JOURNAL: MARCH 2021-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

This week, we’re going 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.

DECEMBER 20 2021

Getting out of an unhealthy relationship is difficult and sometimes dangerous. Just because it’s a good decision to leave, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Abusers often trick victims into feeling like there is not a problem or it’s their own fault– this is called “Gaslighting“.

To someone outside the relationship, it may seem obvious that the relationship is awful and needs to end. But the victim may still be holding on to feelings from the honeymoon stage and want to ignore the tension and explosions.

When they decide to end the relationship, it’s important to have a safety plan in place. Some steps that should be taken are:

  1. Don’t do it alone– have someone you trust with you.
  2. Have a cell phone around– in case you have to call for help
  3. Don’t make the abuser angrier than is necessary– breaking up will obviously make them angry, don’t make it worse by saying something that may trigger them to be even angrier.
  4. Tell a trusted friend or family member that you’re going to exit the relationship so they can quickly check-in after.
  5. Set a time limit on the conversation to limit possible manipulation from the abuser.

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How can you teach others to make Safe Exits?

Now that you’ve learned to identify healthy and unhealthy relationships as well as how to safely get out of them, quiz yourself!

DECEMBER 13 2021

Part of becoming an effective social justice warrior against domestic violence (DV) is being able to recognize it. But sometimes DV is hard to see: victims wear masks and abusers hide what they do in public. But there is a way to spot warning signs when you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship. We spoke about the cycle of unhealthy relationships (honeymoon –> tension –> explosion), but there are many more Red Flags. Here’s a series of videos that show some of them:

Recognize signs of abuse

Now, using the list below, let’s watch this video. Help identify what signs you see in the videos:

Here is a list of 10 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship. How can you teach others what to look for? One idea: look at the symbols used in the list– how can you create jewelry or clay pieces that show them?

When people are trapped in an abusive relationship, they often do not share with others what is going on. It’s like they are wearing a mask that on the outside tells everyone things are OK. But on the inside, they are filled with darkness. How can we shine a light on these masks?

What do the wires and lock symbolize in this mask?

*Sometimes I hear students say, “I’ve already created a mask”. Please remember that some artists spend their WHOLE LIVES creating different masks. These masks are wildly creative, using all sorts of interesting materials.

As you saw with the short films made by OneLove, sometimes it’s better to see what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like, than to just talk about it. One way to show people about these relationships is to create comics. Watch how to do it below:

The Code for 5th Grade is:

The Code for 6th Grade is:

The Code for 7th Grade is:

The Code for 8th Grade is:


Last we spoke about The Cycle of Unhealthy Relationships: Honeymoon–>Tension–>Explosion–>Honeymoon–>Tension–>Explosion. Opening people’s eyes to this cycle, may help them exit the relationship before it gets worse:

We also watched a rap video about an abusive relationship. In it, the boyfriend made his girlfriend change her outfit when she was going dancing. He FaceTimed her in the Supermarket to make sure she was actually there. He also islotated her from her friends by lying, saying they had made moves on him.

Taking control of someone’s life like that is called crossing boundaries.

Image result for look out for red flags
A Red Flag is a warning sign that tells you something is going wrong.

When your partner frequently crosses boundaries, it is a RED FLAG.

Here’s a StoryBoard with some examples:

Let’s dive deeper into the idea of boundaries.

Imagine if I were to do this activity:

  1. Fist bump someone sitting next to you
  2. Now, lean on each other’s shoulders
  3. Now, go forehead to forehead

When I say that last one, your reaction is likely to be “UH…NO!!!” Welp, this is the idea of crossing boundaries. In Unhealthy relationships, the abuser often crosses boundaries. It’s important at the beginning of a relationship to set boundaries, call out your partner when they cross them, and leave if they keep crossing them. Here are a few boundaries to discuss with your partner:

We can also look at the reverse. What does a good relationship look like? Here are some ideas:

How could you show a healthy or unhealthy relationship in a comic?

Are you in a relationship or wondering whether you’d be a good partner? Take this quiz:

Not into relationships? Click HERE to see some tips for healthy friendships.

Here are a few project ideas for those interested in working to end Domestic Violence:

Take your masks to the next level by adding clay to create DV Monsters or victims:

*Create posters that show what good relationships look like.

*Create posters about Boundaries– what are RED FLAGS to look for?

Create a Pixton Comic showing healthy or unhealthy relationships. –> 6th Graders click HERE to join, 7th Graders click HERE to join, 8th Graders click HERE to join.

Write (and perform?) a spoken word poem about DV like this:

Make a podcast!

November 29 2021

This month we will be talking about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Domestic Violence (DV) will be a big part of this discussion.

For many students at The Island School this social issue will not be easy. Please let me know if you need to take a break outside of the classroom during the mini-lessons– I’ll give you an activity and have one of my assistants hang out with you.

There’s nothing worse than having someone in your home who hurts you and the people you care about. Homes are supposed to be safe and full of love. When they’re not, it can tear your world apart, making it hard not to feel sad and angry. It can interfere with friendships, with school, and every other part of your life. You might blame yourself for not being able to stop it or be filled with a need for revenge against the abuser.

