Long Arm Cell Phone Holders for Tutorials

I am exploring two things: the world of Amazon affiliation links and tutorial making devices. I recently did a search on this and was supplied with the BenksWorld Long Arm holder which I bought, love, and is now longer in stock on Amazon. The other two I’m looking at as considerations for trying are the Avantree and the Auxo-Fun which has the screw-down clamp which I prefer.

If you decide to purchase one, let me know your favorite, and please check out using my affiliate links!


Three Perfectly Awful Ways to Add Art into Your Core Subjects: #2

One common objection to project based learning or arts integration* is this: “You’re wasting time on non-essentials! Students aren’t learning how to read and write as it is. Why confuse them with additional subjects? Let art be art and grammar be grammar.”

In large part, the critics are correct! If you’ve failed to make connections for students (and parents and admin and the community and…and…and), then time is wasted and students are confused.

Let us, though, assume you have thoroughly indoctrinated your audience in the joys, nay, the necessity of arts integration, and they have even embraced the notion. You’ve made constant connections in class between a project and a learning objective. Yet, there’s still resistance on the part of the students, and you feel uncertain. Maybe the project is taking too long. Making everyone’s having a grand time, but you realize half-way through that the connection you assumed isn’t quite on point.

This is quite possibly the outcome of perfectly awful idea # 2:

2. Don’t allow enough time for proper scaffolding.

Scaffolding is a natural part of all learning: standing before walking before running. Alphabet before reading. Simple sentences before complex essays. The problem arises when combining disciplines. How do you properly breakdown class time into manageable chunks that cover two disciplines in ways that engage, make sense, lead to learning, AND cover everything you need to cover WHILE leaving a sense of completion?

This scaffolding issue has been one of my greatest weaknesses in my teaching, and one which was mostly solved by a surprising source: a theatre.

STORY: I taught for six years in a school in Hawaii that, while I was there, gave time and resources toward project based learning. I, as a former student who had been easily bored, embraced the theory whole-heartedly, and then spent several years, in the words of my business mentor Jennifer Kem, “throwing spaghetti at a wall.” I had decent ideas, but the execution of a project, the scaffolding, was too scattered and too overwhelming at times to be as useful to the students as the project could have been. When I returned to SC, I became part of a teaching artist program at The Warehouse Theatre in Greenville, SC. In three years, all of my teaching, from dance to literature, was revolutionized.

What made the difference? 1. The WHT’s method of teacher artist training

2. The theatre’s way of scaffolding theatre in with literature

Before my introduction to the WHT, my approach held several weakness: I talked too much through a project. I separated the literature learning from the project almost entirely, teaching a literature component and then giving a large chunk of time to projects (a perfect way to give slackers a nap). I tried to cover too much in both disciplines. I didn’t adapt well OR I dropped a project entirely if it wasn’t “working.”

Since my training, I’ve learned many ways of bringing my visions into reality, but these are five lessons I’ve deeply learned.

  1. Decide on one or two main ideas: You can’t cover everything in a class or even in a unit. Look at where your project and reading are within the year, and focus on one or two big ideas that can flow over the course of multiple days or a week. If you’re focusing on characterization in a novel, spend a day dedicated to character development in one or two characters and how the development can be shown physically (theatre) and a second day on visual representations. You may only cover one or two people in class, but show HOW students can apply these analysis ideas to other characters and brainstorm a paper based on characters you haven’t covered.
  2. Warm up: One lesson we’ve been taught is that resistance is often inadequate warmup (a paraphrase of a Mel Trimble saying). When introducing a new concept, either in the core discipline or the secondary discipline, allow time for exploring the discipline in a group in simple, non-threatening ways.
  3. Break it down. Break it down some more: You think your lesson on alliteration is awesome. You’ve broken down several poems, you have movement, stomping, clapping incorporated, and you have connections to pop culture all over the place. Then you discover your class has forgotten what a consonant is, and several can’t keep a stomping pattern going while speaking. At this point, the problem isn’t your plan. The problem is needing to add a little more: introducing a warm up clapping exercise and a warm up vowel/consonant exercise that leads into your main plan.
  4. Allow more time than you think a project ought to take, but make sure you have extra work for quicker students.
  5. Allow time for reflection and discussion about the project itself:  This is where you discover what students learned and where they discover what they’ve learned. Even have a set plan for how you lead into the reflection and discussion.

Bonus: Take classes in theatre and other arts and see how the instructors scaffold YOUR learning. Remember what it’s like to feel awkward, and take that empathy back to your students!

How do you scaffold your projects? Do you have a memorable failure or success? Let me know in the comments!

If you want to see how I scaffold Beowulf in my summer camps, sign up HERE  to receive a free reading guide to the epic.





*I interchange PBL and arts integration. They aren’t entirely the same, but, in my classes,the projects are based on some sort of visual, theatrical, or (occasionally) musical production.



“Where were you when I was in high school???” is the question I often face.

“In high school also!” is the answer I want to give, but usually I smile through pleasantries while I continue my explanation of what I offer.

What do I offer? Alligator tooth necklaces and stunning copper and lapis lazuli bracelets!

That’s not what I really offer: that’s not the heart and soul of what’s driving me to continue in this small business journey which, when I started, seemed the exact opposite of what I am suited for.

What I thrive on providing teens is hands-on learning that’s appropriate to high school: challenging, long-lasting, practical, and worthy of their time and talents.

Because I’m an English teacher, the hands-on learning is connected to literature.

Because I recognize the value of intensive learning, the model is the week-long workshop.

How does this work IRL? My Beowulf workshop is my prime example because it’s the most structured and most-enduring (much like an excellent sword or well-built mead-hall).

During this five day immersive experience,  10-12 preteens and teens wend their way to The Spinning Jenny in Greer, SC. The atmosphere of the Jenny is perfect: room to move, heavy wood paneling, a low roof, and a place to keep our food on the feast day.

To indulge in language learning, we open each morning in praise of the beginning of things (and the Keeper of Mankind who made this middle earth for men) by chanting Caedmon’s Hymn in Old English. Short, beautiful, and a delight to say, this poem connects the week together and is recited by the students at the feast.

After the opening, we spend a solid 45 minutes on theatre: exploring the beasts and heroes of Beowulf through movement, costume designs, and theatre games.

Then, we go into maker mode, crafting Anglo-Saxon related works: chain mail (students learn how to make their own jump rings and the basic armor weave: the European 4-1), etched copper cuffs using Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse designs, metal work featuring favored kennings, and (possibly this year) shield designs retelling the epic.

In each instance, students are learning several ideas:

  1. HOW to understand difficult concepts through movement.
  2. HOW to use ancient artifacts as inspiration for contemporary art.
  3. HOW to make connections that move reading into action.
  4. HOW to understand, analyze, and synthesize information.
  5. HOW to use tools, make metal wonders, and incorporate safety into their daily lives.

And HOW much time and effort go into art and understanding!

I’m creating the experiences I would have loved in high school and offering these experiences to others in hopes that they’ll learn to love reading, making, and thinking while soaking themselves in ideas of bravery and virtue.

Next Wednesday, I’ll tell you how this all got started (hint: in a cave overlooking the Pacific).

PS: If you click HERE you can sign up to download my free reading guide to Beowulf! In it I offer many of the ideas that I use to teach the epic in a traditional classroom and during the intensive.



Show-gate Party!

My idea to hold a Tailgate Jewelry Showcase (Show-gate) complete with grilling and bbq and team color jewelry on sale in the back of pickup trucks did not take hold of the hearts and minds of my class. Partly because none of like football; partly because football doesn’t happen in March when the showcase happens. However, this sounds like a fun jewelry showcase, and I ask that someone else who cares about football to please hold it so that I can come.

We did decide that we are aiming for a lovely outdoors affair in the spring in Greer, so you all keep an eye out for our production!


Thus far in our Homeschool Jewelry Making Session we have explored the following:

  1. Chain mail
  2. Wire wrapping
  3. Wire weaving
  4. Metal shaping: designing, cutting, forming, doming, texturing, etc.

Next week will continue our foray into the world of weaving followed by several weeks of creating a showpiece that puts together multiple techniques. Students will also be coming up with theme for their March showcase.

I won’t be offering this session again until fall; however, you do have the option of multiple summer camps and workshops which incorporate metal work, art, and literature.

See you #hereingreer!

Three Perfectly Awful Ways to Incorporate Art into Your Core Studies: #1

I love arts integration and project based learning. I think, to an extent, using art as a means of learning science, history, or literature increases understanding and stimulates analytical thinking.

But badly done, arts integration and PBL cause more harm than good. As a practitioner of both, I can speak with some confidence and authority on Perfectly Awful Ways to incorporate art into your core studies (and perhaps offer a solution to the problems).

I’ll offer, in no particular order, one bad idea a week!

#1. Don’t make clear connections for the students throughout the entire unit.  

I like to make connections. I make connections where connections don’t exist and impose patterns on street numbers. Part of my insistence on arts integration springs from my impulse to synthesize: I feel a connection between a certain art form and a certain piece of literature, jump wholeheartedly into exploring that connection, and I forget to VERBALIZE that connection to students, parents, or administration. The connection exists, but almost purely in my mind and the minds of students who think like me. Everyone else gets left behind in confused bewilderment.

As an artist, that’s fine. As a teacher, that’s a failure to teach. In fact, it’s almost an exercise in solipsism. Sooooo, if you’re enthusiastically incorporating art into a subject, let students know what the purpose is at the beginning of the unit, throughout the unit, and then at the end. Also make sure they are expressing the purpose to you both verbally and in writing throughout the month or so you are studying a subject. You’ll be surprised at what they think you are intending versus what you are intending or actually doing.

Story: I had students perform short cuttings from Julius Caesar. They had over a month to prepare a two-minute selection set in any time period. When I asked the class, “What are you going to tell your parents the assignment is?”  one of the students replied, “We’re going to perform a play completely memorized on exam day.” And that, my friend, is why parents think you’re giving students WAY too much work, and why you should always ask students what the assignment and purpose of the assignment are before they go home and relay information.

How can you make connections?

  1. Clearly state your purpose verbally and in writing: during your introductions, on handouts, in emails home, on quizzes…
  2. Ask questions along the way to find out what connections students are making (this is also how you discover many new ideas to incorporate into future lessons).
  3. Have students write brief artist statements about a work clearly connecting inspiration (the text) to the artwork.
  4. Ask “WHY???” constantly.
  5. Use mind maps, Venn diagrams, and brainstorming techniques with abandon.
  6. Debrief: at the end of a day or a unit, have a circle conversation about what students have learned and how a project helped or didn’t help. If students feel awkward speaking out, have them write their observations on a note card or half sheet of paper.

I want to hear YOUR stories of arts integration and how you make connections. Please add your moments of glory or grief in the comments!

Happily Moving On

This jewelry design isn’t spectacularly large or show stopping or even original. But I love it. I love the feeling of the copper, the sparkle of Swarovski, and how each bracelet is slightly different even in its sameness.

I’m definitely teaching an adult class on this in March, and I’m adding it to my Teen Summer Camp.

My next addition: use a torch to make a blob on the end rather than curling up the ends and possibly use a slightly smaller gauge (this is 12 g wire!).

Make your mobius! A simple tutorial for a stunning weave.

Welcome to the mobius weave! Simple, lovely, and versatile, you can discover the basics below. 

I’m using 18 gauge 5/16″ ID bright aluminum from C & T Designs. The copper bracelet was made from 18 gauge 3/16″ ID copper jump rings from C & T Designs.

Step one: Open the jump rings by grasping the rings and twisting slightly toward and away from you (don’t try to pull them apart).

Step two: Open 10 jump rings

Step three: Close 5 jump rings by twisting the rings into a close position (do not push them together). You will now have a total of 15 jump rings (10 open; 5 closed)


Step four: Put a closed jump ring on an open jump ring. Close the open jump ring


Step five: Gently push the jump rings so that they overlap each other. This created the mobius unit

Step six: Repeat this process to make four more mobius units.

Step seven: Put a two mobius units on a single open jump ring. Close the jump ring.

Step eight: Continue adding mobius units until you have used up your units.

Step nine: Repeat the entire process until you have a bracelet or necklace. Add a clasp of your choice and wear with pride!

Accidental Homeschooling

Most people expect me to homeschool: I teach at two co-ops, I design homeschool electives, I have a son who’s in the K-4 at one of the co-ops.

I have never expected to homeschool. For one, those first two in the list above? Yeah. Those take up a lot of time. And notice the age of the son: four. We have another ten years before I know what to do with him!

I have a long list of why I wouldn’t homeschool: I was almost fired from my one elementary school job for not interacting well with 9 year olds. I was removed from middle school homeroom to high school homeroom because I’m “not nurturing.” I was very vocal during my church-worker years that I wanted to work with kids who were 10 and up because we could communicate.

I can’t even imagine what it takes to teach a five year old how to multiply or even what a five year old needs to know.

I’m a firm believer in letting the professionals work!

Then today, while holding that four year old during Christmas break, I realized what had been happening all along.

He had finished reading the back of one of his books (upside down, in fact) and was now pointing out all the countries of Asia in his map sticker book when his three-year-old cousin made a joke.

The cousin was putting together a USA puzzle map by himself and called out, “Look, Falcon!”

Falcon looked up and laughed. Zach had put Wyoming the wrong place! The two laughed and laughed and then told about the time Sarah (Zach’s mom/my sister) had put Colorado under Montana. It was a great joke.

So, yes, the three and four year old know their states, many capitals, and a host of countries. Because we’ve been homeschooling all along through immersion.

We introduce concepts (alphabet or reading or countries or animals), but the kids follow the ones they love. For a LONG time we watched alphabet videos, wrote words, pointed out words, read books, had books read on tablets, etc. Then it was Little Einsteins and an intense fascination with music which persists in a family of dancers. Now it’s Octonauts and all things sea life (the horror that erupted when I confused a manta and a sting ray!!!) and maps. The Octonauts go on adventures across planet puzzles or maps puzzles. I tell bedtime stories about the Octopod traveling across the Ocean and up the coasts of various countries. They sing the US songs while doing US puzzles and then grab a globe to find the continents on a flat map and a, well, globe.

Then we follow it up by drawing planets, finding the outline of states in broken pieces of clay or in water stains, plotting our course for upcoming road trips, and looking up all 50 state birds by talking to Google (O. We also have a bird clock that tweets or hoots on the hour).

I suppose this is just how homeschooling works, and I was making it more complicated that I should have been. I’m fairly happy that this is the way it works too. I love it.

So when asked, “Will you homeschool?” I’ll say, “I am, I will, and I will be putting him into K-5 program at the same time!”