Greetings from Athens, Greece!

One of the great perks of being a teacher is getting summer break. I could write a book* about the misconceptions of summer break. I could also probably have a book written about how this particular summer of mine fulfills every stereotype about teachers that exists.

*Possibly an entire book series.

My postings will be sparse for a few weeks. I'll be adding pictures and I may get to write some in the mornings before everyone else wakes up. We'll have internet, but mostly I plan on visiting the ancient Acropolis, possibly visiting Kymi, the town where my grandmother is from, relaxing on the beach and enjoying good food and good people with our friends on the island of Zakynthos. A wonderful friend of ours, Vivian Bozikis, is putting us up with her family and we couldn't be more excited.

Seriously? This exists on Earth? This is Navagio beach, where we'll be visiting soon!

We landed yesterday in Athens a few hours before Greece was to take on Costa Rica in the round of 16 at the World Cup. For both Greece and Costa Rica, this was an historic match. For the Greeks, let me give you some perspective.

In 1994 (that historic World Cup held in the United States) the Greeks qualified for the very first time in our history. In three games* the Greeks, known for stingy defense and timely goals, gave up 10 goals and scored not a single one. Tournament over.

*Everyone gets three "group stage" games at the World Cup. Of each of the eight groups of four, two teams move on to the final 16. That's where the Greeks and US Men's National Team are now. The US play tomorrow. For a great 2-minute video explaining all this, click here

In 2010 in South Africa, the Greeks were in a pretty weak group with Argentina, Nigeria and South Korea. If you're new to soccer, that group was always going to be won by Argentina with the other three vying for second place. The Greeks lost their opener to South Korea but defeated Nigeria - big steps from 1994. This set up the all-important third game against Argentina where a draw was needed at a minimum. The Greeks lost 2-0. Tournament over.

Now here we are in Brazil. The Greeks got off to a terrible start losing to Colombia, a strong team itself, 3-0. Next up came a tie against Japan, setting up again an all-important third match against the Ivory Coast.* Needing a win to advance, the Greeks went ahead early on a counter-attack and things looked great! Then the Ivory Coast pulled even after about 20 minutes of intense pressure. Keep in mind that the first goal the Greeks scored was their third goal in World Cup history, so a second that game seemed an improbability.

* The Ivory Coast qualified for the 2006 World Cup while in the middle of a civil war. Read this next part closely. Didier Drogba, the star striker for the Ivory Coast, asked both sides to come to peace. And they did. I'm not lying about this. I hope you enjoy reading my blog, but you should stop reading it now and read this

Then came the 93rd minute - yes, the game only lasts 90 minutes. It's called stoppage time...whatever. Go with it. Our inexplicably slow, yet impossible-to-catch forward Georgios Samaras drew a penalty, which he put deftly into the corner of the goal, for the game-winner. Tournament NOT over.

So that's how we ended up in Athens, Greece watching the Greek national team play in the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup. Truly, this is too good to be true. The only thing better would be if Greece and the USA were to meet in the semi-finals on July 9th, our 3rd wedding anniversary.

You can get that for me, right Angela?

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E-mail: alectchambers@gmail.com            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec


I have a 5-hour strategy to getting used to twitter coming soon. For now, I just finished reading the incredible book, The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin (@DorisKGoodwin) and had some thoughts on that.

As a teacher, I naturally have become an advocate of the importance of reading. There is the common quip that prisons use 3rd grade reading levels to predict the number of prison beds that will be needed in coming years. While the claim that specific numbers are used has pretty solidly been proven false, there is compelling evidence that students who are behind in reading proficiency are less likely to graduate high school. The exact rate can be debated, but the correlation almost certainly is real. Articles supporting this can be read here, here, here as well as an article with several telling statistics about reading levels here. If you're more of a visual learner, then this graph should tell you what you need to know: 
The better students are at reading in third grade, the more
likely they are to graduate.
So the data is there to prove that reading is important. That's not really what this post is about mostly because I'm not sure that anyone is arguing the opposite. There is no "Society Advocating for Lower Literacy" that needs to be defeated and disproved. Kids need to read more and they need to read more proficiently. That fact, I would guess, is nearly universally agreed upon among those in education. 

This post is a preview of my first book review! This is something that will hopefully happen more and can be worked into some class activities. 

