JOURNAL: january-june 2022

2022 final social action project requirement!

So! As you know, the Tech Cafe is not an art class. It is not a jewelry, woodworking, pottery, or T-shirt-making class either. It’s not a coding or music class. It is a SOCIAL ACTION class. Here, we talk about problems in the world and create projects to open people’s eyes to them. This year, we’ve spoken about:


To get an A+ in this class this semester, you need to choose one of the social issues on Then, you must spend at least 3 class periods creating a project that opens people’s eyes to the problem you’ve chosen. You need to teach them something they didn’t know or showing your opinion on it.

Projects are due no later than June 17th. UPLOAD pictures of your project to Google Classroom.

Here are some examples from students this year:

June 13 2022

Quick entry! I was reading about the new designer birdhouses at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and I thought of you! Some of you have already designed birdhouses– but how cool would it be to upgrade them so that they not only feed the birds in our neighborhood, but beautify The Lower East Side as well!

In other news, your final projects are due THIS FRIDAY! Here are a couple examples of final projects recently submitted.

June 1 2022

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?

MAY 27 2022

The second half of this year has seen some real musicians emerge. On the guitar, three students have been practicing hard each week– even taking them home on the weekends. Other students have recorded their own songs about relationships, domestic violence, and inspiring kids who might have lost their way. It took bravery to put themselves out there and speak their truth– respect that by finding what to like about it, not what to make fun of.

Here are these songs:

Paul telling his story of domestic violence:

Click below for the lyrics:

Darelys, about relationship struggles:

To read the lyrics click below:

Joseph, about helping kids who’ve lost their way:

Click below for the lyrics

Another way to express your ideas about a social issue is through using Pixton to create a graphic novel.

The Code for 5th Grade is:

The Code for 6th Grade is:

The Code for 7th Grade is:

The Code for 8th Grade is:

Click below to see an example that Jermaine is working on (not done yet)!

MAY 22 2022

What a fantastic year of social activism we’ve had! I’ll be creating one of my signature highlight reels this summer, but take a quick look at our Instagram page, and you’ll get a sense of all the cool things we’ve done.

We’re going to start this week by learning some creative art and engineering techniques. Choose an idea below and make it your own!

Try one of these artistic techniques:

Create and improve upon a Lego Car so that it can climb harder and harder obstacles:

Next, let’s take some time to focus on two types of projects that you can do for your final project– which is now due JUNE 17th: Poetry and Graphic Novels.

Poetry can, of course, be written and read silently by others. But poetry can also be created to be read aloud with spirit and emotion! This is called Spoken Word poetry. For your final project, you can choose a social issue and create a spoken word poem out of it like these:


Want to see more Spoken Word? Click on a video below:

MAY 16 2022

Last week was a FANTASTIC one for documentary filmmaking! Students asked tough questions about social issues. What they heard in response were stories about weed smoking and vaping, how to stand up for LGBTQ+ rights, red flags of unhealthy relationships they’ve witnessed, and opinions on animal abuse. For those who want to keep diving deeper into issues, click below for questions on the topics of:

Social Media



Healthy Eating

Of course interviewing others is only one part of documentary filmmaking. Once you film, you have to edit it. Check out the difference between these two clips I edited:

Some things you might have noticed:

  • I cut out everything except the answers and only chose the best ones.
  • I used transitions– like fading in and out– when the news footage came in and out.
  • I tried to get rid of background noise using iMovie’s “remove background noise” tool.
  • I raised the audio levels.
  • The interviewer was not mic’d, so I recorded myself asking the questions in iMovie
  • I added quiet music in the background.
  • I put video clips or images that I found on the Internet.

Anyhow, looking forward to seeing what you all film and edit!

MAY 7 2022

I love how into making documentaries so many of you are. I wanted to remind you that after you’re done interviewing, you should add an introduction to tell what your documentary is about and why you’re making it. Go back to and watch videos about your social issue so you sound smart!

Here are some of my favorites from the year, what were yours?:

Battling Against Stereotypes
Recognize signs of abuse

To supercharge your documentary, add footage from YouTube in between interviews. For example, if you’re talking about vaping, include video footage of people vaping.

Anyhow, keep up the good work! Here are a few more student documentaries from The Island School to inspire you:

APRIL 25 2022

📷 The Island School’s Photo Scavenger Hunt Contest #7

🏆 Third Place Winners:

🏆 Second Place Winners:

🏆 First Place Winner:

This week, we will be reviewing what we’ve learned about the dangers of marijuana to your mental and physical health. Hopefully, I’ve convinced some of you to be Above the Influence. If I have, try to convince other teens!

A few years ago, I did a unit on Straws– we talked about why we really don’t need them and where they go once they’re used.  Anyhow, while I was researching 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”.  

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 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”.

Finally, a great way to reduce your waste is to “Upcycle”. Upcycling means taking things that are no longer useful to you and making them into something awesome! Here are a few examples:

T Shirt Bags!

APRIL 11 2022

📷 The Island School’s Photo Scavenger Hunt Contest #6

🏆 Third Place Winners:

🏆 Second Place Winners:

🏆 First Place Winner:

This week, we will be reviewing what we’ve learned about the dangers of marijuana to your mental and physical health. Hopefully, I’ve convinced some of you to be Above the Influence. If I have, try to convince other teens!

Anyhow, click below for a Kahoot!

APRIL 3 2022

📷 The Island School’s Photo Scavenger Hunt Contest #5

🏆 Third Place Winners:

🏆 Second Place Winner:

🏆 First Place Winner:

Describe the Message to teens of each video

Last week we spoke about the effects of Marijuana on the development of your brain. When you smoke, eat, or drink it, there can be a huge impact on your ability to learn, make memories, feel healthy, and be happy. Here’s a deeper dive into the science of how Marijuana affects you:

We also discussed how Marijuana can affect your mental health– causing panic attacks and, in some cases, psychosis. Here’s a little more information on Psychosis:

To feel what it’s like to have psychosis, watch the video below:

Did this video make you feel like you were actually experiencing psychosis? What part was most disturbing?

So, how can we teach other tweens and teens about the dark side of marijuana? How can we give them the strength of going up against the music videos, the shops and vans, and even their friends?

One campaign is called ABOVE THE INFLUENCE. Being “Under the Influence” can mean two things. It can mean being on drugs and it can mean being influenced by your friends to do drugs and to let go of your dreams.

Above the Influence’s symbol is an arrow facing up. Here are some student versions. Can you make your own? What are your goals for the future that you don’t want to be influenced into dropping?

How about making a video or podcast about fighting peer pressure so you can make your dreams happen!

Let’s make crafts that remind ourselves and others to DREAM BIG and be ABOVE THE INFLUENCE. It’s easy to aim low and settle for a life that is just “OK”. To make your real dreams happen– whether it’s being a doctor, lawyer, scientist, filmmaker– your mind has to be sharp and focused. Marijuana won’t let that happen.

Use Shrinky Dinks to make jewelry and keychains! Here’s how:

You can also wire wrapped rings with the letters DB (Dream Big) or AI (Above the Influence. Here’s how:

march 28 2022

📷 The Island School’s Photo Scavenger Hunt Contest #4

🏆 Third Place Winners:

🏆 Second Place Winner:

🏆 First Place Winner:

🏆 Honorable Mentions:

Ready for more? Click on SCAVENGER HUNT 13 and SCAVENGER HUNT 14

It’s time to talk about Marijuana, AKA cannabis, AKA pot, AKA weed, AKA 420, AKA a million other names. It used to be that weed was hard to get. Nowadays it’s easy– stores are popping up all over NYC, there are fun-colored ice cream trucks that have edible pot gummies, and some parks have stands that sell joints right in front of police officers.

So, why not do it? This week, I’m going to try to convince you. It’s not going to be easy, because you’re surrounded by music videos, friends, and laws that seem to be telling you DO IT.

OK, before we get started, let me point out that there’s two parts of marijuana: CBD and THC. CBD is safe and is used in things like creams for headaches or pills to help you sleep. There aren’t many side effects to CBD. THC is totally different. It’s a drug that deeply affects your brain and its ability to think clearly and to grow.

THC can help people with cancer to reduce their pain and nausea (feeling like you have to throw up). But besides that, there are very few reasons why THC is “good for you”.

The truth is, that tweens and teens like you have growing brains that are like complex video games in the middle of being programmed. You are programming it! But when you get high you are messing up the programming language and the computer itself. This video explains it:

Marijuana can also trigger panic attacks:

It can also lead to a mental illness called Psychosis. Psychosis is when you cannot stop being paranoid, hearing voices, or seeing things that are not there (hallucinations). When you eat Marijuana, it actually becomes more powerful leading to unexpectedly bad experiences.

What art, songs, T-shirts, documentaries, and podcasts can you create to help?

march 21 2022

I was speaking with a student on Friday. He and his friends are ridiculously skilled at rapping. Period. They ride the beat perfectly and their vocals ring clear and strong.

Strength In Truth graffiti

That said, I feel there’s a way to take it to the next level. I’ll call it telling the “Ugly Truth”. When you are telling a story about your life, it doesn’t always have to be what you want it to be like or how you want people to see you. Talking about all your money, how much you smoke or pop pills, and what will happen to people who mess with you can sound good!

BUT sometimes the most powerful art comes from The Ugly Truth about what life is really like for you. Your real struggles– roaches on the floor, sirens at night waking you up, nasty cafeteria food, the person you like dissing you. Life isn’t always what you want it to be and others can relate! I’m not saying, don’t talk about the other stuff, but think about adding some REALness— some of that Ugly Truth to your music and poetry. Be brave and tell your story! Here’s an example:

[Verse 1]
It's probably been 12 years since my father left
Left me fatherless
And I just used to say I hate him in dishonest jest
When honestly, I miss this &%#, like when I was six
And every time I got the chance to say it, I would swallow it
Sixteen, I'm hollow, intolerant, skip shots
I storm that whole bottle, I'll show you a role model
I'm drunk, pissy, pissing on somebody front lawn
Trying to figure out how and when the &%# I missed moderate
Momma often was offering peace offerings
Think, wheeze, cough, scoffing and he's off again
Searching for a big brother, Tyler was that
And plus he liked how I rap, the blunted mice in the trap
Too black for the white kids, and too white for the blacks
From honor roll to cracking locks up off them bicycle racks
I'm indecisive, I'm scatterbrained, and I'm frightened
It's evident in them eyes, where he hiding all them icicles at

But like I said, Island Schoolers can rap and I would never in a million years stop them (in fact, I rap). All I’m saying is that Drill Music is full of drugs, violence, and money– and sometimes forgets to also talk about other parts of life– like family, goofy friends, heroes, and the Ugly Truths that you see in your house or shelters. By the way, if I’m wrong, tell me why?