For this social issue, some students who have experienced DV might choose to tell their stories. Telling your story is important for lots of reasons. First, when your release your dark experiences into the world, it can feel like taking a weight off of you. For some reason, that’s how humans work. Second, when you shine a light on this darkness, you can make others feel less alone who are experiencing abuse. Finally, you can help people recognize if they’re in an unhealthy relationship and show them how to get help.

Telling your story can include creating art, music, podcasts, pottery, embroidery, T-shirts, or documentaries. It is important for your family’s safety and privacy that you don’t use your real names or images in this storytelling.

In abusive relationships, there are patterns of abuse. These are things that you’ll find over and over again. One of these patterns is called “The Cycle of Unhealthy Relationships. Here’s what it looks like:

Let’s begin by watching a rap video about a woman struggling with domestic violence. As you watch it, focus on the cycle that keeps happening:

How many cycles happened in the video?

Now that we have begun talking about domestic violence– here comes the hard part: doing something about it. For those of you touched by this issue, how can you help others to see the cycles of unhealthy relationships? How would you paint it? What would your song sound like? How about making a graphic novel? Maybe you can create your own film? What about interviewing someone who has gone through this (but remember to keep their identity private).

November 22 2021

Simah Herman has started an anti-vaping campaign from her hospital bed. Credit: Instagram/simahherman

Last week we spoke about the dangers of vaping e-cigarettes. Many students were surprised at how much nicotine was in a JUUL Pod:

They were also shocked to find out that not only was Nicotine ridiculously addictive, but also permanently changes your brain so that you are more likely to become an adult addict. Nicotine also causes mood swings, depression, and irritability.

But what I think was most eye-opening for students was the idea that the cigarette companies that own e-cigarettes WANT kids to start vaping. Not only do they create kid-friendly flavors, but they put advertisements near schools on purpose! In fact, JUUL bought ads on CoolMath and Cartoon Network! YOU. ARE. THEIR. TARGET.

Test your knowledge about Vaping:

So what can we do about it? We’ve already begun creating songs and art to get the work out about nicotine and the fact that E-cigarette companies want to get kids hooked so they keep buying more and more and more. Some students are even working on projects to get the bodegas near the school to stop showing advertisements for e-cigarettes near our school.

When it comes to art, you can create SUBVERSIVE works that make fun of e-cigarettes and tells the truth about them. Check out this slideshow to learn more:

It would be really cool if someone created a documentary talking about vaping in school. Here’s one that Island Schoolers made about tobacco cigarettes:

-For those of you interested in writing a song about Vaping, I am offering a prize for every finished song with music and lyrics. Here’s an example:

Here’s a SoundTrap tutorial I did for making a Covid-19 song. You can use it as a guide to making a song about Vaping:

November 13 2021

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

Those students who’ve taken my class before know I’ve done a bunch of lessons on the dangers of vaping. These lessons included facts like these:

Despite these lessons, there are kids (maybe even in this school) who are still vaping! I think there’s a lot of reasons for this. What are some reasons that come to your mind?

Vaping seems harmless– it’s not like stinky cigarettes. In fact, there are amazing flavors! Bubblegum, Mango, and Cucumber– yum!

The e-cigarette companies KNOW kids like flavors and they market it to you on purpose, even though you’re supposed to be 18 to buy their products.

Yep, tobacco companies (they own the big E-cigarette brands like Juul, by the way), are evil. They purposely place tobacco ads near schools and in communities of color.
Have you noticed Vaping advertisements near The Island School?

OK, so we know that the tobacco companies are trying to get kids to vape. But really, what’s so bad about doing it?

pop popcorn GIF by Regal Cinemas

Well, once upon a time, a bunch of microwave popcorn factory workers began having the most disturbing thing happen. It became hard for them to breathe– and when they did there was this crunchy crackly sound that came out. After doctors saw the workers, they began referring to it as “Popcorn Lung”. Not long after, scientists discovered that Popcorn Lung is caused by inhaling a chemical called Propylene Glycol which is released when manufacturing microwave popcorn. Now the popcorn factory workers wear protective masks to avoid inhaling it.

But guess what’s in Vapes? Propylene Glycol

Here’s another reason not to Vape. The heated coils in e-cigarettes release small metal particles into your lungs that can cause cancer and problems with your body’s ability to fight off diseases (AKA your immune system).

But by far the worst ingredient in E-Cigarettes is Nicotine. Nicotine is EVIL. It is EXTREMELY addictive and can have seriously awful effects on your life:

Nicotine creates INTENSE irritability– you get angry too easily–everyone and everything BOTHERS you.
Once Nicotine hooks you, it’s RIDICULOUSLY hard to quit

So what can we do about it?  How can we get teens to understand why Vaping is so bad for you and get them to stop. Here are a few ideas:

  • Create “Pledge” bracelets out of metal or leather (or both) that people can wear if they agree never to vape.
  • Make posters that show teens the dangers of vaping that we can put up around school.

November 8 2021

This week we will continue to talk about how art and invention can help improve the lives of people with disabilities. Stephen Sanchez broke his back in a work accident and could no longer walk. This bodysuit changed that:

This week we will continue to talk about how art and invention can help improve the lives of people with disabilities. Stephen Sanchez broke his back in a work accident and could no longer walk. This bodysuit changed that:

David Aguilar was born without a hand and used Legos to create his own. Below is the story, but you can click HERE to see Version 2 of the arm.

Below are two sets of Lego Instructions to build your own robotic hands– one powered by air (pneumatics) and the other powered by electric motors:

Of course mechanical inventions aren’t the only way of improving the lives of people with disabilities. Experiencing great art can as well. But how does someone with a visual impairment “see” art? One possibility is to have them TOUCH it. This is called Tactile Art.

Students have already created pieces like this in The Tech Cafe. You can check them out below. Grab a drill, nails, canvas, and paint– then make your own! Don’t forget to add a message in Braile to your audience.

November 1 2021

Up until now, there’s been a missing piece to the puzzle of how The Tech Cafe works. You see, Dr. Lahana has been giving you the issues that he feels are important to talk about. But these might not be the issues that YOU care about! So, for the first 15 minutes of class today. Take a computer and headphones, then go to Once you’re there. You can explore the journal or dive deeper into other social issues on the site:

As you explore, use your journal to write down one or more interesting or surprising things you learned.

One of my favorite books of all time is called STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST. In it, the author writes:

It’s true! Nothing is ever brand new. Instead, great new art and new inventions steal from old ones and make them BETTER. So, for those of you interested in creating art today, I’d like you to do a gallery walk.

Find one or more posters that inspire you. Maybe it’s the colors they chose, the symbols they used, the style of lettering, or the cause they are fighting for. Take a few notes in your journal and then create your own social action poster for a cause YOU care about. Feel free to steal as many ideas from other artists as you want!

For my inventors, stealing often involves learning how machines that have already been created work, then improving on them. Today, you will be building a lego design involving gears and the mounting of a battery pack and motor. Many of you struggled last week with getting your motor and battery pack to fit on your design without having to hold it. This build should help!

OCTOBER 25 2021

Last week, we spoke about the SUPER-abled people who have overcome physical challenges to successfully live in a world built for those with typical bodies. Here are some more examples.

Next, we explored EMPATHY and how it can help us build better inventions for people with disabilities. Here’s another example of an invention to help people in wheelchairs:

This invention would not be possible without GEARS!

To further understand how inventions like this stand-up wheelchair works, let’s explore GEARS:

Gears are found in tons of everyday inventions like bicycles and watches. A few important ideas you need to know about gears:

  • When two gears come together it’s called MESHING.
  • When two gears mesh they move in the OPPOSITE direction (A and B below). Add another gear, and it once again goes in the same direction as the first (A and C below).
  • When a LARGE gear drives a SMALL gear , the SMALL gear goes FAST. When a SMALL gear drives a LARGE gear, the large gear goes SLOW.

For your activity today, design a “gear train”– a bunch of gears meshed together so that the first gear drives the others:

Now add A LOT of gears!

This week we will also dive deeper into a revolutionary invention created to help people who are blind and those with visual impairment to read and write. It’s called Braille. For this activity, you will be reading and writing Braille:

  1. Choose a partner.
  2. Take a braille tablet, stylus, and a piece of paper.
  3. Study the chart HERE.
  4. Place a piece of paper in the tablet and write a single letter (Your partner should NOT be watching you).
  5. Take the paper out of the tablet and have your partner close their eyes. Pass the paper to your partner and have them read the braille.
  6. Have your partner try to identify the letter.
  7. Repeat, but this time switch who writes the letter in braille
  8. Now, do the same, but this time, choose a 3-letter word.

OCTOBER 18 2021

We’ve spent the first month forming symbols of our personal strengths so that we can draw on them to do social action. We also spoke about the importance of blocking stereotypes that poison our self-image. Helping other kids see the toxic images that the media feeds to us and teaching them to block it out is a hugely important social issue– please keep working on creating paintings, pottery, embroidery, and stamps for this issue if you care about it!

For our next topic, we will be talking about inventions to help people with disabilities. Let’s begin by learning about some of the challenges that people with disabilities face and how they overcome them:

Have you ever heard the expression: Walk a mile in someone’s shoes? What does it mean?

Imagine if I created a large clear cube with wheels and a navigation system to get you where you wanted to go. It would never get close to anybody so you'd never bump into them.  It would be big enough so that people would move out of the way on the sidewalk.

Now imagine if, instead, you created a set of small wheels (like Heelys)in a pair of shoes that also contained a navigation system to get you where you wanted to go.  Which would feel better to use?

Great inventors get into the shoes of the people they are trying to help. But they don’t just try to think the way they think 🧠, they try to feel how they feel ❤️. How does it feel not to be able to walk around a new city and find the Mexican restaurant you are looking for? The better you understand how something feels, the better your solution will be. That’s because you can judge whether your invention would make you feel better.