I make an effort to talk to my students about books that I have read or am currently reading. Like other skills, modeling is an effective strategy. I keep a full bookshelf (and am ready to add a second soon) in my classroom and regularly lend books to students. Books really are incredible. I am a big fan of movies, music and art, but books take an effort that the other three do not. That effort results in a kind of a relationship between the reader and the book. 

I think this is probably why there is a such a satisfactory feeling the moment that you read the last word of the last sentence on the last page of a book. Whether it is a short work of fiction that is fun and quick or a longer, more academic read, it feels great to come to then end of the journey. A great professor of mine at William Jewell, Dr. Gary Armstrong, referred to his shelves full of books as "dear old friends" that had helped him through many times. 

At the time, I didn't get that statement from Dr. Armstrong. As I grow older, it starts to make more sense, especially as I come across students who can barely read with proficiency or hate reading completely. Each book you read is like another brick added to a strong building you create over the course of your life. 

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner made me dream. Solving mysteries, making things happen, being important - all these things flowed through my mind like a river. 

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers was the first book that made me think about the others in the world who might not look, speak or think like me, but whose looks, speech and thoughts held just as much importance to the world as mine. This was also my first favorite book. I read Fallen Angels more times than I remember, all 300 some pages over and over. 

In high school my fantastic English teacher, Kathy Chirpich, introduced us to Ender Wiggins and his moral struggle in Ender's Game long before it became a movie. In her class I also encountered the first book that, once I had started it, I knew I had no chance of finishing! The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas was an effort it perseverance that I will never forget. I did eventually finish The Count, and even ended up thinking it was an enjoyable read.

In college I started to study Middle Eastern politics. I encountered The Clash of Civilizations by the controversial Samuel P. Huntington, Bombing to Win by the fantastic author Robert Pape and many of the great philosophers - from Plato to Socrates; Kant to Mill. My thinking towards the world evolved from a feeling that we should all be equal to more supported thought that we must each actively and intentionally work for equality and justice. Story after story from world history convinced me that social equality is not a certain eventuality but rather a conscious choice. It was during my third year of college that I shifted my interest away from law school and towards education. That choice meant that it would be a full four years of evening and online classes after earning my first undergraduate degree that I would earn my teaching certificate.

Reading is not always the most enjoyable practice nor is it the easiest to teach. Nonetheless it could not be of more importance to learning about the world around us and growing collectively as a society. 

My wonderful Aunt Linda knows that I think this way and I think feels much the same, although we've never explicitly talked about it in these terms. She's made it a tradition to gift me some book that she thinks I would enjoy. Christmas 2012 saw The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin as the book of the year. It's a brick. 752 pages of dense, thoughtful, well-researched story telling over the beginning of the Progressive movement in America. 
A book review is in the works. Really, a book review probably isn't the right term. I don't want to review the book in the classic sense of providing some sort of critique. Discussion is more what the goal is here. I don't know where the long term goal is or if there even is one. I would love to collaborate with other educators out there and maybe start an online educators book club, so get in touch if that sounds interesting to you. 

For now, we'll just stick to the thought that reading is good and important and I've just finished a fantastic book. I'll be back soon with that discussion starter.

Until next time... 

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E-mail: alectchambers@gmail.com            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec

Remind 101 - Monday Tech Minute [6/23/14]

Communication is important. Really important. On a scale of one to ten, communication comes in at around a seventy-two. Like many other teachers out there, I put a lot of importance on building relationships with students. The lack of relationships I built my first two years is largely what made life miserable. A lot of that came down to bad communication.*

*And a lot of it came down to being a new teacher. Let me take a moment again to reminisce over all the ways that being a first year teacher is terrible...OK. Moving on. 

Finding ways to communicate outside of the class walls is becoming easier each day. One tool that I played with last year and will be trying out in full force next year is Remind 101. It is a text messaging service that allows you to text a group (of students and parents in my case) from your computer without you ever knowing their cell numbers and without them ever knowing yours. 

Here are three quick reasons to check out Remind 101:

1. Anonymous and Secure
This is everyone's (legitimate) worry when you mix students, teachers and cell phone numbers. Teachers rightly don't want to know the kids numbers and they don't want the kids to know their numbers. Remind 101 fixes this issue by using an online server to manage all of the numbers. When you create a class, like my US Government course, Remind 101 creates a unique handle - @usgov141. You can change this to something easier to remember if you want. Remind 101 provides a phone number that students can text to register for the group. You can also easily sign up on a computer.  

