Monday Tech Minute - Google Maps

Welcome to the Monday Tech Minute! Each Monday, I'll give you three quick reasons to try a strategy or tech tool that I've used (or am wanting to use in the near future) in the classroom. The network outage we had earlier this month at Center reminds me that technology is a tool for learning, not the key itself to learning. The key to learning will always be helping students learn how to think and putting them in positions where they have to (and want to) think about the subject.

As a social studies teacher, google Maps comes in handy nearly every week that I teach. Here are three reasons why:

1. Google maps is a more interactive version of a traditional map
Traditional maps help students see where they are in relation to other areas of the world. They also help students get a sense of scope when discussing an issue. You can talk about how large Russia is, or you can find it on a map and show it. Students will always be more impacted by the visual.

A recent example from my class is a discussion we had on capitalism vs. socialism and how resources are distributed in each system. We had been talking about social revolutions, including Egypt and Ukraine today, so I pulled up a map of Egypt to talk about the importance of resources - namely water.

Map of Cairo, Egypt and surrounding cities, nearly all of which are located right next to water

This image helped spur conversation about the importance of water as a resource for a city or society. Why are all of the cities and town on the Mediterranean or the Nile River? How do governments and business protect/control/distribute the water we consume? What do you predict will happen to the cost of water in 50 years based on supply and demand?

2. Google maps can put a picture to a topic that you are discussing in class
When the protests in Ukraine reached their boiling point, I took a few days from class to discuss the issue. We looked up pictures and the arguments of both sides. We have been studying in class why revolutions tend to occur in big cities. This was a great opportunity to get students to think about how Kiev is set up for a protest movement and the important role that Independence Square was playing in the unraveling events.

Here's an example:
Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine

Where would a protest occur in Kansas City? With Google Maps, you can easily switch to a map of the Plaza or the location of City Hall and make the discussion very real.

3. Google Maps can help explain trends in culture that have occurred throughout history
Why did the French invasion of Russia fail in 1812? Why was tiny Britain able to build such a powerful empire?* Maps can answer questions, but they are also great tools for finding new questions that need to be answered. I'm constantly surprised at how curious students get when you simply pull up a map and let the conversation flow. Do we get "off topic"? Sure we do. Is there value to stoking curiosity? Definitely. Plus, most situations can be discreetly brought back on topic without students even realizing it. That pull back is truly that art of teaching

*Each can be answered through maps. Students don't realize the distance between Paris and Moscow until they see a map. Britain is an island, making it difficult to invade and defeat. 

Here's another great example. When looking at the spread of ideas during the Enlightenment, I brought up a map of Africa to show an example of how culture and ideas can spread. In northern Africa, there is a very heavy Arabic and Islamic influence as shown by city names, the language and the religion. In southern Africa, this is not the case for the most part. Why is that?

Map of northern and central Africa, which shows the cultural blockage that
has occurred throughout history because of the Saharan Desert

The Saharan Desert forms a wall that completely blocked cultural movement from northern to southern Africa. The only exception is near Yemen where there is a very small amount of water to cross to get from Yemen to either Eritrea or Djibouti.

Students can read about this or listen to you talk, but the image is convincing and real. Google maps makes this kind of impact in a much more interactive way than does a traditional map.

Have you found Google Maps useful? Are there other map programs that do a better job for a certain task?

Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!

Get in touch! 

E-mail:            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec


An admittedly non-educational blog post for this week. We had Spring Break last week which meant a little hiatus for me, a new closet in our bedroom and lots (LOTS) of college basketball.

I had an interesting conversation with my dad a few weeks ago about whether I was a bigger Sporting KC soccer fan or a bigger KU basketball fan. It's a fascinating question. I've grown up on KU basketball much in the way that plants grow up on photosynthesis.

Despite the KU love I am unfortunately a short person, which quickly made my dream of playing for KU die. I loved playing soccer. No matter my height, I could dream about playing in Europe somewhere when I grew up. I would watch replays of some random Italian or French league game in the middle of the night was a soccer game. There were other short-ish players on the field. I could see myself there.

Zinedine Zidane was one of my favorites. He was skilled but not fancy. He was quick but only until other players got to their full speed. He seemed to have everyone's respect but he never said anything. Seriously! There's a whole documentary where they put like 17 cameras just on Zidane, mic'd him up and watched the game focused on him. He says about 3 words all game! And this was in a game where he had an assist and the game-winning goal. Soccer is artistic in a way that basketball, with its speed and height and power rarely can be.