FEELING what other people feel is called EMPATHY. The trick to feeling empathy is to find a time in your life where you faced a tough challenge. Go back to the time and feel the emotion you felt then. Then, tell yourself, THIS is something like what that person is feeling.

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


1- Click on the maze below and print it out:

2- Now, take a pair of goggles that have been specially transformed. See if you can complete the maze with them on.

After you finish, be prepared to answer these questions when we meet back up:

  • What was it like to try to complete the maze?
  • How would it have gone if you didn’t have to wear the goggles?
  • How do you think being visually impaired changes the way you live?


For your next empathy activity:

1- Get a sheet of paper and a pen.

2- Take a roll of masking or duct tape and use it to tape up your hand and thumb together.

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

After you finish, be prepared to answer these questions when we meet back up:

  • What was it like to have limited mobility?
  • What changes would you have to make to your daily activities if your arm was like this permanently?

Here are a couple of project ideas:

  1. Create the navigation shoes using Lego, wood, and/or cardboard
  2. Make a Cardboard Prosthetic hand by clicking HERE.

OCTOBER 12 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

scared reflection GIF

OCTOBER 4 2021

Who do you see when you look in the mirror?

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

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

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

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

Made with Padlet

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

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

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

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

september 27 2021

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

september 20 2021

Related image

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

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

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

So here’s my first question:

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

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

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

september 13 2021

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

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


Doing something about all these problems is called Social Action.

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

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

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

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




april 2021

7th Grader Ruth created a COVID-19 Memorial. Using wood, paint, and fabric, she celebrates a nurse defeating the virus.

There are a lot of ideas and events that could top our list of things to focus on this month. These include immediate questions like how can we stop the violence against Asian Americans–a discussion we started in February. There are also important long-term questions like are the machines we are programing racist? But, for April, we’ll take on the question of how do we get every American to get vaccinated?

It seems like The United States is now turning the corner on our battle against this Coronavirus. With the help of vaccines, the number of people who can get and give COVID-19 is growing smaller. First off, what is a virus?

OK, so now that you have a sense of what a virus is, how does COVID-19 work?

Next question: How do COVID vaccines protect our bodies?

Quick summary:  The vaccine sends a messenger (mRNA) that gets cells to build imitation COVID-19 spikes.  Your immune system learns to fight these harmless spikes.  The real COVID-19 virus has the same spikes. So, when COVID-19 invades your body, your immune system attacks and kills the virus because it was trained!

Now that you know what a virus is and how COVID-19 works, it’s time for everyone to get a vaccine to battle against it, right?

While some people against getting the vaccine are “Anti-Vaxxers”– others are just scared. How can we create art, podcasts, videos, and songs to educate and motivate them to get the vaccine? To that end, an organization called Amplifier is having a contest to create posters with those messages. Click HERE to learn more.

Here are a few videos made for kids by the government– they’re not horrible, but I wonder if you could make something that feels more relevant to teens.

MARCH 2021

When you think about your neighborhood– the Lower East Side and East Village– where do you go for BBQ’s 🍖, to walk your dog 🐕, to hang out with your friends 🤪😜, play sports ⚽🥎, or simply get some fresh air 🌅? For many of you, the answer is the East River Park.

Did you know that NYC plans to cover East River Park with mounds of landfill and build a new elevated park on top of it (that many feel is ugly)? Surrounding the park will be a HUGE 8-foot cement wall.

The $1.45 Billion dollar project starts Fall 2021 and will take over 5 years! It’s called The East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) project. Click below to learn more about the project and those protesting against it:

Many in the community feel the wall is both environmentally unfriendly and community unfriendly. Working with the community, a beautiful design was created that would use marshland to absorb water, replace artificial turf on the fields with natural turf that absorbs water + cools the air, and create more natural hills that redirect water back into the river instead of a wall. Check it out:

So What can we do about it?

Social activists like East River Park Action are rallying together to protest the destruction of the park (including 991 trees!) and offer a better solution.


How do you, your family, friends, and community use the park? Where would you go if you no longer had the park to do those activities? What would losing the park mean?

Can you think of better solution than building a HUGE wall that blocks the view of the river and the breeze? Remember: as water rises in the coming years, the wall will stop being effective. One example of a better design is to close a lane of the FDR highway and build a wall there instead.


Use SoundTrap to pour your heart into a song against concrete walls and what it’s like to have a park taken away. Imagine a better way.


-Use art materials like paint, markers, and clay to create a new design. Or create a 3D design using a program like Tinkercad. 


Paint, photograph, use woodwork, or make jewelry that shows the beauty of the East River Park and why it’s important to you, your friends and family, and the community. Here are some examples:

february 2021

This month we’ll be talking about a virus that has spread alongside COVID-19: racism against Chinese people and those who are thought to be Chinese.

For this discussion, we’ll be learning some new vocabulary. The vocabulary isn’t EASY, but we’ll be diving into them all week, so just get the basic idea today.

Xenophobia: FEAR or DISLIKE of people that are “FOREIGN” or outside of your culture. For example, “Mexicans are coming into our country and stealing our jobs.”

While the Chinese– even those born and raised in the U.S.– are the current target for blame and anger having to do with the coronavirus– they are not the first Asian Americans scapegoated (falsely held responsible) in our country. In 1942, 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced into incarceration camps throughout the U.S.. They were blamed for a bombing in Hawaii done by Japan. Let’s learn more about this by visiting TheOrangeStory.

Marginalized: On a piece of paper, the MARGIN is at the edge of the paper. It’s rarely used and not important. In society, marginalized people are put at the MARGIN of society. Those in POWER try to keep them powerless. For example, people who are transgender are often discriminated against when looking for jobs. This leads to unemployment and poverty.


Microaggression: Everyday acts that contain a hidden insult directed at someone from a marginalized group of people. People who commit microaggressions might not even be aware of them. For example, clutching your purse when a person of color passes by, saying things like “You don’t look like you’re gay!” “Can I touch your hair?” or “where are you REALLY from?”.

**WARNING: this video has a curse word

So, as always, we’re here not just to learn about a social issue, but to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! These high school students made documentaries to raise awareness of the issue:

Or create a children’s book to educate young kids on how to EMBRACE our differences.

A few more ideas: What can you paint that shows people being brought IN from the margins? Can you make a podcast about you or your family’s experience with microaggressions? How about a video exposing what microaggressions look like in real life. For example, do you get followed by owners in Bodegas? Do people automatically look at your body when you wear certain things? Do people expect you to be good at certain things because of your race or gender?

november 2020

Ever notice how some songs get completely stuck in your head and refuse to get out? Some songs make us feel hyped up and energized– feeling the lyrics so deeply that it’s like we wrote them about our own life– or at least what we want our life to be like. Other songs are mellow and get us tired, down, or thoughtful. Lots of songs tell stories– real or imagined.

Some songs have ugly words and ugly histories. For example, there’s a song called “Turkey in the Straw”. I know for a fact you’ve heard it. The song is what’s played when the ice cream truck tells you it’s here!

While ice cream is delicious, unfortunately, the song is anything but sweet. In the early 1900’s the melody was used to create a song called “N—r Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!”. Watch below to learn more:

Caution: This video contains racist language and imagery

A musician named RZA decided it was time to stop having kids hear that disgustingly racist song every time they were about to get a treat. So, he created a new ice cream truck melody. Watch the video below to hear it!

And it’s not just the ice cream truck jingle that has racist roots. The United States’ own National Anthem has racism baked in. In the long version of The Star-Spangled Banner, the writer Francis Scott Key insults black slaves who fight alongside the British troops to gain their freedom!

In the same way that RZA re-imagined the ice cream truck jingle, can you re-imagine how the New National Anthem will sound? At a time when so many of us feel scared of a virus, feel fear and anger toward each other, and can’t stop polluting our earth– a new anthem could help unite us. It’s worth a try! You can do it with or without words– your choice!

Not interested? Here’s one more idea 🙂 How about writing a song– for kids or adults– that shows what it’s like to live during the age of COVID-19. Here’s an example:

Wanna do it? Here’s a tutorial on how I did!


Hi! ? So, guess what? I’m the seventh-grade English Language Arts and Math teacher this year ?. I have NEVER taught either of those subjects, but I’m going to jump right in and find ways to bring social activism and Making into them. I’ll show you what students come up with right here in this journal.

BUT, I know folks from many corners of the world come here for ideas on how to inspire kids to do social action. So, each month, I’ll put some ideas out there.

Yesterday, Ruby (my 11-year-old) and I were walking to her softball practice. To entertain ourselves, we like to answer my Random Questions. She was answering question 122 which asks you to create your own holiday.

She said: I would create a memorial holiday for victims of COVID-19. I thought, man, that’s a great idea.

So, here’s this month’s challenge: Imagine we have finally found a way to defeat COVID-19 and the pandemic is over. Envision a memorial holiday for COVID-19. What would people do during that holiday to remember the lives lost and the suffering that so many of us went through during the pandemic? Here are a few ideas:

1– Below is a Covid-19 memorial designed for Uruguay. Why not build your own with art materials or digitally design it in 3D on Tinkercad?

2- Honor the lives lost by choosing a New Yorker from THIS SITE and creating their portrait with pencil/marker/paint or digitally using SketchPad.

Portraits of Covid-19 Victims

3- Compose a story or poem about a victim of COVID-19 like THESE or about the struggles you’ve faced during this pandemic. We can get it published in teen magazines like Teen Ink.

The Poem “Repeat” by 7th Grader Darshany


Ashley’s stunning portrait won’t let you look away– even when her subject is…

As our school year comes to an end, our passion to create a more just and beautiful world does not. Island Schoolers: your work inspires activists and artists from around the world and I will continue to show off your pieces throughout the summer. Please continue to send me your beautiful poetry, films, music, animations, arts, and crafts– that goes for you too 8th graders! Once you’re a member of The Tech Café you are a member FOREVER.

Dashana lays out her thoughts on Covid-19: her sick grandmother, being stuck indoors, racism, and her hopes for the future

Gianna’s protest sign blends a powerful message with eye catching colors and symbols

Elijah’s poem teaches us to respect nature and embrace diversity

I’ll leave you with 8th-grader Isatou’s spoken word poetry video. It is just one more example of how Island Schoolers are the lions and flowers of the jungle– commanding your attention through strength and beauty.


Adrian Brandon created portraits of Black people killed by police officers. He colors each portrait in for as long as the person was alive: 1 minute of coloring for each year of their life (From left to right: Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor). For example, Tamir Rice was 12, so he painted this portrait for 12 minutes.

Here are some pictures of people of color killed by police. Can you draw a portrait to honor them?

Sometimes, life can be overwhelming. From the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic of racism to just daily life drama –it’s a lot! That’s why poetry is so awesome. You can capture your thoughts and feelings and let them fly free. Click HERE to revisit my video on poetry.

For those of you not sure about what to write, the New York Times created a cool activity: take the words below and rearrange them into a poem. Feel free to add or repeat words:

Bonus: Grab some scissors and a newspaper and create your own poem from scratch!


As your teacher, I want to not just help you feel cared for during this troubled time, but help you understand why this is happening and what you can do to create a better world.

This week we'll tackle the question: Why are people of 
color treated differently by the police?

When it comes down to it, people of color are thought of as “less than” by many in our society today. Why? The answers are like puzzle pieces that, put together, show the full picture.

One BIG piece: people today are taught to be racist (two other puzzle pieces include slavery and segregation). Through books, TV, advertisements, and music, there are hidden racist messages. We spoke about this in our Media Literacy unit last year.

What was the Black man like toward the Asian woman? How did she “make things better”? What does this teach us about Black men?

Yep, it’s easy to teach humans that (for no good reason) one group is less than another. Just watch this social experiment:

So, back to our question: why are people of color treated differently by the police? One big answer: police have been taught that black lives are worth less than white lives. They’ve been taught this by their families, by media, and by those they work with.

But, the truth is, we are the same in many ways and different in many ways– but we are all equal. We need to remind many people of this basic fact.

What can you make this week to show that we are the same in many ways and different in many ways– but we are all equal?

Option 11: Create a protest sign:

Some types of change will not come unless we protest ✊.

When it comes to peaceful protesting, there are a million ways, including: walkouts ?–>??‍?‍????‍?‍????‍?‍?? (we’re leaving unless there’s change!), sit-ins ?<—????‍♂️??‍♂️?? (we’re NOT leaving unless there is change!), and marches ?? ??.

Protest signs tell the story of the problem you are fighting against and the change you want to see. Your protest sign can be proudly displayed at protests or you can take a picture of it and display it on social media. HERE IS A LINK to protest signs on Pinterest. Feel free to use one for inspiration, but make it your own!

A few more ideas and inspirations for protest signs


Over the past couple of days, there has been a flood of interesting thoughts from Island Schoolers about protesting, justice, and looting. A lot of middle schoolers felt that there was a big difference between peaceful protesting, violent protesting, and looting. Here are a couple of student reflections:

I agree in the peaceful protests but feel that it’s not gonna change anything. It’s been like this for years. It’s gotten worse with the president. After he was elected you saw more racism come out. I don’t believe in chaos. I felt so bad seeing manhattan and places in the Bronx looted and destroyed. There is violence against police officers. Violence is not the answer. Not all police officers are bad. And also there are people that worked hard to grow their businesses (immigrants and Americans ) and to see those places destroyed broke my heart.

Jessilee, 6th grade

if protests work and things change they’d have to change deep with the police force cause there are tons of police chiefs and executives that have ignored complaints by people on police who already have tons of bad reports on them. it seems like for solid change to happen –that lasts forever– we have to start all over and change the people in charge of the police…

I would give <officers> a bunch of children’s books that deal with racism and equality and then have a talk with them about what they understand/didn’t understand and repeat that until they understand their purpose for being a cop and all of their wrongdoings.

reion, 8th grade

June 4th was George Floyd’s funeral. Reverend Al Sharpton gave a chilling eulogy (a speech to praise someone who died).

Why does Rev. Sharpton keep repeating: You had “HAD YOUR KNEE ON OUR NECK”?

George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks– because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to being, is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck. We had creative skills, we could do whatever anybody else could do, but we couldn’t get your knee off our neck. What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services, and in every area of American life, it’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say get your knee off our necks.

-Reverend al sharpton

Next question: If the protests work and the lawmakers are ready to listen, WHAT RULES WOULD YOU MAKE FOR HOW THE POLICE BEHAVE? ?‍♀️

For example, can they search you without asking ??? ? Can they still carry guns ? ? Should they have body cameras  ? ? Should they have to live in the neighborhood they police ???  

–> Using art, music, graphic novels, or words, show the new way police would behave.

On another note, during these tough times, I put together some messages of hope and strength from Island School students and teachers. Enjoy!