2. Sending Messages is Easy
The screenshot below is the message screen for Remind 101 when you want to send a message out to one or more groups. 

Select the class you'd like to communicate with and you have 140 characters to work with. There is a 'schedule later' feature also. You could schedule a reminder before you leave school that will be sent out at 9 PM. It only takes a few seconds and a few clicks of the mouse. 

There is also a widget that you can use if you keep a class website. You can embed the widget in your page so that any message you send via Remind 101 also pops up in a stream on your website.

3. Student Accountability
When you send a message, it comes through as a text like this one:
Again, I love the security. If the student tries to reply, they get a friendly message from Remind 101 that there is no actual number to reply to! I'm also a big fan of taking away excuses whenever possible. I can't count the times that I've conferenced with a student and heard an excuse start with, "Well I didn't know/remember..." I'm not naive enough to think that excuses and missed assignments will ever go away. I do think that Remind 101 will greatly increase the accountability of my students with a very little amount of effort from my end. That makes it worth a try.

Check back in next Monday for another new piece of #edtech to try out in your classroom!

How do you communicate with your class? Have you used Remind 101? Share your story below!

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

E-mail: alectchambers@gmail.com            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec

I Love the World Cup...

I love soccer.

Basketball is pretty cool. It is full of back-and-forth action with lots of points always being scored. I can appreciate the ferocious power of a well-orchestrated lob dunk. Like many watching the NBA Finals (including the Miami Heat, apparently) I was mesmerized by the flowing offense of the San Antonio Spurs. The motion of Tony Parker, so low to the ground and unpredictable, made me a bit dizzy to be sure. I'm glad I didn't have to guard him on the court.*

*I played basketball in high school. And by played, I mean that I rocked the JV scene for multiple years and clapped my hands off for the varsity group. One time when I did actually get to play, I just happened to get to guard Marcus Walker. It didn't go well. I'm not - how do I say this...ah yes - tall. Marcus scored 40 points that night. 

Baseball is OK. As a loyal Kansas Citian, I try hard to follow the Royals. I could be the umpteenth person to write about how the Royals have never gone to the playoffs since 1985 or how we have made horrific trade after horrific trade or how "I've Got Friends In Low Places" was sung at each and every home game for years. As I write this, the Royals have actually won 8 in a row and can take over first place tonight. I'm sure it will all go up in flames soon...

Football sucks. Players die with such regularity that news stories like this Cal player barely register anymore. Coaches are for some reason allowed to act in ways that defy civility and it's OK because everyone on the football field is apparently so damn tough. 

Deep breath.

I can find beauty and wonder in (nearly) every sport. Watching Rafael Nadal on clay is something I'll tell my kids about. Seeing Tiger Woods do things with a club that seem to defy physics was a joy of my childhood. I've always had a fascination with ice curling at the Winter Olympics! 

You see, I like to watch people who are chasing great accomplishments. I want to see Tiger pass Jack Nicholas so that I can say I watched the greatest golfer ever. I want to see Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer meet at every single major. I want 1-seeds to make it to the Final Four so I can see the best teams match up. 

Which brings me to the World Cup. Some of you may not know that the World Cup is actually just the final stage of a two-year tournament featuring every soccer-playing nation in the world from Brazil to Guam. The really unique thing about the World Cup (and the Olympics somewhat) is that the superstars of soccer still don’t get to choose their country of origin. Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo are widely recognized as the two best players in the world and they play for Argentina and Portugal respectively. Argentina is one of the most storied soccer nations and they’ve only one the World Cup twice! Portugal has never won the World Cup. They can't just choose to play for Brazil or Germany.

The World Cup is an international affair, and this is what I love most about soccer. I speak relatively fluent Spanish. With all due credit to my Spanish teachers throughout my years, I went from someone who could pass a quiz in class to a fluent speaker on the soccer field. Hours of playing latinos on hockey courts in a local park honed my lessons into actual speech. I play in an adult men’s league currently with guys from Romania, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia and a few born-and-raised Americans.* I root hard for Greece to do well and I’d root for Scotland if they weren’t generally terrible at soccer.

