The new school year has kicked off and it looks much different for many teachers and students. With the COVID-19 pandemic still causing shutdowns, remote learning has become the new normal for schools around the country. Teachers already have the challenge to make lessons engaging for a classroom full of students. Now, as kids are trying to learn from home, some teachers are getting extra creative to grab students’ attention.
Cathy Cluck, an Advanced Placement U.S. history and European history teacher at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, decided to make the most out of the unusual classroom environment and make her subject come to life for her students. She decided to embark on what she called the Great American History Road Trip.
She not only held remote classes with her students from on location, she posted aspects of her adventure to social media, as with this Twitter post that mentions “Hamiton”:
He’s right behind me isn’t he? (All credit goes to @Lin_Manuel for this)#greatamericanhistoryroadtrip #pandemicteaching #Hamilton pic.twitter.com/oAjlhbIa6F
— Cathy Cluck (@cathycluck) August 29, 2020
Cluck created a 15-day itinerary of major historic sites around the country and filmed instructional videos for her classes to watch and enjoy, starting on Aug. 21.
“This is something I’d never be able to do in a normal school year,” Cluck told Yahoo Life. “I was just trying to figure out, how can I make this school year interesting and fun for kids? I mean, I don’t know how to do [remote learning]. I wasn’t trained to be an online teacher … So I figured, what if I teach history from the places where it happened? Maybe that would at least make them want to log in to find out where their teacher is every day.”
Her many historic stops included Jamestown, Virginia; the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennesee; the fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; and the now-famous dueling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey where Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton.
Cluck posted videos on her YouTube channel as well as her social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram. This one is from her first day:
My very first YouTube video:
Williamsburg, Day 1: Great American History Road Trip #pandemicteaching https://t.co/qhzpTsgNjp
— Cathy Cluck (@cathycluck) August 25, 2020
The 26-year veteran teacher used her personal savings to fund the trip. She loaded up a few personal belongings and a lot of equipment to make sure she could capture each of the locations where history happened.
The trip wasn’t without its challenges, thanks to changes in itinerary as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. She set out with a hotspot and tripod and streamed from places like rest stops, coffee shops and parking lots along the way. In the end, though, it was not only a unique learning opportunity for her students but also a way for her to find her passion for teaching once again in a challenging time.
She was able to incorporate some interesting lessons, like the one referenced below on moonshiners and the history of NASCAR. This video, posted to Twitter on the ninth day of her trip, discusses going through a Wendy’s drive-thru in the South and getting a stain on her shirt.
Day 9: more driving, forgot to record the history lesson I taught on moonshiners and the history of NASCAR, back in the South. #greatamericanhistoryroadtrip #pandemicteaching https://t.co/gsDrPtRqRB
— Cathy Cluck (@cathycluck) September 2, 2020
“Every year in July I look forward to going back to school,” Cluck said. “The pandemic was rough and not getting to hug my seniors and have closure with kids, that was hard,” she told Austin 360. “I’ve never done anything like this before but it is probably the coolest, weird and most out of the box thing I’ve ever done in my teaching career.”
Ultimately, Cluck made a total of 11 historical stops. She also covered 3,810 miles on her teaching adventure, according to this post.
A crazy start to a school year.
Couldn’t have done any of it without some incredible people encouraging me along the way and helping me solve problems when I thought this was all a horrible… https://t.co/TRIdp1kQnn
— Cathy Cluck (@cathycluck) September 5, 2020
She’s back at her home base now, as her school started in-person classes again on Sept. 8 at 25% capacity. But what a great way to start the year fresh!