Holding Pattern

november 6 2023

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 is a set of Lego Instructions to build your own robotic hand powered by air (pneumatics). Before you get started, here’s a simple demo on how pneumatics work– try it out!

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.

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 30 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

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 ❤️.

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 26 2023

september 5 2023

….and we’re back! This year we are going to launch our work farther out into the world. As you know, we already use SoundCloud for our music, Amazon for our books, Vimeo for our films, and Instagram for our photography. But, we also have an Etsy Page for our arts & crafts that is sad and unused. I was thinking that maybe it’s time to fill that up with all the amazing work you make here! Let’s spend some time this month talking about what that will take.

We’re going to begin the year exploring your personal strengths. Humans too often focus on what’s “wrong with them”. There’s a negative voice we all have that gets in the way of being our best selves. By constantly reminding ourselves of our personal strengths, we can quiet that negative voice and make good things happen.

For our September menu, we will be choosing projects that help us celebrate our strengths and our abilities to overcome obstacles.

Each year I pick the social issues we discuss in The Tech Cafe. This year, I want you to help decide! What do you want to talk about this year in The Tech Cafe? Here’s a list of topics. Choose up to 3.

february 28 2022

This week we will continue to talk about animal testing for cosmetics. Let’s watch a couple of videos to learn more.

As you’ve seen from these videos, there are many reasons to buy products that are cruelty-free. So instead of just talking about cruelty-free cosmetics, today we’re making our own perfume and cologne 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:

Now we’re going to do a quick activity. Grab a piece of paper and create a simple set of 5 numbered boxes. We will be passing around 5 scents. For each of the 5 scents, put two words 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’ll have an actual PERFUMER (a professional perfume and cologne maker) to help you along next week.

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

february 14 2022

Last week, we didn’t have time to watch and discuss a bunch of the videos posted on Animal Testing. So, I’m not going to have a new journal entry for this week. BUT there’s something really important I’d like to announce. Three years ago The Tech Cafe launched an Etsy shop to sell projects created by my artists and crafters. Most pieces sold! The students donated the money to organizations fighting for the cause they care most about.

Well, we’re re-launching the site this month! Now YOU can create social action projects to sell. I put a few pieces up to sell and now it’s your turn to contribute!

Here are some examples of causes you can contribute to:





february 7 2022

Over the last couple of weeks, we discovered the horrors of what goes on inside the Meat and Dairy Industry. You learned that non-human animals like 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 that 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*

Lynda hacks Clorox — changing it from CLOROX to KILLOX

Look for these symbols on packaging to tell you it’s CRUELTY-FREE:

january 31 2022

This week we will dive even deeper into the arguments for taking a stand against the meat and dairy industry. Remember, it’s a business. If a lot of the 42 million teens in the U.S. take a Meatless Monday, it could really start to cost these heartless businesses! Here are a few examples of a re-designed Meatless Monday logo and protest jewelry:

Speaking of Meatless Mondays, here are charts to show some of the foods we can eat instead of meat and cow’s milk. As you can see from this first chart, seeds, nuts, and beans have plenty of protein to keep building our muscles:

Next question. Does it ever strike you as weird that we eat some animals, but not others?

Want to learn more? Here’s some more videos to dive deeper into the issue:


Here are a few more project ideas:

RECORD A SONG. I know it’s a big ask, but how about writing a song defending the lives of farm animals or arguing against eating them.

CREATE ARTWORK. Your artwork can speak of the pain and suffering these animals go through to fill the pockets of the greedy meat and dairy industry.

MAKE CLAY PIECES. Create pieces that show the animals we eat and the pain they go through. Cut them open and have the blood spill!

Get inspired to reverse roles by this film:

january 17 2022

Want to see what it really looks like?  Click HERE (Warning: Disturbing).  Click HERE for a full documentary. (Warning: EXTREMELY disturbing).

Last semester we spoke about the evil Cigarette companies. Their job is to get kids addicted to nicotine so they buy vapes and regular cigarettes. They use fun flavors and put advertisements near schools. Who cares if nicotine poisons your brain and causes depression and mood swings, right? As long as they get their MONEY.

Like Big Tobacco, the Meat and Dairy Industry care about only one thing: MONEY.  They destroy the environment, treat animals like objects, and abuse their workers.

So what can we do about it? It’s true, one person can make a difference in changing the meat and dairy industry. However, if all 42 million teens skipped eating meat once a week, it could make a huge difference! The question is: how can we get them to do it?

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

How about creating interviewing friends and family about whether they’ve considered being vegetarian? You could also film an experiment about what happens when you take a break from meat once a week. What does your family say at the dinner table (or wherever you eat)? Here are some films to inspire you:

What if you had to kill what you ate?
What if you ate what are usually pets? What if your pets were what we usually eat?

What about creating jewelry to speak up for chicken, cows, and pigs.

What about an amazing song from the perspective of a cow in a factory farm or promoting veggies and plant-based meat.


Click HERE for the full version

Here’s how to get started making your own song:

Here’s how to add words:

Here’s how I made a complete song about COVID:

Create a painting or clay sculpture called "My immigration story". Show the people, places, sights, sounds, and smells you witnessed on your journey to New York.
Crea una pintura o escultura de arcilla llamada "Mi historia de inmigración". Muestre las personas, los lugares, las vistas, los sonidos y los olores que presenció en su viaje a Nueva York.
Нарисуйте картину или скульптуру из глины под названием «Моя иммиграционная история». Покажите людей, места, достопримечательности, звуки и запахи, свидетелями которых вы были во время своего путешествия в Нью-Йорк.

FEBRUARY 13 2023

Last Tuesday 18-year-old Salvador Ramos opened fire inside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde Texas. The gunman killed at least 19 children and two teachers and injured 17 others.

This is not the first school shooting in the United States. Here’s a list since 2000:

PHOTO: Deadly Mass School Shootings Since Columbine

Let’s take a moment to learn about the victims of this tragedy:

Mass shootings like this happen because there are too many guns in the United States. They are easy to get– no need to have a license. Even though most American want less guns, lawmakers are scared to pass laws to make them harder to get. This is because they get money from The National Rifle Association (NRA) and because they don’t want to lose the votes from the small– but noisy– voters who want no limits on guns. The NRA’s response is that to combat bad guys with guns, we need more good guys with guns. So let’s arm teachers 🙄!

So what can we do? Well, first of all, it’s important to recognize warning signs that someone you know is at-risk of becoming a school shooter:

Next, remember how I said that the voters who want to keep guns easy to get are noisy? We, the people who believe that guns should be harder to get, have to be louder! We did it 4 years ago:

Now you can do it on June 11th!

Also, show your support by wearing orange on June 3rd-June 5th.

Here in the Tech Cafe we can make shirts, art, and jewelry to support gun control like this:

A while back I featured an artist who paid tribute to victims of police violence by creating portraits of them.

What about paying tribute to one of the Robb Elementary School shooting victims by painting them?