*Although each of these guys talks about the US team using words like “we” and “us”.  They’re as American as it gets. I think we could all take a lesson from this.

I try and teach my students about the world from this perspective. The World Cup is special because we are all soccer players and soccer fans. Much in the same vein, I want to teach my students that we are all part of the same global community. Just as Americans and Brazilians play different brands of soccer, so too do our different cultures provide different things to the world.

One of my favorite parts of the fantastic coverage that ESPN puts on for the World Cup are the shots of the fans in the crowd. They show such incredible passion and excitement. I love going to watch parties like the 10,000-strong one at Power and Light for the USA v. Ghana opener. 

And I love these two guys:

GIFs of US and Ghanaian fans from Monday nights game

But I especially love watching the national anthems:

Keep watching at 1:12 when the music stops

I’m currently watching the Mexico v. Brazil match. In the last 10 minutes of a tightly contested 0-0 tie, Thiago Silva of Brazil dove in for a crunching tackle on Chicharito of Mexico, earning him a yellow card. As both players were walking away, Silva walked towards Chicharito and tilted his head slightly to the side acknowledging the tackle. Chicharito nodded his head in return and put his hand out, which was met my Silva’s hand in return. They exchanged a few words, Silva patted Chicarito’s head and they returned to the battle.

The passion and respect are lessons that I want to pass on in my class.

Find something worth believing in.

Make a plan and prepare yourself.

Fight for what you want every single moment of every single day.

To see my students believe in something and fight for something they way that they players and the fans fight and believe during the World Cup would be the highlight of my career. The thought of that moment somewhere in the future is what motivates me to look for the next great technology, the next inspiring strategy and the next life-changing project.

What drives you?

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E-mail: alectchambers@gmail.com            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec

Guest Post: The CMS Un-Conference

Today we have a guest-post from Colleen McLain (@colleenmclain), Educational Technology Specialist for Center School District #58 in Kansas City, MO. Colleen is a former elementary school teacher turned #edtech maestro! She oversaw the implementation of a 1:1 technology initiative at Center Middle School (6th -8th grades) during the 2013-2014 school year. CMS gave each student and staff member a Chromebook. For her efforts, time, patience and mastery of her work, she was voted as Teacher of the Year in the entire district by the staff and administration. Looking for a two-peat of the award, Colleen now looks forward to the implementation of a 1:1 technology initiative at Center High School. You can check out the blog that she keeps for Center School District by clicking here. She is also the recent founder of the new chat for Center teachers, #CenterSD.


I was asked recently by the very innovative teacher, Alec Chambers (@ChambersAlec), to write a guest post for his blog.  Now, most of my blog posts are tech tips for classroom technology integration where some are nothing more than an app overview and suggestions for use, but I had a feeling Mr. Chambers was looking for something different.  A bit more depth.  A possible game changer.  I had just the topic for him.  EdCamps.

Recently, Alec and I attended #EdCampKC.  I have to say we both were very impressed with the format of the day.  EdCamps are sort of like teacher conferences, except it’s the teachers presenting, teachers sharing, teachers collaborating, teachers learning from each other and teachers wandering finding sessions that best fit their needs.  Did you notice the common thread – teachers were in control of their own professional learning.  And it was free!  So I guess it’s not really like other teacher conferences at all.  

So, a quick format overview.  EdCamp organizers find a location, set a date for the event and then get the word out.  That’s about all the upfront planning that goes into it.  There are no vendors, no registration fees, no call for presenters, and no official approval of sessions.  Presenters and sessions are all determined the day of the event.  That’s right – the day of the event!  At EdCampKC, it literally was butcher paper on tables, divided into grids indicating session times and room numbers, with markers for attendees to write down what they were going to present. 

I use the word “present” loosely.  Sessions at an EdCamp are all about collaborating.  Sometimes the presentation is a facilitator posing a question that the attendees discuss.  Sometimes sessions really are more of a presentation.  Regardless of the format, the topics are a variety of educational topics, where everyone can find something that interests them – Google Docs and Drive, Socratic Seminars, 1:1 Roll Outs, hottest current apps – you get the idea.

And here’s the power of teachers being in control of their own PD – attendees vote by their feet!  Don’t worry – everyone wore socks and shoes at EdCampKC.  This style of voting is one where participants have the option (and are encouraged to take it) to leave one session that might not meet their needs and join another session already in progress.  It’s not at all uncommon to see teachers collaborating in the halls during sessions, attending a variety of sessions, soaking up all that they possibly can.