June 1

So, I planned on introducing a new art activity this week. BUT because this is a Social Action class, I need to also speak on the protest movement triggered by events including the murder of George Floyd. Watch my lesson below- which was inspired by the words of Trevor Noah:

To think and learn more about this issue, watch Prince Ea’s video below and read Isatou’s poem.

Question: Do you think the looting from shops, the lighting of fires, and the throwing of things by protestors HELPS or HURTS the message that we need change?

Mission: If you believe that things must change in the way people of color are treated, what can you MAKE to show it?

May was a month that tested our spirits. How can we remain energized and creative locked in our homes? Many Island Schoolers found that focusing on making art, poetry, and music FREED them– even for just a little while.

Yep, think of creativity as a key ? when you use it, it unlocks ? your spirit ?! Here are just a few examples of Island Schoolers’ spirits flying free!:

This week’s goal is to open up your creativity even further– especially if it’s feeling locked up. Artists often do “exercises” to loosen their thinking. Rappers might freestyle, photographers might focus on taking pictures of a single color, and painters/illustrators might do “Blind Contour” drawings. Sounds fancy, but it’s easy and fun! All you have to do is draw a person or object without looking down. Watch the tutorial below:

Maybe, if you’re SUPER LUCKY, you’re drawing will turn out like this 😉

May 26

Last week, we took a closer look at Option 5: Poetry. As always, Island Schoolers wrote breathtaking poems and also continued to create beautiful work from our other options:

This week we’re zooming into Option 2: Creating a Song. In the past, we’ve talked mostly about making a rap song (click HERE for my guide). This week we’ll be taking your poetry or just a few words running through your mind to create any kind of song. It could be rap, but also electronic, rap, or country!

Start by reviewing the video I created in Week 2 to see how to use Soundtrap to create a song:

OK, so you’ve watched the video on how to create a song, BUT some of you don’t feel comfortable singing your poem. Others might not have written a poem at all. There’s a solution for that! Listen to Chris’ song. He uses a Robot Voice Generator to talk about what’s it’s like being stuck indoors for months during the pandemic. Chris feels like he’s losing his brain. The song uses no more than 20 words– but gets the message across wonderfully:

Here’s my tutorial on how to use the Robot Voice Generator or a regular voice to create a song:

May 18

Last week we spoke about how being creative sparks a fire ? that burns away bad feelings ? and makes good feelings glow brighter ?. Below are a few student projects that show just how brightly Island Schoolers shine:

This week we are taking a closer look at Option 5: Poetry. Watch the video below to hear the world premiere of the Big Nose Poem, to Listen to Island School Poets, and to learn a zillion ways to make your own poems!

To review the poetry and ideas from the video, look at the slideshow below:

May 11

It’s no surprise, but it must be said: Island Schoolers are jaw-droppingly talented. Last week the projects kept arriving– each more spectacular than the next. We might be trapped inside, but our creativity shows no bounds.

QUICK REVIEW: For the rest of the year your job is to choose a project option. Each week, you can choose a NEW option, REPEAT an option, or IMPROVE the same option. Your options so far include:

1) ? A closeup of an object in your home
2) ♬ A song about any social issue
3) ? A podcast about any social issue
4) ? A comic or graphic novel about any social issue
5) ✍? Poetry about any social issue
6) ? A self-portrait
7) ??‍♀️ A Hero of COVID-19 Illustration
8) ⚙️ An invention to help out during COVID-19

Today we are adding Option 9: Collage

option 9

This week’s option is to create a collage about a social issue discussed this year. Watch the slideshow below for more Info!

May 4

Man oh man, Island Schoolers are creating ridiculously powerful pieces of art and writing over the past few weeks. Your classmates are impressed and, because your work is posted on Twitter and Instagram, the WORLD is impressed.

This week, we are NOT adding any new options– you can choose from any of the previous options. Instead, we are returning to Option 3- creating a Podcast. Over this year we have spoken about a zillion issues including: Animal Rights, LGBTQ+IA Pride, Cigarettes + Vaping, Immigration, Thinking Positive, and, of course, COVID-19. How about selecting one of these issues and creating a podcast using Soundtrap? Below is a tutorial on how to create a podcast and another on how to interview a guest.

Here are some podcasts that Ruby and I created over the weekend. They are EXTREMELY SHORT and LEAVE A LOT OUT. They are meant to inspire you to do your own. Enjoy– I can’t wait to hear your podcasts!

April 27

Here is the latest batch of PHENOMENAL Island Schooler projects!

April 24

While this pandemic has brought out fear and loneliness, it has also sparked creative problem-solving. In order to keep our healthcare professionals safe and banish the virus that has created all this chaos, inventors have been busy creating products. Below are a few examples:


Your job is to create an invention to help YOURSELF, healthcare professionals, or the everyday heroes we discussed last week. Like any good inventor, start by thinking of a problem these people face during this pandemic. Here are a few examples, but try to think of your own!

  • Scratching and itch on your face without touching it with your dirty fingers!
  • Grabbing something from your pocket without touching it with your dirty fingers!
  • Feeling close to friends without touching them
  • Taking and giving money back to customers buying food or supplies at stores
  • Helping kids not to have nightmares about the virus
  • Getting fresh air without going outside

Your invention can be a drawing, a written description, or a model you create using Tinkercad. Whatever you create should be detailed enough so that someone else wishing to build it, would have a very good idea about how to do it. Here are a few examples of inventions described by kids– some of them were made into usable products!


If you’re interested in creating an invention using Tinkercad, watch the video below:

April 20

To combat COVID-19, we have been told to “stay inside”. But, in order for us to have food, to move around the city, get our mail, have our city be clean and safe, and to be taken care of when we get sick, there needs to be brave workers out there. They are putting their lives on the line for us and they are HEROES.


Option 7: Hero Illustration

Create a poster that honors a health care worker (like a doctor or nurse) or everyday heroes like postal workers, police officers, firemen/women, bodega shopkeepers, MTA workers, and sanitation workers.

You can use the pictures below to guide your drawing or find your own.

For those of you with tech devices, try using (for computers) or (for phones/tablets) to create a hero illustration. Watch the tutorial below:

April 17

Here are some more fantastic projects from Island Schoolers this week:

April 13

Beautiful projects have been rolling in– and to be honest– a lot of them are heartbreaking ?  

Many of you are feeling really down– and why wouldn’t you? Being stuck at home without friends or fresh air for this long is no joke. But just like every HUGE moment in history, it passes. This WILL pass and you are NOT alone. EVERYONE is having moments hopelessness, sadness, or panic.

What you CAN do, is take all of that negative emotion and channel it into your projects. Sometimes being creative is healing because it transforms the ugly into something wonderful ?????‍??‍♂️????????????

April 6

Here are just a few examples from Week 2’s Projects:

Welcome to week 3 of The Virtual Tech Café. Last week, students created an extraordinary set of poetry, essays, close-up drawings, music, and graphic novels. You might be wondering….

I didn’t finish- IS THAT OK? YES! Doing amazing work sometimes can take weeks or months. I do not expect everyone to finish by Friday. What I DO expect is that every Friday you submit a draft in Google Classrooms that shows you’ve worked 3 hours on your project that week.

CAN I DO A CHOICE FROM LAST WEEK? YES! You can do any choice from any week. Just submit it each Friday in Google Classroom to show you’ve worked for at least 3 hours.

Option 6: ART- Self Portrait

Look at this Slideshow about Frida Kahlo and then create a self-portrait using one of her works as inspiration. Use a mirror or a picture of yourself and then draw or paint it.

IF you’re interested in learning how to draw faces, you can watch the tutorial below:

March 29

Well, its been quite an eventful couple of weeks since has been updated! Now that school has gone virtual, I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions like, “When people are facing an insane virus, are any other social issues worth talking about?” and “What can students make when they’re stuck at home without all the awesome tools in our Makerspace?”

My solution was to have our first assignment be a StoryBoardThat about our life. I figured it was an easy way to help us feel like we’re all struggling both in the same ways and in different ways. BUT several things were wrong with this. First, everyone does not have the technology to do a StoryBoard. Second, not everyone wants to use a StoryBoard to communicate what they are going through or their hopes for the future!

So, here on out I will be giving you a menu of options. Choose whichever you’d like to do. The only rules are:

1. Submit your work on Google Classroom each Friday

2. Before submitting, look at the Rubric to make sure your work is high-quality.

3. Check every day to see if there are any updates

Option 1: ART- Close-up Drawing

Look at this Slideshow about Georgia O’Keefe. Zoom into an object inside your room that brings you joy. Draw or paint it. Create one SPECTACULAR art piece or three good ones.

Option 2: SONG

Create a song on SoundTrap that talks about your struggles these days. It should have at least a few words– but preferably three verses and a chorus! Here’s a tutorial:

Option 3: PODCAST

3fm now playing GIF by BNNVARA

Create a podcast using Soundtrap (see tutorial above) where you interview your family about their struggles or wishes for the future.


A lot of you complained that StoryboardThat didn’t have enough characters, backgrounds, and props to let you be fully creative. I hear you loud and clear, so now I am giving you access to a better application called Pixton.

Here are the codes to join your class:

6th Grade:  akqn8
7th Grade: dwrq2
8th Grade: ccb5n

Watch the following tutorial:

For those of you who liked doing comics or graphic novels, read the Ms. Marvel graphic novel in Google Classroom. Use it as an inspiration to create a graphic novel about battling the COVID-19. Inspirations from Ms. Marvel might include:

  • Friendships and family relationships that are REALISTIC. Use language that your friends and family actually use in everyday life. Make them say things to make your reader like them (or be frustrated by them) like you are.
  • Have a conflict or problem that needs to get solved. It gets worse as the story goes on and then gets solved in the end.

Option 5: POETRY

Write a long poem (at least 2 pages) or three short poems (each 1 page) from the perspective of the virus or from someone who has been infected. You can also write the poem from your own perspective– your fears, your hopes, your dreams…