Whether it is evident or not when I post them, I do really try to make each Mirror Mantra something that reflects what is upcoming in my week–something that I am needing inspiration to tackle. The month of January has had an underlying theme that I haven’t actually talked about here yet–but I’m about to. I’ve been telling the story subtly, abstractly . . . now it’s time for the real thing.


December 31st, 2012


January 7th, 2013


January 14th, 2013


January 21st, 2013


January 28th, 2013

Make yourself is the theme of the year. It’s about creating who I am setting out to be, making the right choices–even if they are not easy–and moving, growing, learning. The second mantra–the distance is what you make it lead me up to an appointment over a year in the making, partly due to myself and partly due to circumstance. In early January I had found out that I failed not only anatomy, but also social psychology last term. I can pretend all I want I don’t give a shit, but I knew that I had tried my best to work hard at both of those classes and that hard work was not paying off. It’s easy to blame yourself, it’s even easier to blame circumstance . . . but extremely hard to admit that maybe something is not right. On January 11th, I had a 45-minute appointment where people got me–with a guy we’ll call Dr. B–and a psychology Master’s student, for a clinical interview to be assessed for ADHD, after waiting 6 months to get on to a waiting list, and 6 months following putting my name on that list for an appointment. The actual appointment could not have come at a better time, since I was really struggling with the concept of failing anatomy again.

Telling the whole story is hard work. It’s hard to talk about the academic problems; the fact that since first year I have not been able to maintain a course load of anything over three classes–last term I dropped to two classes for the first time, and I didn’t even pass either of them. It’s hard to talk about the fact that I don’t feel like I’m living up to people’s expectations of me, that I can’t do things right, and that I’ve felt like this for as long as I can remember. That all of the stupid little quirks I have might actually mean something–the fact that I’m constantly getting in shit for not turning off lights, constantly forgetting my bus pass or keys, that I can’t get through a simple academic reading or a humanities course because I am not interested even though I know I need to be. All that, and a lot more. The quirks might mean nothing–I might just be quirky. I know that, and that is okay. But if there is an explanation, a way we can modify this . . . I want to know it, too. I didn’t get out of my first appointment with a psychologist without using the service of Dr. B’s Kleenex. At the same time, through the recollections and memories . . . I knew it was okay, I knew it was okay I was there, I knew they understood. And few things have ever felt better than “We want to work with you on this.

The week leading up to that appointment was stressful. Jay, who pointed me in the right directions when I first asked him for options regarding assessment in Fall 2011, and Natasha, were among the few people who actually knew what was going on, because I was not ready to talk about it until at least that first part was over. Until I knew I had made the right choice to make that appointment. It was a long week, culminating in a 45-minute intake appointment, understanding and a fresh blanket of snow on the ground.

Each day between my intake/clinical interview and my first round of testing (psychoeducational assessment) increased my thoughts about it all. Learning the skill of forgetting: There was a gap of time I was able to push it out of my mind for a bit, but as the days approached, the testing that happened early this week weighed more and more on my mind. For the first time in a long time, I can say that I wanna try to get better and overcome each moment in my own way. Let’s see–I effed around with the asthma meds last week. I am not sure it was a good idea, but now I know I, in this season, cannot quit my evening Symbicort without causing myself problems. Overcoming moments–overcoming thoughts that lead up to this week’s assessment. That, too, was a long week.

This week . . . was assessment week. There were so many times where I was just like “Maybe this is stupid. Maybe I shouldn’t bother going through with all of this. I am fine.” The things we try to convince ourselves when we are facing uncertainty. I’ve been on a Something Corporate kick, and Caldecott Tunnel is a seriously good one, and it is home to this week’s mantra: we end up regretting the things we don’t try. On the bus on the way to my appointment on Monday the song shuffled on, and it was like “Okay, I need to do this.”

staring out into the intersection, she thinks that she can fly / And she might. / Holding on in a new direction, she’s going to try it tonight. / The closer that I get to feeling, the further that I’m feeling from alright . . .

straw dog, something corporate

Monday’s assessment was hard–basically an IQ test (WAIS-IV) and a self-report scale. Some of the WAIS-IV I just wanted to quit right there–that test was hard and long, and as Jay said . . . “The WAIS-IV is a tough one and you never know what the right answers are”. A completely true statement. Arranging blocks, defining words, recalling letters and numbers, crossing out shapes from lines, a bunch of timed stuff . . . like I said, it was long, and parts of it, such as the math problems were extremely hard. I was lucky enough to get my second assessment appointment on Tuesday afternoon–a memory test (the WMS-IV–which was possibly worse than the WAIS-IV)–recalling details of stories, placing specific cards in certain spots after attempting to memorize them, words in stupid pairs that didn’t make any sense and their association had to be remembered, some delayed recall things, and fortunately–that I can remember–no math. I also faced-off with the computer in the Conners Continuous Performance Test, involving not-clicking-the-x, and simultaneously grew more and more frustrated at each time I accidentally clicked the x, and more and more bored awaiting the stupid test to be done.

Tuesday was supposed to be the last day of testing. As soon as I got into the assessment room, I was told “We actually need you to come in for one more test.” I tried to pry her for answers, but I received none beyond “My supervisor says you need to come back in”. So my assumption is that something was off in my WAIS-IV that needs to be addressed further–and as Jay said “better that they do the most thorough job now versus only getting 90% of the puzzle […] best to get the whole picture, regardless of how many times you need to come in”. So, back to the clinic I am headed on Wednesday for mystery testing–I have suspicion it may have to do with my math results, but I can’t say for certain.

I’m blessed that I’ve got so many good people in my world–pointing me in the right directions; keeping me sane . . . and being supportive in the process as I slowly start telling people about what is unfolding. I hope that by publishing this post . . . I am able to move further into telling those who care about what is going on . . . regardless of where the journey leads. And, that, no matter where someone’s own journey is leading . . . if there is belief that you need help . . . find a way to get it.

Because the experience, so far, has been so worth it.

And, to close off with a quote from an e-mail with Jay from last November . . .

“Even in the midst of our own struggles, we can offer encouragement. Even during our personal low periods, we can continue to try to be a mentor to those around us. If we are honest about we are facing, we can offer hope to others that they are not alone.

John Wooden

Here’s to finding answers to even the questions that are not being asked . . . connection between the answers to the questions that are . . .

and hope in the process.

My friend Mike started a thing called “Mirror Mantras”, where he posts a positive or motivating phrase on his bathroom mirror to keep him inspired throughout the week.  Joining goodness? I am in!


Caldecott Tunnel — Something Corporate.

A year or so ago, I combined some words to invent the term badassmatic. Simply, a badass living with asthma. To be used in a sentence: Steve is the epitome of badassmatic.

Today, let’s define it. It is an honour to be the first ever guest-poster at my friend Steve’s blog Breathinstephen!

Please join me over there for some conversation on music, asthma, owning your health . . . and badassery!

Though he has never, to my recollection, asked how I found him, my cousin Dean is in a math class with an interesting twist.  It has a hashtag, thus making tweeting through class permissible.

I may not really know my multiplication tables, or remember anything about trigonometry, or be able to correctly execute the order of operations reliably. But I know that in-class tweeting is something that I quite dig, as evidenced by my own Twitter feed.

Bryan Penfound is the instructor who brought math and Twitter together at my university (and the other night posted about what it would look like if a person fell into a volcano).  I may not like math, but in the last week or so engaging with Bryan on Twitter has been super fun.  He agreed to share some thoughts on using Twitter in higher education here today, and with that, I will let him introduce himself!


Bryan ziplining.
Hi Bryan! How are you?
I am excellent. Just played a decent round of DDR so I’m focused and ready to go! What about your day so far?
Fantastic! I’m doing well, thanks! Care to tell us a bit about yourself?
Aside from being an avid gamer, I enjoy teaching mathematics now and then. I currently teach for the math department at the University of Winnipeg, and for the International College of Manitoba. When it comes to my background in mathematics, I received my B.Sc. from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and my M.Sc. from the University of Manitoba. I have been teaching at the instructor level for about 4 years.Aside from my first and second true loves (Yes, I am taken – sorry readers! Although I will let you decide if mathematics comes first or second! :P), I have an interest in insects, yoga, chocolate-covered anything, puppies and Starbucks. I dislike drivers who don’t know how to merge properly, that feeling of sand drying to your skin after swimming, mosquito bites, people who don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re” and waiting in line.
Okay, the Starbucks and the differentiation between you’re/your have it sealed why we click! Back to the beginning, what got you engaged in Twitter, and what were your first thoughts?
Well, I never really used Twitter that much at first. I just used it to follow my idols, like Justin Bieber. But then getting all of their updates was a little annoying, and I felt that I could never have as many fan-girls as them on Twitter, so I stopped using for a quite some time. Then when I bought my smartphone last fall, the Twitter app got me back in business.
It seems like many people have a first aversion to Twitter following sign up–I know I had one!  I’m happy you got back on board.  What sparked your choice to integrate Twitter into your classes?
I have been searching for the right social media to use for class updates for some time. A couple of years ago I used a Facebook page to keep my students updated, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. If I had been teaching multiple courses this would have meant multiple pages for multiple courses.As I was designing my course website over the winter break, I realized there was a Twitter widget to display tweets, and I was sold. It snowballed from there to include a live twitter feed projected during class time as well.
Very cool! How do you feel it works?
By far, Twitter is the best social media I have ever used for keeping my class updated with course announcements. Many students either had Twitter, or signed up for Twitter once they realized they were able to tweet during class. Having a running hashtag #math2106 and #math1102 (check ’em out) is both easy and effective. Perhaps I should take a few lines to explain the premise of Twitter for those who don’t know. Users, once registered, will have access to a main page. In this main page you can view all the tweets from anybody you are following. So if my students follow me, their class updates come to their main page and are easily viewed. Another neat aspect of Twitter is that conversations can also include “hashtags” (#) which effectively sew a bunch of tweets together that contain the same hashtag. By clicking a hashtag, one can view all the previous tweets containing that hashtag. For instance, if you search the #math2106 hashtag, you will see tweets from my Intermediate Calculus class.One of the best parts of the whole set-up is that students don’t need a Twitter account to keep updated in my course. Students can click the hashtag related to their course and they are sent to that page with all of the tweets containing the hashtag – and this page includes all of my updates! So students can choose to check out the updates at any time they wish.
I feel like the constant real-time aspect of Twitter really helps with engagement, but also in the fact that you can go back over certain information at a later point–I would love tweeted reminders about things, since I have the tendency to throw reminders amongst my notes . . . possibly never to be seen again!
What kind of reactions have you had from your students about having to use Twitter for math class? :]
I knew it was going to be an interesting semester when the first tweet I got on the projector was “Should we get #math1102 trending?” Thank you to Ian G. for that one. My upper-year students were even more excited than the first-years – believe it or not! I did have some skeptical faces at the beginning of the semester, but with me portraying a positive attitude and with some help from a handful of tweeters in my classes, it has become a success. It has really opened the door for much more collaboration and discussion in math class, which is a subject that is usually not viewed in this way.
Proof to the power of positivity . . . in everything! I wondered the same thing myself when I heard your classes were on Twitter–how it would spark discussion/collaboration in a math class, as opposed to something arts-related which is typically fairly opinion-driven. So, to me, that’s totally an unexpected bonus of Twitter integration.
What is the most unexpected thing you’ve found when integrating social media and education?
Honestly, everything so far has been unexpected! I never expected to have an experience like the one I am having this term. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of using Twitter is the classroom display. Being able to tweet during class might make teachers believe that Twitter is a distraction. Let me be the first to say that it is an excellent distraction! Disclaimer: once you get your students started, they will not be afraid to speak their mind! They will let you know if the last example you gave was too difficult, or if it needs some more explanation. Too many tweets might mean the material is too easy, or way over their heads. Whatever the case, you, as a teacher, now have invaluable insight into the minds of your students.Of course, a live Twitter feed during class can lead to distracting comments. The odd student will find a great opportunity to make an hilarious comment. But it is never often enough to distract from the overall pace of the lecture. Personally, since I have long lectures, I tend to point out the witty comments so that the whole class can laugh and take a short mental break. Having one or two of these per lecture is nice and keeps everyone more focused. Also, I find it helps me build a stronger relationship with my class – if they see me engaging their tweets and being easy-going about it, they are more likely to feel comfortable approaching me if they are having any concerns in the course.
I think the hilarious comment avenue is just typical for discussion in any forum–I cannot tell you, especially in kinesiology, how many of these happen in my classes! I feel like a kin class with a hashtag would be pure madness, but I’d still love to see it happen.  Any advice to instructors looking to get started integrating social media, like Twitter, into their classes?
Start slowly. It is very easy to get excited about trying new methods of instruction, and jumping in head-first will wear you out quickly! Find one new item that you would like to try in a future class, and do some research. It took me several weeks to get used to the various symbols and ways to tweet. After that, it took me about a month to think about the best way to implement the social media. It is not enough just to use the media, there must be an underlying purpose too!
Do you engage in any higher education Twitter chats/hashtags or have any resources to recommend?
I don’t regularly get involved in higher education hashtags, although I do follow some of the educational Youtubers – Destin from Smarter Everyday, James Grime from Numberphile, Michael from Vsauce and ViHart to name a few. One of my twitter highlights this term was getting a retweet from Destin about his “decoy” spider from the Amazon (really cool if you like bugs – I own a tarantula, her name is Charlotte).
One resource that I am trying out this term is called TopHat Monocle. It is an alternative to the iClicker system, where students use their smartphone, tablet or laptop in class to submit answers to questions the instructor poses. I use the feedback I get from my students to spark classroom discussion about certain topics. It also lets the students see how they compare with the rest of the class. It definitely comes highly recommended from me.
I love that you have a tarantula named Charlotte! Can she come for coffee with us? (Would Starbucks think that is weird?). Also the name TopHat Monocle cracks me up every time I see it on your feed (I cannot recall if he wears a monocle, but it reminds me of the Monopoly man for some reason).
On the topic of random, since we seem to have veered over here unexpectedly thanks to that spider-segway . . . Thoughts on that random girl who always engages on your class’s hashtag? 😉 [“She doesn’t even go here!”]
I think it is awesome that you “tweet-bomb” my class! Sometimes all it takes is one person to get the Twitter feed going, and you definitely have a knack for that! Sadly, it also lead to the most embarrassing moment of the term so far when I had to admit that I forgot the Mean Girls quote “She doesn’t even go here!” and my students had to explain it to me…
It is amazing how many Mean Girls references happen in University classes [we had one in my Physical Activity Promotion and Adherence class last year!]. Truly an epic movie :). Off topic . . . but completely on the topic of Twitter, what’s your favourite Motion City Soundtrack song?
Definitely “Happy Anniversary” from their newest album Go. It’s pretty dark and peppy – exactly what I love in a song. It is about a couple, and from the point of view of one member of that couple who is dying and trying to say all the things he/she wants to say before going. It is also a bit ironic, since it probably isn’t a happy anniversary for the other person who has to deal with the death of their loved one… Definitely get the tissues.
Will have to check it out–I’m sure I’ll cry all over it :].  Dark and peppy is how I roll too.
Any final thoughts?
Just wanted to say thank you again for a cool opportunity to discuss social media and education! Anyone who is interested in more information from me, or who is interested in giving me some feedback/pointers can find me on Twitter: @pencentre I’m always ready to tweet.


Thanks, Bryan!  Have I ever told you how rad your username is? I had a ton of fun with this . . . and look forward to continued Twitter-shenannigans with you in the near-future!

My friend Mike started a thing called “Mirror Mantras”, where he posts a positive or motivating phrase on his bathroom mirror to keep him inspired throughout the week.  Inspired by him, and some Motion City Soundtrack . . . here’s the mantra for the week.