KU basketball was different than soccer in one key way. It was here. It could be seen live or regularly on TV. I could go to a game if I got really lucky. I could see the highlights on ESPN. Unlike soccer, KU basketball had always felt like something that I could be a part of, which is what being a fan is all about. Watching soccer felt more like the zoo or the aquarium. Look but don't touch. I wanted to swim.*

*Metaphorically speaking. I actually really hate swimming. And I don't float.


This past weekend, my beloved KU basketball lost to Stanford in what can only be described (by KU fans) as a dismal display of shooting, passing, dribbling and especially NOT TURNING THE BALL OVER! After one particularly awful sequence about 8 minutes from the end of the game, I looked at my wife and told her that if we lost, it would be well deserved.* Lo and behold, despite a few miracle threes from one of our non-one-and-done freshman, KU was eliminated from the 2014 NCAA tournament.

*Angela does a great job of at least seeming to care about KU, especially during March. I think it's actually pretty legitimate caring. She cheers when they do something awesome and curses with me when Andrew Wiggins plays like a [gasp] freshman. I think much of this is real - she had no previous college basketball fanhood and is currently a KU student - but I'm sure some of it is to help me emotionally cope with March. Either way, it's awesome.

In the midst of this season-ending defeat, Sporting KC is in the middle of a very exciting period of time that is difficult for American sports fans to understand. In soccer, when you win the league (MLS, in the case of America), you are entered into a regional tournament with other league winners. Our region's tournament is the CONCACAF Champions League. You may have heard of the UEFA Champions League - this is the European version, but the same idea. In fact, the winner of the CONCACAF and UEFA (and Asian, African, South American, etc...) Champions Leagues play in the FIFA Club World Cup. Sporting KC just played relatively closely one of the better teams from Mexico, Cruz Azul in this competition. While eliminated from this year's tournament, it feels as if Sporting KC is close to becoming a powerhouse not only in America, but in the whole region.

This is all to say that Sporting KC are in the middle of a boom. What used to be a team that played in front of 3,000 fans in Arrowhead Stadium just played in the 38th consecutive sell-out at Sporting Park, a stadium widely considered to be one of the best soccer stadiums in the Western Hemisphere. And South Americans know a thing or two about soccer. Click here to read about one of the many international awards that Sporting Park has won. Sporting won last year's MLS Cup and is a favorite to repeat this year. Sporting will likely send 3 Americans to play in the World Cup this summer. And damnit, Sporting Club, the ownership group for Sporting KC, treat the fans the way fans should be treated!


When Sporting Park first opened and the crowds were great and the team was good, my dad an I openly wondered what would happen when Sporting KC inevitably had a down year. Would fans stay? Would we renew our season tickets? Would the atmosphere still by wild? Nearly four years later, it hasn't happened yet. Sporting KC is considered a model franchise for a "small" market team. We have signed our best players, with a few exceptions, to long-term contracts. We have attracted some of the USA's premier national team games. Manchester City is coming to KC in a few months to play a friendly.

I talk a lot about Sporting KC to my students in part because I'm a ridiculous fan. But the underlying reason is that I have always been a little different as an American who loves soccer. I do not in any way feel that my fanhood defines me as a person, but my journey as a fan represents the journey that I hope my students take in their lives with their passions. Lots of my students are different in a whole bunch of ways. There is definitely some part of me that spreads my love for Sporting KC in hopes that some student will see me being different and be OK doing the same themselves.

Either way, I love both teams although I think I lean more towards Sporting at the moment. I wanted to share a recent tour of my fanhood with Sporting over the past few years. I'll get back to education next week!

Thanks for reading!

November 17th, 2010: The Kansas City Wizards become Sporting KC and announce a new stadium construction plan.

Sometime early 2011: My dad and I got to tour Sporting Park during construction. This was starting to become real. It looked something like this:

June 9th, 2011: Home opener against the Chicago Fire. Highlights include Angela's $5 water getting chucked on the field and this guy streaking the field in a cow costume. We passed him after the game sitting behind the stadium, looking like the alcohol was starting to wear off, as fans rained down 'moooooo' on him. 

August 8th, 2012: Sporting wins the US Open Cup, a tournament open to any soccer team in America, professional or amateur, that can qualify,  in penalty kicks against the hated Seattle Sounders. It was Kansas City's first pro championship of any kind since 2004. Top 3 live sporting events I've ever attended.

