Political Kombat: Romney vs. Santorum/Cain

In this lesson, students will learn about the Republican primary candidates and the policies, issues, and beliefs that they support by using an animated video mimicking the fighting game Mortal Kombat. This lesson aims to provide a narrative following the presidential race of 2012.

Examining Homophobia in Professional Sports

In this lesson, students will think about the assumed misalignment of professional sports and homosexuality, they will discuss and debate why it has been and continues to be difficult for professional athletes to come out, and they will critically examine the reasons why society defines professional sports by heterosexual standards.

Confronting Homophobia and the Response to Jason Collins’ Recent Announcement

The outpouring of social media-based support for Jason Collins has been widespread and well-publicized, but what lies beneath? In this lesson, students are asked to take an honest look at homophobia on the web and in their own lives, confronting one of society’s darkest shadows and shedding some much needed light on the issue.

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I Am Not A Human Being: Afrofuturism in Pop Culture

From a different solar system many many galaxies far far away
We are the force of another creation
A new musical revelation
And we’re on this musical message to help the others listen

~ Afrika Bambataa and the Soul Sonic Force “Renegades of Funk” (1983)


What does it mean to be Black in America?

As an artist, I’ve always found ways to express this through realistic and imaginary lenses, often taking into consideration personal knowledge and experiences while also considering concepts in a broader sense. Ideally, I’ve always aimed at using themes from the past, present, and future to depict the Black experience, which encompasses both struggles and triumphs.

The rich legacy of the African Diaspora can be heavily attributed to artistic expression. Whether it was music, dance, or visual arts; artistic expression has always played a pivotal role in African culture, which began to be translated in an American context once the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade began. Often times being “alienated” from the rights of citizens in America and the Caribbean, the search for an identity and efforts of remembrance were seized with every opportunity. As a result, expressions such as the Negro Spirituals, Blues, Jazz, Funk, Hip-Hop, and countless others, emerged and eventually became a part of popular culture.


Afrofuturism: The Origins

In 1993, Mark Dery, author of Black to the Future, developed a term known as Afrofuturism. According to Mark Dery, Afrofuturism is a literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past (wikipedia). Initially, Dery coined the term as a response to literature from authors, such as Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany; however, it quickly referred to musicians who also represented this aesthetic.


African-American voices have other stories to tell about culture, technology, and things to come.

Mark Dery


For instance, Sun Ra, a jazz musician who used Ancient Egyptian and space images to reflect his artistry, can be considered one of the pioneers of Afrofuturism. Albums such as, Space is the Place (1972) and The Heliocentric Words of Sun Ra (1965), incorporated conceptualized images and sounds based on his “cosmic philosophies”, which coherently also made connections between the past, present and future. The past being Ancient Egypt; the present was in the form of avant-garde jazz with the use of synthesizers and other electronic instruments; and the future being in the form of cosmic connotations that encouraged others to look beyond our earthly existence.


In an essay found on the Sun Ra Arkestra website by Stefany Anne Goldberg, she sites, “I didn’t find being black in America to be a very pleasant experience,” said Sun Ra, “but I had to have something, and that something was creating something that nobody owned but us.” She also mentions, “African-Americans had always been a secret society within greater American society, with their own music, their own language, their own rituals. This secret history could be an asset for African-Americans in the Space Age to come. African-Americans could re-invent their past and create a futurist Utopia, perhaps on a planet other than Earth, which seemed to Sun Ra unbearably steeped in chaos and confusion.”



funk lab

By the 1970s, a new wave of music emerged. Referred to as the “Funk”, George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic used characters, themes, and ideas that would mirror the consciousness of the Black community. They put out a series of albums and shows that sent political and sociological messages. In the article, “Turn This Mutha Out” by Robert Hicks, Clinton explains, “We had put black people in situations nobody ever thought they would be in, like the White House. I figured another place you wouldn’t think black people would be was in outer space. I was a big fan of Star Trek, so we did a thing with a pimp sitting in a spaceship shaped like a Cadillac, and we did all these James Brown-type grooves, but with street talk and ghetto slang. Make my funk the P-Funk”.


