachty

Click on “Show More” below to see more student films that tell their story.  As you watch them, think about what yours is and how you will tell it better than The Stranger:

-october 15-

alfonso de anda fox GIF by Animation Domination High-Def

Last week I overheard a conversation between two 7th graders.  One said, “I can’t wait, after school, I’m going to buy one of those vape pens, I heard they’re mad good.”  She’s not the only teen excited by e-cigarettes.   Put together, 14% of middle and high school students smoke them.

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.

There are two big problems with e-cigarettes:

  1. They contain dangerous things like propylene glycol and metal particles.   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.   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).

  1. E-cigarettes contain Nicotine. Nicotine is E X T R E M E L Y addictive and ruins the tunnels (veins) that feed your body blood. 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.

So what can we do about it?  Just like what we did with straws, we can get teens to understand why they’re so bad and get them to stop.  Here’s the story of a teen who made a documentary against e-cigarettes.

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

-october 9-

Once again, I am so proud of what Island Schoolers have done to get rid of single-use plastic straws.  Here’s Marilyn’s documentary on some of your experiences doing the Strawless Challenge:

This week will be devoted to engineering for social action.  Let’s begin by watching the video below about a special suit:

Engineering” has a ton of definitions.  Here’s the way we’ll be using it in this class:  imagining, designing, and building things that solve problems and make our lives better.   Click HERE for a bunch of videos I gathered on different inventions engineered to improve people’s lives like these:

Here in the Tech Café there’s no easier way to start engineering than to build with Legos.  Below are some models you can make and then improve upon to better our world. 


illusion hiding GIF

Last week, we spoke about the power of personal stories.  Many students came 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.

Here are a few more examples of personal stories:

Gabriela reveals to her mother that she's been molested.

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.

A family struggles to survive after the father is incarcerated.

-september 24-

suspicious kenan thompson GIF by Saturday Night Live

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!  Of course, your story doesn’t have to be serious, just super personal and have a lot of details.  Let’s check a few out:

If you are interested in filmmaking, begin by making a storyboard for each scene in the movie. Show it to me and borrow a camera to get started!

Alize's song tells the story of her parents relationship. Click HERE to read the words.

The last animation is from a site called Storybooth.  Spend some time checking out more stories by clicking HERE.  If you’re interested in creating your own, check out the tutorials below for the animation software Powtoon (use and the usual password). 

-september 17-

Wow, so many of you have taken the Straw-Free Challenge and even convinced your friends to do the same.  I’d love someone to borrow a camera, write some interview questions and get students’ thoughts on going straw-free.  Like, why did they take the pledge?  What has been the most challenging part?  Will they go straw-free forever?  

Another interesting straw-related issue popped up today:  Students were upset because the cafeteria was sending up breakfast to the classrooms with lots of straws.  How do we get them to stop that?!?  I’d love to know your thoughts.

How about taking cool pictures like this?


For those brave souls who have committed to be #straw-free and want to take it a step further, it’s time to think about other forms of single-use plastic we want to get rid of:

Here are a few ways to reduce single-use plastic in your life:

  1. Bring or make your own shopping bags like this one from old t-shirts to use instead of plastic bags.
  2. Buy a reusable water bottle (if you can’t afford it, ask me in private and we’ll work it out.)
  3. Bring your own forks and knives whenever you’re planning to eat fast  food.

Lonely Whale Sticker


Last week, we spoke about the environmental disaster created by our use of disposable plastic straws.  All of us in the Tech Cafe were upset when we a watched a straw being removed from a sea turtle’s nose and surprised at how easy it was to create our own paper straws.  We were introduced to bamboo and metal straws and had fun sipping water from licorice sticks.

So, Island Schoolers (and all you other students following this journal), are you ready to make a pledge to stop drinking from disposable plastic straws?  If so, next time you are at a restaurant or Starbucks, say “no straw, no lid, please.”  Maybe you can also create a card to place next to a straw dispenser encouraging others to do the same?  How about a T-Shirt with a cool logo or slogan against straws?  Maybe a rap or poem?  How about a game to stop people from using straws?  Maybe you can invent something even cooler than this:

In other news, remember how I talked about my goal to get more of our products on the Etsy shop?  Well, I made a video to help you do it without me!


After watching videos like THIS about how straws pollute the sea and kill sea life, my daughter Ruby made a pledge to no longer use plastic straws.

Did you know that 500 Million Straws are used in the US each day?  It’s true! And by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.  “But Dr. Lahana, isn’t most plastic recycled?”  Nope, less than 10% of plastic is recycled.  Plastic is made from fossil fuels (AKA oil) and takes hundreds of years to break down.  Plastic straws are especially bad because they escape the filters that catch plastic before it goes to the ocean:

-september 5-

WELCOME BACK TEAM!  I am so so excited to see what social issues inspire you this year and what you create to better our world.

Here’s a video recap of our work:

So what’s in store for us this year?  Here are a few of the issues: Fake News, our nation’s opioid addiction, Eating disorders, Autism (ask for password), and straws!

3 of my goals for this year are (1) grow our Etsy Shop.  We make such cool stuff here, it should be seen and bought by our fans so that we can donate to our charities and purchase more materials for the Tech Café. (2) More filmmaking. After Jibeh’s award-winning film changed so many people’s idea of Hijab’s, I really want more students producing films– in fact, I have a documentary filmmaker coming in once a week this year to help out.  (3) Have a few amazing activists create a campaign like former Island School students Kat & Judy did for Blessing Bags.

So let’s get started!

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