Rapping is an amazing way to tell your story. Here’s Raegan to bring that point home:

📷 The Island School’s Photo Scavenger Hunt Contest #3

🏆 Third Place Winners:

🏆 Second Place Winner:

🏆 First Place Winner:

🏆 Honorable Mentions:

Ready for more scavenging? click here for photo scavenger hunt #12

march 14 2022

Its been two weeks since our first Photo Scavenger Hunt Contest. Since then, even more students have picked up cameras and went looking for everyday people and objects– figuring out how to make the ordinary look extraordinary. Without further ado, here are the winners of Contest #2

📷 The Island School’s Photo Scavenger Hunt Contest #2

🏆 Third Place Winners:

🏆 Second Place Winner:

🏆 First Place Winner:

🏆 Honorable Mentions:

Ready for another hunt! Click HERE for Photo Scavenger Hunt #10

Now that you’ve gotten some experience taking photos, it’s time to share your work with the world using Wakelet. Here’s how:

Friday night I went to a film festival and learned about 15-year-old inventor JayJay Patton. I was incredibly impressed with how JayJay and her father took a real-world problem– kids not being able to easily write to their family in prison– and create a solution using technology. I hope it inspires you to think of a problem in your life that you’d like to solve.

JayJay used coding to create an app for getting letters more easily to prisoners. We haven’t spent much time learning to code. My favorite way to do this is through Scratch. Below are two books that walk you through games you can create. Please click on one, find the game you want to create, and follow the directions.

Ask me for the Username and Password
Ask me for the Username and Password

march 7 2022

MFA of Ukraine 🇺🇦 on Twitter: "On this day 5 years ago, 🇺🇦 chose a  course towards 🇪🇺 values and a civilized future away from the #Kremlin's  grasp of decay. Today on

It’s impossible to turn on the TV without hearing news of Russia’s evil war on Ukraine. Why is it happening and what can we do to help the Ukrainians? Here’s the best explainer I could find:

Ordinary citizens– bakers, bankers, grandmas, and grandpas– are taking up arms to fight against the Russians:

For more examples of how brave Ukrainians are standing up to Russians click HERE.

What does this art piece mean?

How can we help? Here’s where you can donate supplies:

My daughter Ruby and her friends set up a bake sale to raise money to help Ukrainians. Maybe we can set up our own on Houston Street and put out some jewelry to sell too? Then we can give funds to Veselka Restaurant that will send it to Ukraine…

In other news, I’ve been so blown away by your photography that I want to add another type of scavenger hunt to see what you come up with! You can continue to do photography, but we will now be doing video as well. Here’s the link to Video Scavenger Hunt #1.

While you’re shooting photos and videos, keep in mind that there are different types of shots. Try them out!

POV (Point of View) Shot:

Low-angle Shot:

High-Angle Shot:

Over-the-Shoulder Shot:


Extreme Close-up:

For more shot examples click HERE and HERE. To see camera movements click HERE.

february 28 2022

Over the last two weeks, Island Schoolers have grabbed our three cameras and in teams scavenged for unique photos. I went through each of the 1,562 photos taken and picked my favorites for…

📷 The Island School’s Photo Scavenger Hunt Contest #1

I looked for:

Interesting Photography: Did the photographer choose a cool angle to take the photo- like from atop a chair looking down or from crouched-down looking up? Did they purposely choose to take it from far away or close up? Is the person or object in the center or off-to-the-side on purpose?

Quality of Photo: How crisp/in-focus is the photo? Is it bright enough? Do the colors pop?

Creativity: Did they choose a beautiful or exciting thing to take a photo of? Did they make something boring look interesting? Did they capture cool action?

🏆 Third Place Winners:

🏆 Second Place Winners:

🏆 First Place Winner:

🏆 Honorable Mentions:

Want to do a Photo Scavenger hunt too? Click on one below:


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:

january 10 2022

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

Reading Book Read GIF by Laura Salaberry

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

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

Click HERE to visit the Covenant House Website

To submit your story to StoryBooth click HERE.

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

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

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

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

Kapone talks about the struggles he’s facing after his uncle commits suicide and his sister is out of control. Click HERE for the lyrics.
Here, Dakari tells the story of a victim of Domestic Violence.

You can also write a poem and film it to create a Spoken Word Poem like Island Schooler Melanie:

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

Can’t wait to learn your story!

january 3 2022

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

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

Stick with it like a dog shaking its favorite toy.

Stick to it like cotton candy to your face.

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

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

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

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

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

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