December 7th, 2013: Sporting KC wins the MLS Cup at Sporting Park in what might be for a long time to most exciting live event I have ever seen.


Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!

Get in touch! 

E-mail:            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec

Houston, We Have a Problem...

I have, over the past year or two, become a huge advocate for including technology in the classroom. Twitter has opened doors for me that have, without any hyperbole, completely changed the way that I teach and look at education.

Please excuse a quick Twitter soapbox moment.

If you feel like you are stuck with how you teach, you need to be on Twitter. It is beautiful for two huge reasons. The first reason is personal. I am refreshed about education each minute that I spend on Twitter. There is so much negativity in education and in the world in general. To be fair, much of the negativity about standardized testing and such is justified, but it can nonetheless be incredibly draining. On Twitter, rarely is negativity to be found. The teachers that you find on Twitter are excited and curious about this profession. That is fantastically refreshing to be a part of. Secondly, it is absolutely, without doubt, the best investment in Professional Development that I have ever been a part of. This is because of how easy it is to come and go without missing anything. Jump on Twitter for 10 minutes. Leave. Come back a week later. Anything that is truly worthwhile and special will appear and reappear in the Twitter-verse.

If you are just starting, look at the list of hashtags below as a starter. If you already know the lay of the land, jump into this website that does a great job of cataloguing twitter hashtags and chats.

If you are brand new to Twitter, spend 20 minutes one night searching through these hashtags. Until you build up a good network of people you follow, you'll need to rely on searching for hashtags like these to find new resources:

#edchat is an overall chat on education that is ongoing each day. Many chats take place at a certain time once a week. Click this google doc for a large list of chats.
#edtechchat are educators interested in having technology play a large role in their classrooms or schools.
#digcit and #digcitchat discuss some of the more theoretical, moral and logistical issues of teachers and students using technology in the classroom. I'm new to this one, but I've found it to be very educational for me.
#edcampkc is an unconference in KC. It was held at the Nelson-Atkins in the fall and will be again next fall. This is a good group of local educators to latch onto. Shout out to Colleen McLain (@colleenmclain) who ran a successful unconference at Center Middle School this week!
What is an unconference? What the video!

#sschat or #engchat or #mathchat get the picture. Pick your subject area and start following educators who teach your subject area. Does that sound too easy to be true? It's not.

Thank you for listening/reading my Twitter soapbox. You may now return to your regularly scheduled blog post!

This is a post about the network outage that occurred at Center this weekend. I love using technology in my classroom. I have advocated for just about every avenue that could lead to more resources or more time with said resources for staff and students alike. To be quite honest, I've been really proud of being on the front-line of these efforts with people like Colleen McLain, Steve Parker and Joe Nastasi.

Then the blackout happened. This has been a really fascinating week to be a teacher at Center.

No internet.

No student or teacher drives.

No Sharepoint (the cloud where many of us keep our curriculum and lesson plans).

No Google Drive.


*We've been told it could be days, rather than a day of blackout. It all started on Monday. We had internet back by the end of the day Tuesday. As of this writing, there is no e-mail, network, student or teacher drives or online gradebook. Not to mention that our confidence that the network or fill-in-the-blank technology resource will be working the next day is rather low right now - which should take nothing away from the incredible work our technology department is doing this and every other week. From everything I have heard, this network failure was something of a freak occurrence that left us with nothing to do but recover from it.

It was a fascinating experience. I decided day one would be a great day for some discussions in my classes. For the 9th graders, we talked about what life might have been like before the industrial revolution, which was quite fitting. That was an eye-opening exercise. For the Government class, we talked about the Executive branch using the unfolding drama in Ukraine as a touching point. Both were very productive activities. Both served as reminders that learning will always occur in the student-to-student and student-to-teacher conversations. Technology can peak curiosity and inform arguments, but technology cannot create the discussion itself. That's important for me to remember as I try to push new things like Twitter, moodle (use chambers as the username and password if you want to poke around my classes), padlet (click to look at the first padlet my class ever made), iPads, Chromebooks and other forms of technology into my classroom.

I'm not sure when we'll get our network back. I'm not sure I'm in a hurry for that moment. Tuesday in class felt a bit like playing games with my family during a blackout in the middle of a snowstorm. I don't think I want to live there with no electricity forever, but it is kind of fun while it's happening.


Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!

Get in touch! 

E-mail:            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec