Making Something Out of Nothing

As we round out the year in Pages with our third and final experience, we will see Noah Purifoy’s work in the exhibition Junk Dada. Working with Bryan Moss, visual arts artist-in-residence, we decided to first explore this work with as many of the five senses as we could engage. Armed with a box of “stuff”, Bryan introduced Purifoy’s work, a brief history, a biography, and images of his assemblages and collages.

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This was no typical lecture. During the presentation, students wrapped their fingers in yarn, paper, and other small unidentifiable objects. Students listened, asked questions, and worked together in small groups of three and four, with the occasional lone student breaking free to create a work on their own. Students listened and built with the “stuff” they found scattered on their tables or desks. What was the end goal? Whatever they wanted it to be – this kind of freedom often a challenge when students are staring at a blank page trying to translate their thoughts into writing. But with the materials, students had a lot to say, as they looked at Purifoy’s work, considered the choices he made as an artist, and engaged in fluid discussions about Dada, art and social justice, the museum, and community.

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There were no crisis moments of creative or maker’s block; no one got stuck. No one thought this activity of lecture, learning, and play felt weird. Everyone learned something, most likely learned many things. Students all knew what to do with their slivers of paper, buttons and beads, yarn, feathers, and sparkly things. We discussed how objects can be arranged to represent an idea or how those objects can be used to build a narrative. This is one way to integrate pre-writing and the making process: encouraging students to be physical in the process, be thoughtful with their choices, and most of all, to play.

Pondering Privilege

Screenshot 2016-02-11 at 2.42.19 PMIn preparation for Junk Dada, our visual arts experience at OSU Wexner Center for the Arts, students have been exploring themes of race, identity and poverty in eye-opening ways.  I am impressed with their discussion and reflection.

First, students read White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack by Peggy McIntosh and discussed the author’s purpose and how her statements applied to them.  Our class is diverse in terms of  gender, race and religion and this activity helped them consider how they their lives might be different if their identity was changed (or how their lives ARE different because they experience inequality).  While the topic can be uncomfortable, students were willing to freely share their experiences and thoughts.

Next, they viewed a Privilege Walk Video and completed a Privilege Survey on Google Forms to identify their experience with inequality or privilege in terms of gender, race, sexuality, ability, religion, class, and nationality.  Students viewed the results (taking a privilege walk of their own, in a way) and completed a data analysis to identify the most common inequalities in our community.

Once students identify community inequalities, they will choose one and conduct research on the scope and impact of the inequality.  Our goal is for them to create a visual piece that inspires awareness and conversation about the issue of inequality in our community, connecting to Noah Purifoy’s use of art as an instrument for social change.

Here are more survey results:


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Tripping Up the Clinical Escher Laboratory, or, how I survived a class field trip

Grandma Jolly’s silver spoon outlasted her—
—but lived again; This time trash reservoir-erected

inside the belly of Shiny Space Case,
hammered down, pinned to make.

Rusted tin can grooved into a 70s recycle bin—
blasted back into a bust of Picasso’s music man.

(The professor never knew where it landed, that that
tuna lid led itself onto Ohio’s wealthiest wall.)

Frankenstein’s tombstone shocked out of mold—
electric shimmer, false tag, giving the cemetery
what no concrete obelisk can conjure.
(Why can’t the doctor and the monster be One?)

Rasta flag rotini-ed behind the false flag—
of political oppression and problem, reaction,
solution. Covered, held, hugged by the protective
nurturing Hand of Umbrella Corp.

White-horned beast, captured, stuck to the ether—
ether the Pure Man seized from the desert air
on a spiritual quest never finished. That mask
of the monster stares still, beckoning gallery fops near.

(Had some fun after our experience today modeling my own creative process for the students. Always a best practice to show them our own struggles through a piece of writing; this one inspired by Noah Purifoy’s Junk Dada. Might revise for a second draft to show students the improvements made.)

Exploring the World from Inside of the Classroom


It has been said that Paris, France is the city of love. As my students prepared to watch Girlhood, a coming of age narrative placed within this famous city, I began to wonder about life and culture in France. What would my students and I miss because we were looking at this film through our American lens?

Undoubtedly, when asked what we know about France, little anecdotes like the one that leads this blog post would come to mind. But what did my students really know about France to help them understand this film in the way it was intended? We needed every day information that clued us into the real lives of French teenagers.

Thus, we embarked upon a modern day expedition that could take us all the way to France and bring us back within the span of our class period- a webquest. Students watched a video about everyday life for teenagers, explored a Prezi about major differences in culture, chose an article to read about important issues, and then found a source of their own based on what had piqued their interest.

The wonderful thing about having a multi-genre quest like this is it gave the students multiple opportunities to find something that engaged them. Students were encouraged to record questions and reactions to each resource.


Why do you have to make your job choices so early?

I think it’s stressful to having to pick what you want to study at sophomore year. 

I’m surprised they let students smoke in front of school. 

What happens to people if they don’t pass the final test?

How is it effective to have the schedule change every day?

Why do you have to choose a cluster to learn, why can’t there be a variety?


Food is a central part of culture in france in which as it isn’t that important in america as in culture. 

Activities only take place on Wednesday and weekend.

When they get a 50% on a test they still pass, if we get 50% on tests or scores we fail.


The article explained to me that France is much more free and loose about restraints on some subjects that Americans are usually scared and uptight about.

The people in France are much more private about certain things rather than the people in America are.

This article made me realize how much more laid back France is. They don’t frequently date the way Americans do.

Students posted research from their own findings on the collaborative website Padlet:


After viewing the film, many students used information from our research for support as we digested and dissected different moments in the film. The spirit of inquiry can be a very powerful thing in a classroom- allowing students to follow their own interests to learn and grow. In this case, my students came to develop and own a broader view of our world.

Students Answer Life’s Messy Questions Together

We don’t always have the answers to life’s messy questions.  Through the PAGES program, English I students had the opportunity to experience Girlhood and consider how one teenage girl attempts to answer these questions.  With very few resources or reliable people guiding her in the right direction, Marieme makes a chain of “bad” choices.

2016-01-29 13.48.38During our post-visit, the following messy questions were printed and cut into strips:

What is on the other side of this choice?
What if I dare to dream?
What does my voice sound like?
Whose life is this anyway?
How do you know it’s love?
What if I make “the wrong” decision?
Who do I think I am?
Who is in control of this situation?
What do I do now?
To get to tomorrow, what do I need to do today?

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Students chose one question that interested them and formed groups based on that question.  Within their groups, they discussed and wrote about the following:

    • If Marieme had asked herself this question at different moments in the film, what would have been her answer? At the beginning, the middle, the end?
    • Think about moments in your own lives. What do you need to know to be able to answer these questions?

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Students selected a peer from their group to report their answers to the class.  The resulting discussion proved that while small, these young students had big things to say! They were able to effectively analyze a film as a text and make connections to their own lives:

Even when she made a bad decision, it was HER decision, and she was in control.”

Showing love is love; it’s about what you do versus what you say. “

I picked this but I didn’t know what this meant until they helped me.”

You have to consider every outcome, not just the good.  You cannot ignore the bad effects of your choices.  You need to think critically about your choices.”  

“She lost everyone because of one bad choice.” 

“I don’t think the door was locked for her. I don’t think doors are locked forever.

“Don’t doubt yourself.”


In the Classroom: Seven Ways Into The Media Arts Experience

We will screen Girlhood, a film by Céline Sciamma, in a matter of days, and we are busy in the classroom engaging with this upcoming experience in myriad ways. When encountering a text, or a large body of work in Pages, we try to avoid considering that text as the end all, be all, the grand moment, the point to reach, and then we’re done. Instead we cultivate conversations between the main text and other texts, sometimes, unlikely ones or weird ones; we stretch and stretch some more, the content and themes. We ask: How many different ways can we get into this work, and make connections beyond it? Below are some examples:


What’s in a name? –with Kim Leddy, Mosaic

Mosaic students are beginning a big folklore project, and with that we began to think about the narratives of our lives. We considered these tales that wave and warn our curiosities into wonder and at other times into submission.

We began with the folklore of names, entertaining why we name things, especially inanimate objects, and that led us into two nonfiction texts, excerpts of text-based journalism, about the folklore around how Apple’s iconic Siri got her name. We read two excerpted versions of the story (tech folklore if you will), then had students turn to writing their own coming-to-name narratives, a play on the idea of coming-of-age, a central theme in the film, Girlhood.


Whose life is this anyway? – with Kim Swensen, Westerville North

Students are in the thick of Toni Morrison’s Sula, so we paired that text with the children’s book, also by Morrison along with her son Slade, The Big Box, and a song in the front yard, by Gwendolyn Brooks. In those pairings we discussed identity, boundaries, oppression, and choice. Students found the characters in each of the text were seeking something, but in that seeking there were obstacles, interventions, and consequences.

After a rich discussion making connections in all three texts, students wrote in the voice of the character in the Gwendolyn Brooks piece, seeking beyond what is immediately before in plain sight. Students asked themselves what they were curious about, what spaces, boundaries, or mindset did they want to break open or expand, theme explored at length in Girlhood.


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Why don’t students read more poetry? – with Thomas Hering, Delaware Hayes

Students are reading The Yellow Wallpaper, and thinking about ideals around feminism, oppression, and voice. We wanted to explore more poetry (because students do not get a lot poetry in the curriculum), so we paired that short story text with a few poems, one we read in the pre-visit, Letter to a Friend Unsent, by Rebecca Lindenberg. We also began with a short video clip of Naomi Shihab Nye on the civic responsibility of the poet, a case for poetry to move and stir the senses, a permission to be human and to feel emotion and vulnerability, to engage with empathy.

We pulled the texts in conversation with each other, as students made connections to safe and unsafe spaces, boundaries and oppression, the stillness or the coming to voice, something the main character in Girlhood grapples with throughout the film, and themes running through The Yellow Wallpaper.


What can we learn from the artist and why is that important to our writing? – with Aaron Sherman, ACPA

We used our session to slow down and learn from the artists, using two different texts: film and poetry. We wanted to explore time and space, and as the lesson developed had the chance to explore so much more than we anticipated. We watched a scene from the high suspense film Day Night Day Night, by Julia Loktev, then listened and read the poem The House with Only an Attic and a Basement, Kathryn Maris.

Watching the film we entertained three ideas: a question for the excerpted work, what information we could gather from the scene, and considerations of before and/or after [the scene}. The point was to take an extended, close look at the film and gather ideas on what the artist was doing to pull us through the narrative. Students identified uses of color, light, sound, long close-ups on the character, limited dialogue, and the placement or use of objects in the scene to create suspense, slow down or speed up time, tension, and to build the narrative.

After the film clip, we listened to a reading of the poem by both the author and a student in class. Listening to at least two different versions of the reading is an ideal entry to the poem. Following the readings, we used the same extended looking to peel away what the writer was doing in the work. In both cases with the film and the literature, we stayed away from meaning (it’s a good challenge for students), to examine the art and what the artist is doing to convey that meaning as practice for watching a film with subtitles: following the narrative as it unfolds, and looking for clues in the imagery and context, even as the dialogue flies across the screen (this practice especially essential for slower readers of text).

Often students get stuck in only knowing how to seek out meaning, analyze the text in a way that is tunneled and limited. In this exercise we create boundaries for students to slow down and look at the work, not just for meaning (though you can build that in later), but for technique, artistic devices, choices the artist is making. Students can become better writers by learning what a writer is doing in their work, not just what the work is saying or means (though that’s important too!).

In the end we wrote for a short time taking what we learned and trying to transfer that into the writing.


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So you want to make a documentary? – with Andrea Patton, Whetstone HS

Students want to make coming-of-age documentaries. Again, the coming-of-age theme is central in the film Girlhood. However, as I’ve learned from a range of visual media artists, documentaries just don’t happen, in other words, you turn on a camera and just film. Documentaries need a premise, intention, and could use some pre-writing as a way to organize ideas, the stance, or the narrative.