Pretty powerful stuff. 

The challenge for me was bringing this format back to the district for powerful, in-house, professional development.  As the educational technology specialist for the district, I find myself conducting a variety of professional development sessions for our teachers.  An EdCamp format is the perfect opportunity for our teachers to come together to ask questions, share resources, suggest ideas – in general, learn from each other.  After all, who knows better than those that are in the trenches with you!

We recently had an afternoon of learning EdCamp style at our middle school.  My confession is I had about half the sessions, with teachers to facilitate, already determined.  I knew this would be a new approach to afternoon PD, so I purposely structured it with an overview of the EdCamp philosophy, and also built in brainstorming time for teachers to come up with their own hot, current topics for our afternoon breakout sessions. 

After the short explanation, and brainstorming time, we were ready to sign up for sessions and proceed to our afternoon of learning from each other.  As I went from room to room, I was very excited with what I saw.  Some rooms, you couldn't even tell who the facilitator was.  Chairs were in a circle and everyone was sharing and collaborating.  Some rooms had a recorder of sorts, who was recording all the ideas teachers were sharing, which was shared back out with the attendees.  There was even one group which, after attending the first session, developed their own second session which was a continuation of previous discussions!  I couldn't have asked for more. 

Teachers learning from teachers.

Pretty powerful stuff!

My Twitter Crusade

I've embarked on a little crusade. I want to get other teachers and administrators using Twitter. It's a simple enough goal, to broaden the horizon of your colleagues through a free, easy-to-use program. This should stick like glue!

I think what we're running into is a lesson in physics, specifically inertia. It's hard to get the rock rolling, but once it happens, it then becomes hard to stop. If that is indeed what is going on, we are still in the hard-to-get-going phase of the process. Christopher Bergeron (@eLearningChris), a tech coordinator at a district in New Hampshire, was quoted in an NEA article* talking about how educators can use Twitter:

"Twitter,” Bergeron says, “is like the ticker at the bottom of CNN -- only a ticker populated with information about those people or things you care about, want to learn from, or want to know about.”

*You can read the whole article here

Bergeron hits it on the head for me. With no data to back this claim up, my feel is that many teachers who stay far away from Twitter do so because they feel like they'll be bombarded with Justin Bieber and other TMZ-esque updates. There is a misunderstanding of how much we control what pops up into our own Twitter feed. While there are paid advertisements, they mostly focus on topics that you've shown interest in through your tweets and followers. For example, Google for Education was the last paid advertisement that popped up on my feed a few minutes ago. 


The purpose of this particular post is three-fold. First, I haven't blogged here since the end of April. A combination of a busy end of the year mixed with a little burnout led to this. I had a good writing process and habit - now I have to rebuild that habit somewhat after about 5 weeks without writing. That's frustrating, but probably a good life-lesson. I stayed away from Twitter for a few weeks. This exemplifies the best aspect of Twitter - you can come and go and never feel like you've been left out. Anything that is really good cycles its way around. You'll catch it eventually. 

The second purpose is to reach out to my colleagues at Center. I work at an incredible school. I attended Center schools from kindergarten through high school graduation and am really lucky to be back as a member of the staff. I just finished my fourth year of teaching and this is the first year that I finally felt more like a teacher than a glorified teaching assistant who had been given his own class. Part of the ongoing hope of this blog is to encourage others to write about and share their experiences before they feel that they are a master teacher. The reflection and collaboration of this blog and helped me to make great strides in my own classroom. 

Twitter is another tool that helped push me to this point, where I felt like I had something to offer the teaching community. Chats are key. The wonderful Colleen McLain (@colleenmclain) hosted the first #CenterSD chat the other night, and it was a great success. Follow her if you don't already. Hopefully we'll keep that momentum going next Monday! Check out the Storify of the chat below. (HINT: Go all the way to the bottom first to start at the beginning of the conversation)

The final purpose is to get some stories from other teachers around the world who are at schools where Twitter is regularly used. How did it happen and what can we do at Center to get there?Twitter is, at its heart and soul, all about collaboration. Let's fill the comment section with your stories and suggestions! Thanks in advance!

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

E-mail: alectchambers@gmail.com            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec