Texas Teacher Takes Her Students On A Road Trip Through U.S. History — Remotely

Sep 11, 2020
Originally published on September 15, 2020 11:37 am

Coming back to school this fall has presented new challenges for students, their families and educators. But for Cathy Cluck, it has presented an opportunity.

Cluck teaches AP U.S. history at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas. And as she was preparing her lessons for this very nontraditional year, she asked herself, "What can I do now that I wouldn't be able to do in a normal year?" Cluck tells NPR that she "just kind of had this idea: that I teach American history and what if I went to the places where American history happened?"

So she did. Cluck took a 15-day road trip (dubbed the #greatamericanhistoryroadtrip,) to visit some of the places she teaches her students about each year.

Places like Gettysburg, the Lincoln Memorial, Jamestown, even the site of the famous Alexander Hamilton-Aaron Burr duel.

Each day, she went live for her students, embracing the technology and distance, to bring her students closer to what they're learning in class. She also posted daily highlights to her YouTube.

Day 1: Clunk went live via Zoom from Williamsburg, Va. on Aug. 24. Cluck started her video in front of the stocks at Colonial Williamsburg.

YouTube

Clunk's students seem to have enjoyed her journey. "I just love it; I just love it!" Julia Franco, one of Clunk's students, told Morning Edition. "I don't know how to explain; it just makes me more excited to learn."

The road trip hasn't all gone as planned. Along the way Cluck's made adjustments to her itinerary to comply with another new reality of the pandemic: travel restrictions.

While she'd planned to head to Boston as part of her trip, by the time she'd made it to New York on Aug. 28, she had to change plans.

"When I pulled in last night, remembering how hard this area was hit with COVID," Cluck shared in her YouTube video for day 6 of her journey, "there's a travel ban in place for people from Texas ... So I am turning back and heading South."

Cluck is back in Austin now, preparing for a version of in-person teaching when, later this month, students who want to may return to classrooms. And should her school need to return to distance learning for all students, she's got another educational adventure mapped out.

"If we ended up going remote again, I would love to do a trip through the South, spend some more time on civil rights things," Cluck says. "So if I get the opportunity to do it again, I would certainly love to."

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One high school teacher found a way to teach differently in the pandemic. Cathy Cluck is an AP U.S. history teacher in Austin, Texas. Her school started off the year remotely so she asked herself...

CATHY CLUCK: What can I do now that I wouldn't be able to do in a normal year? And I just kind of had this idea that I teach American history, and what if I went to the places where American history happened?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So she did. Cluck went on a 15-day road trip around America's historical sites, and she took her students with her virtually.

CLUCK: If it just makes them want to log on because they're stuck on Zoom all day and, you know, if that gives them a reason to think oh, where's my teacher today? Maybe it'll be like a "Where's Waldo."

MARTIN: She streamed her first day of class from Williamsburg, Va. She documented the trip on YouTube, including this show and tell with a piece of history used for public punishment.

CLUCK: So I'm at the stocks. Up there, you put your head through and your arms through, but I'm not allowed to do it because of the COVID.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's too bad. The teacher then headed north, stopping in Jamestown, in Yorktown, Va., Washington, D.C., and then up through Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Julia Franco is one of Cluck's students at Westlake High School.

JULIA FRANCO: I just love it. I just love it. It's - I don't know how to explain it. It just makes me more excited to learn, you know. And it's also having the visual of, you know, where the first slaves came to America, where, you know, all of these different places. I'm like, oh, I'm reading it in a textbook but, oh, I've also seen it, like virtually. But I've seen it.

MARTIN: Cluck is back in her Austin classroom now that the school is slowly reintroducing in-person learning but maybe not for long.

CLUCK: If we end up going remote again, I would love to do a trip through the South, spend some more time on civil rights things. So if I get the opportunity to do it again, I would certainly love to.

MARTIN: And while having to go all virtual again would be disappointing, sounds like her students would love the second road trip, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.