Clinton is referring to the concept behind the album cover of the Mothership Connection (1975) in which a character by the name of Starchild appears. He is a divine alien being who came to Earth from a spaceship to bring the Funk, the cause of creation and source of energy for all life, to humanity. According to The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein (1976), Starchild worked with an intergalactic master of outer space Funk, known as Dr. Funkenstein, whose “predecessors had encoded the secrets of Funk in the Pyramids because humanity wasn’t ready for its existence until the modern era” (P-Funk Mythology). In essence, Starchild was like a messiah who descended upon the earth to provide a cure for the ills of society.



Afrofuturism in Hip-Hop: Past and Present

In 1982, a song called “Planet Rock” was released by Afrika Bambataa and the Soul Sonic Force. As a DJ, Bambataa utilized a mixture of different genres in his artistry. As a former gang member of the Black Spades in New York City, he became a prominent figure in the early developmental stages of Hip-Hop and was the founder of the Universal Zulu Nation (1973), which recognized Hip-Hop as a culture that included a wide range of legitimate art forms. Heavily influenced by his predecessors, Afrika Bambataa would often practice his artistic autonomy through Afrocentric ideas and futuristic sounds. His main focus was to bring about social awareness through “peach, love, unity and having fun.”

planet rock

Other artists have followed suit as Afrofuturists, often times utilizing album covers, song titles, lyrics, and clothing to represent this genre.


Some of today’s most innovative artists have been inspired by Afrofuturist culture. One such artist is Big K.R.I.T, when mentioning the title of the album in XXL, he states, “It’s just one of those things that I was thinking about, ’cause in my first [album] cover Live From The Underground, it’s a Cadillac that has crash landed on planet earth. Just the whole storyline of being able to take you in reverse of where the Cadillac comes from. It’s creating this planet called Cadillactica where the soul and the funk comes from and being able to transcend my music with that idea.”



While Big K.R.I.T. utilized the principle of movement, Janelle Monáe’s album cover for “The ArchAndroid” uses emphasis by juxtaposing a crown on her head that reminds us of a futuristic city. Monáe is considered to be in the forefront of artists who are continuing to use Afrofuturism as an aesthetic by releasing a series of conceptual albums inspired by Fritz Lang’s science fiction classic film, Metropolis (1927).


Her themes usually highlight feminism, love, artistic freedom and disputes preconceived notions of beauty. In the article, “Janelle Monáe turns rhythm and blues into science fiction“, she states, “I feel like I have a responsibility to my community and other young girls to help redefine what it looks like to be a woman.” As an example, her newest video, “Yoga“with Jidenna, demonstrates yoga as a form of dance, challenging the popularity of twerking in mainstream media.

Today, we have artists such as Erykah Badu, Lil Wayne, DJ Spooky, Flying Lotus and countless others who have chosen to use this aesthetic to represent the Black experience. And this artistic movement is not limited to just music. It can also be found in fashion (See, “Constructing Future Forms: Afro-Futurism and Fashion in Chicago, Part II”), visual art (See, “8 Afrofuturists You Need To Follow Right Now”), and film (See, “Afrofuturism on film: five of the best”).

As Mark Dery states, “African-American voices have other stories to tell about culture, technology, and things to come.”

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Watch Two Girls Launch a Weather Balloon into the Stratosphere

Space! You can reach it!

Two Seattle girls, aged 10 and 8, decided it would be fun to plan the construction and launch of a weather balloon into space.  They achieved their goal, took a video of the whole process and launch, and have even impressed NASA.

Designed to Rise:

They learned how to create a design for their spacecraft from the web and created a design using materials bought and some from home.  Trial and error changed the design from using PVC pipes to old arrow shafts to keep it light weight.  Overall, the design of the craft resembled a triangle, or pyramid.  They planned for the craft’s landing and even added styrofoam balls in the event of a water landing.  The standard weather balloon they used for the ascent was filled with Helium, and the whole spacecraft was strategically launched from a specific point where they would be most likely to recover the craft upon its return to earth’s surface.

Pop Goes the Weather Balloon:

As the weather balloon traveled further from the Earth’s surface, the air pressure around the balloon decreased drastically. As the air got thinner, the balloon’s casing got tighter. This is due to the gas expanding within the balloon. The expanding gas caused the balloon to reach full capacity and it popped.  This is how weather balloons work, and these girls planned for its popping to initiate the spacecraft’s return to earth.

The girls collected data during the launch.  The Balloon ascended at a very constant rate – an average speed of 35 kilometers/hour. There was a peak speed recorded, of 110 kilometers/hour as the craft left whats called the Tropopause, right before entering the Stratosphere.  They noticed a temperature drop as it got higher up, but then it changed at got higher as the craft left the Troposphere and got into the Stratosphere.

The Earth’s Atmospheric Layers:

The atmosphere is divided into five layers. It is thickest near the surface and thins out with height until it eventually merges with space. The troposphere is the first layer above the surface and contains half of the Earth’s atmosphere. Weather occurs in this layer. Many jet aircrafts fly in the stratosphere because it is very stable. Also, the ozone layer absorbs harmful rays from the Sun. Meteors or rock fragments burn up in the mesosphere. The thermosphere is a layer with auroras. It is also where the space shuttle orbits. The atmosphere merges into space in the extremely thin exosphere. This is the upper limit of our atmosphere.

The girls’ spacecraft’s weather balloon popped at 78,000 feet, or about 15 miles into the atmosphere, which puts into the Stratosphere.

This picture above is the girl’s notes following their successful mission – inspiring! – from GeekWire

The Higher Up, the Lower the Pressure:

Atmospheric pressure is the pressure exerted by the weight of air in the atmosphere of Earth.  In most circumstances atmospheric pressure is measured by the hydrostatic pressure caused by the weight of air above the measurement point. On a given plane, low-pressure areas have less atmospheric mass above their location, whereas high-pressure areas have more atmospheric mass above their location. Likewise, as elevation increases, there is less overlying atmospheric mass, so that atmospheric pressure decreases with increasing elevation.

These girls took all of these factors into consideration when planning their weather balloon spacecraft.  It’s amazing what careful planning, passion, and ingenuity can do, even at a young age.

The girls – Rebecca and Kimberly Yeung – photo by GeekWire


10 Steps to Make Summer School Not Suck

Summer is here, but you still find yourself in school. Maybe you didn’t pass a class that is required for graduation. Or maybe you want to take a class because your schedule during the school year is full. Whatever the reason is for taking a summer school class, sitting in a classroom for two hours every day for a few weeks isn’t your idea of fun. However, it doesn’t have to be so bad. Here are ten steps to make summer school not suck.

1. Have a friend sign up

Having a friend sign up makes summer school more bearable. Your friend is going to be by your side and make things easier. You can also do homework and study for tests together.

2. Ask for breaks

During the normal school day, your classes don’t last much longer than 70-80 minutes. However, summer school classes tend to be longer — most last about two hours. If you’re having trouble sitting for that long, ask the teacher for at least one break. This gives you time to get up and move around, since it’s not good to be sitting down for so long.

3. Ask if the class can go outside

Summer is usually more laid back than during the school year so ask if the teacher will take you outside. What better way to learn Shakespeare or science or whatever the subject than outside under a tree.

4. Engage yourself in the learning

Doing homework and studying for tests is hard enough during the regular school year. Think about how hard it is during the summer. You spend two hours in class, but then have homework to do, a research paper to write, or a test to study for. Do the homework and study every night so you don’t get behind.

5. Be respectful to the teacher

Your summer school teacher may be someone you don’t know, who doesn’t want to be there any more than you do. After all, summer is a time for him or her to be away from school as well. But teachers sometimes work part-time jobs in the summer to help pay bills or to earn extra money. Respecting and getting along with the teacher goes a long way and makes class more fun.

6. Get your sleep

While summer is the time for you to stay up late watching movies or hanging out with friends, you still need your sleep. You can’t sleep in class, or you won’t do well. Going to bed at a decent time will help lead to your success.

7. Take care of yourself

If you got up late and hurried to class or didn’t feel like eating breakfast, ask if bringing a snack or, at least, a bottle of water is allowed. Eating and drinking helps us stay awake when we’re bored. If you get dehydrated, you get sleepy and have trouble paying attention in class.

8. Be on time

During the school year, you are expected to be on time. If you’re late, you get a tardy and too many tardies add up to you not earning your credit for summer school. You certainly don’t want to lose the credit if you have almost made it to the end of summer school.

9. Stay positive

No matter how bad summer school really is, remember to stay positive. Doing some of things suggested above will help with that. Ask your teacher and see what he will allow you to do.

10. Remember why you are there

No matter the reason as to why you are there in summer school, the important things to remember are to do well, respect the teacher and his rules, and earn your credit. You don’t want to waste your summer.

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The Science of Why We Love Bad Lip Reading Videos

Bad Lip Reading 
Bad Lip Reading is a hilarious YouTube channel that produces videos with false dialogue dubbed over popular movies, television, sports, and news segments.  They make us crack up because the dialogue they use has the most random, ridiculous plot lines, but when you look at the characters, their mouths move pretty much close enough so that you could believe it’s what they’re actually saying. The experience of seeing and hearing these videos, and believing them, compared to what we know about the source material, makes us chortle heartily.

Verbal Communication
Thinkprogress recently published an article about this topic, and we are also excited about the science behind why we love these videos. Our brains translate the sounds and visuals we take in, via our senses, into what we call verbal communication. Language recognition is different, depending on what language you speak or are fluent in. Our brains often make up for a lack of perfect pronunciation, or something misheard, by filling in the gaps, and using logic to conclude what the intended message was. Verbal communication is something called multimodal, using two or more senses to interpret information.

McGurk Effect
A really good way to see this process in action is by seeing the McGurk Effect.  You can see it in the video below by AsapSCIENCE. In it, the man repeats “bar, bar, bar.” When paired with an image of a man clearly mouthing a “bar” sound, that’s what you hear. But when an image of the man clearly mouthing a “far” sound is shown instead, what you hear changes to “far, far, far.” The key is, the sound never changes.  If you close your eyes, it goes back to “bar.” So, your brain concludes what the sound must be, based on what your eyes are perceiving through lip reading. But, it’s also tricking you, because the sound never changes even though the visual does.

Creating Logic by Believing What We See and Hear
Our brains indeed learn better when combining visual and auditory information, and it’s used to this sensory experience every day of our lives.  So, when we see something that doesn’t quite make sense, our natural processes fill in the gaps in the attempt to create logical meaning. With the Bad Lip Reading videos, what’s happening is your brain wants the visual and the auditory signals to match up, because that’s what we would normally predict, and it wants to use all the information available.  But the visuals aren’t crisp enough to completely disagree with the audio. The images don’t quite match what we’re hearing, but our brains just go with it. The creators of these videos aren’t using random words either. They are matching words that are close to the way the subjects’ mouths are moving to make the original words.

Origins of the Bad Lip Reader
In an interview with the Washington Post in 2011, the anonymous figure behind Bad Lip Reading said that he started by trying to lip-read a video of a talk radio host mouthing words to himself. “My brain kept coming up with completely random, strange interpretations. They were mainly random word combinations like “Bacon Hobbit” and “Moose potion, poke me” — things like that. So I grabbed my microphone and recorded these phrases into the computer, and when I played that back in sync with the video, it really looked like the guy was saying it,” he said. One of the reasons lip reading is so hard to do, for anyone attempting it, like the hard of hearing,  is that so much of sound production occurs inside our mouths. One lip movement may correspond to a number of sounds, posing a serious challenge. The Bad Lip Reading creator  is actually a decently good lip reader, he’s finding really well-matching words, just the wrong ones.

Priming and Activating in Communication
Yet, even despite the inherent ridiculousness of the sentences, the video has a sort of logic. This is because of the way we pick which words we’re going to use next.  Priming is what we do when engaged in conversation, preparing to hear a set of words that match with the content of the discussion. If the topic at the moment is hair, we’re likely to keep talking about hair, so we “activate” words related to hair and make them easier to produce. So, the creators of these videos are not only manipulating the way our brains process language, but also the way we communicate, and our natural tendencies to predict, assume, prime, and interpret. Bingo! I mean, Peephole! Ugh, what I’m saying is, Bravo!