We watched the documentary They Call Me Muslim Diana Ferrero, and gathered as much information as we could, forging the meaning or premise of the film (though that was tempting to many students), but rather what the filmmaker was doing to deliver or convey that meaning or premise. We considered that if they want to make documentaries, they should watch a few to learn to the craft.

With help, students did a nice job keeping their opinions of the subject matter of the film to themselves, and keeping a sharp focus on what the filmmaker did to highlight the varying points of view of the subject matter. It was important to not get burdened by whether or not we agreed or disagreed with the opposite stances of the film, but rather to consider whether or not those stances were in balance. We watched the film to learn from the filmmaker and what she did or did not do in conveying the perspectives and subject matter, resisting chiming in with our opinions on said subject matter (there will be plenty of time to debate that later).


Mastering the Argument – with Elise Allen, Central Crossing

Students will inevitably have to write persuasive pieces, argument essays, works that try to convey a notion to the reader. But before students can do that they need to know who that reader is, make a few assumptions, and then on to the persuasion of said reader. However, if students never learn to write to, or at the very least consider their reader or audience beyond just the teacher grading the essay, students will get stuck repeating the same ideas over and over again without bringing in any evidence or fact to support the stance. We encouraged students to think beyond just writing to the teacher. Who is your audience, and how will you convey your stance to that audience? If the only assumption is your audience is your teacher; that limits the risks a writer will take to convey an idea or stance.

We watched a short documentary film, They Call Me Muslim, by Diana Ferrero. The film explores two sides of an issue, and students, while watching (with subtitles – more practice for the film Girlhood), gathered information. What is the thesis or stance? Who is making the case? How is the filmmaker making that case? Who is the audience? Watching an argument reveal itself on screen, allows students to see how an artist can “show and tell”. It also allows students to have a critical eye for bias, something that will help students curb bias in their own writing.

In the end, we explored the visual argument as practice for text-based argument writing. The documentary is a good resource for exploring how-to tackle persuasion.


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All the World’s a Stage (and we wonder what it sounds like) – with Laura Garber and Sarah Patterson

With Shakespeare in our pocket and Girlhood on our mind, we explored coming-of-age in a slightly different medium – music. After viewing and listening to the BBC’s beautiful visual mash-up, BBC a lifetime of original dramaof the text All the World’s a Stage, by William Shakespeare, we annotated ideas and discussed our ideas about the themes of the piece and looked to understand the seven stages both literally and figuratively.

Students then took to creating their own seven stages, interpreting the premise of that text using musical selections to represent their understanding of each of the seven stages. Students will also do some research on coming-of-age in France, grounding them with cultural context for the film. But the pre-visit, inspired by the Shakespeare piece, enabled students to not just read the piece, but create their own stages of lyrics and sound, an engaging way to explore the text and relate to it in the contemporary. Check out the Pages Twitter feed, @pagesprogram, to see examples of songs from students’ playlists.



-Dionne Custer Edwards


Big Messy Questions

As we prepare for the screening of the film Girlhood, a story of a teenage girl navigating the complexities of her life, exploring her perceived choices (and lack thereof), a reminder that included in your resource binder, or you can also find them here,, are a few examples of related literary works to inspire our thinking.



Included are poems and short stories by Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Rita Dove, Emily Dickinson, Alice Walker, and Amy Tan… There are some male authors in the mix as well, but considering this film focuses its main character on the female voice, writings by female authors are a natural compliment.

As with the film, some of the included literary works (poems and short stories) uncover universal themes and experiences, while others are more nuanced, complicated, or culturally specific. These literary works are great starting points, as each piece offers its own big open questions, allowing enough troubling space for students to get lost in discussion and written reflection, opening up many entry points that not only intersect with the film, but also encourage creative and critical thinking.

Making space for students to wonder about some of these big messy contexts first gives them permission to wonder without a specific end point, deadline, or contrived purpose in mind. And often while students are conflicted, concerned with the end-game, the purpose, the point, the why they are doing something in school, the big messy open-ended questions raised in these poems and short stories, much like the film, offer no easy resolution, no neat and tidy answer or outcome. This will certainly frustrate some students, but will also allow them to take their own risks (sometimes calculated, sometimes messy) in their wonder, then maybe just maybe, translate some of that messy wonder into their writing.

Here are a few examples of big messy questions to wonder about in the context of this film:

What is on the other side of this choice?
What if I dare to dream?
What happens when someone tries to take away my voice?
What does my voice sound like?
Whose life is this anyway?
How do you know it’s love?
What if I make “the wrong” decision?
Who do you think you are?
Who do I think I am?
Who is in control of this situation?
What do I do now?
To get to tomorrow, what do I need to do today?


The Eddies 2015

trophy 1 | the both and | shorts and longs | julie rybarczyk

After a PAGES experience last year, Forbidden Voices, my students decided they wanted to blog and I have learned it is a perfect way to have students write regularly, write what they are passionate about and have an online discourse.  This year’s freshmen didn’t have a choice and they love it too!

To jumpstart our blogs and make connections around the world, we participated in the Edublogs Student Blogging Challenge. A new challenge will start up in the spring if you are interested in participating with your students or in mentoring other students.

I am excited to announce that FIVE of our freshmen were nominated for Best Student Blog!
And my favorite teacher resource, WexPAGESOnline, was nominated for the Best Ed Tech/Resource sharing blog!
Please consider visiting and voting.
You’ll need to vote using the students’ blog site’s url, so I’m including them here:
Here is a link to our class blog site if you’re curious.  We are always looking for ways to write, collaborate and connect if you’d like:



Soundtracking our Literature

Photo on 12-3-15 at 2.09 PMMy AP Lit classes read Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street this last week, and some of them had a hard time connecting with the text. They couldn’t feel Cisneros’s rhythms or didn’t like the narrative style or couldn’t identify with Esperanza emotionally.

I was a bit surprised because Mango Street is one of my favorite books for the fact that I think it speaks more easily to us than some of the more well-aged literature that we read (Frankenstein was our last text). But I knew we could get closer to Mango, we just needed the right activity. I then remembered an assignment in grad school when we had to pair a song with a section of text for the young adult novel we were reading. I remember my group’s song – Jimi Hendrix’s “Kiss the Sky”; and I remember the protagonist, a young girl, was swinging – she found freedom in the swinging, and the song spoke that. I can’t remember the title of the text, but that moment of it will never leave me.

So I asked my students if we could delay discussion a bit today to head in a more creative direction; they agreed. I then walked them through my thought process of finding a soundtrack song for the chapter “Bums in the Attic”. “The Weary Kind” by Ryan Bingham had the relaxed feel I wanted, but was too sad. “My Name is Jonas” by Weezer had the power and joy I think Esperanza feels when she dreams of having her own house, but is a little too heavy. So I read with ”Sedona” by Houndmouth as my soundtrack; it has the joy but with a laid back feel – and I timed it so that I ended the chapter right as the chorus begins. Nice.

The students worked in groups of two to five and had about nine minutes to choose their selection from the text, find a fitting song, then practice their performance. When they performed, they did so in chronological order of the text so we could feel the emotions in the order Esperanza felt them.

The students’ choices:

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole for the chapter “Darius and the Clouds”

“Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. for the chapter “Smart Cookie”

“Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira for the chapter “Hips” (they rapped it)

“The Funeral” by Band of Horses for the chapter “Born Bad”

“Lose Your Soul” by Dead Man’s Bones for the chapter “Red Clowns”

“First” by Cold War Kids for the chapter “Mango Says Goodbye Sometimes”

One violinist happened to have her instrument with her, so her group used the 1st movement of Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole for the chapter “Chanclas”.

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And after we were done, they said, “We should do this more often.” Yes, we should. We could feel the text in new ways once we heard how it sounded and felt to the others in the room. Our next class discussion on tone will have even greater depth as we develop this new lens of hearing literature with a soundtrack.

Happy Teaching,

Tom Hering

After Picasso: Mystery, Inquiry, Collaboration and Ownership


How to get 39 ninth-graders excited about contemplating pieces of art?

Mystery, inquiry, collaboration and ownership!

Our class was scheduled to visit the Wexner Center’s After Picasso exhibit and view over 80 pieces somehow connected to the influential artist.  Most of my students had never stepped foot in a gallery before and were feeling unsure about how to analyze and appreciate the experience. I was feeling unsure myself, but our PAGES planning meeting helped me.

Step One: White Elephant (Ownership)

I printed color photos of some of the pieces in the exhibit minus any identifying information (author, title, year).  Each student blindly selected a print or stole from another student.  We all viewed the pieces using the document camera and classroom projector.  Afterwards, they had one minute to convince a peer to trade a coveted piece. Here’s a snippet of what the classroom talk was that day:

“What the heck is THIS?”

“Oooh. Look at THAT one.”

“Is mine upside down or something?”

“Pleeeeeease trade!”

“No.  This is mine.”


Step Two: Getting Acquainted (Mystery)

Students used magnifying glasses, PAGES journals and the Library of Congress Primary Source Analysis Tool to write about their piece.  Several times.  Several days.  They didn’t know anything more than what they saw. There were no RIGHT answers, just their OWN questions, reflections and observations.


Step Three: Research (Inquiry)

I provided students with artists and titles of pieces and then they tried to find anything they could about their piece.  Some were very interested in their artist’s style and medium.  Some were led back to a specific piece of Picasso’s from which their artist found inspiration; some never found that connection but speculated on their own based on what they had found through research.  Some students grabbed meter sticks and mapped out the size of their piece. More snippets:

“Everything I find is in German!”

“Look at what else this guy made!”

“Mine is taller than me.”

“Oh yea?  Mine is bigger than the ENTIRE wall!”


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Step Four: Sharing (Collaboration)

Students shared their findings with the class, which turned into an open dialogue about Picasso connections and other students’ observations, reflections and questions.

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While we didn’t get the gallery experience (yet), we had fun thinking, sharing and learning.



Student Practices for Finding Inner Voice


“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” 
― Rumi

Lectio Divina, or “divine reading” is traditionally a form of contemplative practice from the Christian faith tradition where one studies scripture seeking messages from God.

Today, it is sometimes used in secular ways as a contemplative practice where one meditates on a text of choice, often times a poem, seeking individual connections and meanings.


Mary Oliver (whose poem is seen above), Rumi, and Rilke would all be good choices to engage in a secular (or spiritual) version of Lectio Divina with poety. In addition, here is a Rilke-inspired poem by Natalie Eibert called “Let Everything Happen to You” that works beautifully.  I think many passages from Alan Watts prose/parables could be used, too.


I am drawn to the ancient practice of Lectio Divina for multiple reasons. The first is that articulate language, beauty expressed in the form of the written word, has always been a “strange pull” of mine. I am magnetized towards my visual and visceral response to words.  I read the words of Mary Oliver,

“let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves” 

and feel the phrases curling around me, blanketing me in relief, release, and comfort. I see myself anew, a creature desirous of the most earthly pleasures, receiving what is most needed.

Read more about a lesson using secular Lectio with Andrea Patton and a sample one of her students wrote here

– By Brandi Lust

Heart Breathing: Connecting with Gratitude, Relieving Stress


“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” 

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

There is something special about the heart: a miraculous, continually pumping, life-giving organ located in the center of the chest, the heart beats 100,000 pumps a day, over the course of a life that’s 2.5 billion beats (more heart facts here).

The heart also contains neurons that allow for communication with the brain. While this does not mean that the heart is a brain, there is evidence of interaction between these two parts of the body, affecting one’s health and emotional state.

When I visited Andrea Patton‘s classroom earlier this week, we used heart-focused breathing with students before moving them into a prompt where they mined their own thinking about the process via journaling.

Click on this link to get directions for heart-focused breathing and watch a trailer connected to the practice from the movie The Little Prince.

-By Brandi Lust