Evolution of an Idea

As I explained on the dedication page, the idea for this trip was born long ago. Let me tell you how it evolved into this project.

When I first began to realize that 1999 might be the year to fulfill this lifelong ambition, I began to do some internet research to find out if people had posted trip journals on the net. It didn't take long to realize that, in fact, they not only posted journals, but that some of them maintained websites right from the road as they travelled.

I thought, "This is cool. I'd like to do that, too."

  1. If I post a website, I might be able to get some of my students excited about their country, and perhaps implant the travel bug. (My observation is that most of my students who travel outside the Midwest do so by plane and so have no direct contact with their land. And many have never traveled farther than the Wisconsin Dells or the Michigan Dunes.)
  2. Why not involve my students more directly than just being on the receiving end of a website?
    Why not have them CONTRIBUTE TO the website? Much greater ownership with secondary benefits of learning how to do research on the web.

At this point I approached my Principal, Mr. Fritz Wildermuth. He was very receptive to the idea and volunteered the idea of using district webspace for the site. However, we ended up using a commercial server (see About this Site for details) so that we could have our own domain name, route99.org.

I spent the better part of a Saturday creating my route across America. It went through sixteen states and one hundred ten counties (every try to read all the counties on a Rand McNally atlas?). If I added the ten or so national parks and the several major cities and a few other distractions, I would have just about my number of U.S. History students for the year. Perfect: every student gets an assignment. We'll make this the semester research project. Big points. (How do I grade it??)
My three first semester classes would research every county between San Francisco and Chicago. My two second semester classes would research Chicago to Plymouth, Massachusetts.

And here are the stars of our show:

First Semester, First Period
First Semester, 1st Period U.S. History

First Semester, Third Period

First Semester, 3rd Period U.S. History

First Semester, Seventh Period

First Semester, 7th Period U.S. History

Second Semester, Seventh Period

Second Semester, 7th Period US History
(Pennsylvania-New Jersey-New York-Connecticut-Rhode Island-Massachusetts)

Second Semester, Eigth Period

Second Semester, 8th Period US History
(Indiana-Ohio-West Virginia)

Beautiful, aren't they?

These first semester students are heroes. The project has gained its life with them as the guinea pigs. They've had to adapt to a number of significant changes, and they've been great about it. The second semester students were able to use their experience to sidestep most of our reoccurring problems (or at least expect them).
Initially, I gave the students fifty questions to try to find out about their county on the internet.

As the weeks wore on, it became obvious that we couldn't find all the answers on the internet in every county. Where could we get help? It was one of our librarians, Pat Jordan, who suggested the students make contact with a school in their county. Of course!! What a great idea!
This immediately added a whole new dimension to the trip. We would now be asking a teacher who actually lives in the county to help us, either him/herself, or better yet, by giving one of his/her students the project for extra credit.
This thing was taking on real national proportions now. Our website would literally be put together with input from teachers and students all across the country.
The district established email accounts for each student. Students could send/receive mail to their own private address (but accessible by me for safety). We compiled a sample letter to send to each contact we made in the county.

Initially I planned on just having the students do the research. Matt Marengo (see below) would do all the websites. Then I had a chance conversation with Ray Butkus, our DGN Mac Master, about what I was doing. He suggested having each student make their own website. I said, "We can do that?" He said, "Heck,yeah!" (We are getting technologized so quickly in our district, the information can't keep up.)
Another great twist to the project. Each student would be able to inject his/her own personality into the project, and learn a very valuable skill.
Problem: I didn't have my conversation with Ray until three weeks before Christmas break. The project due date was Christmas break. My wife took her classes to the computer lab first and broke the ground with them. Then I took mine in, severely underestimating the amount of time it would take for 85 rookies to create 85 websites. It was the blind leading the blind. We put together a 'Netscape Composer' handout; step-by-step through the process.

Here's our lab:


This is Shandra. She just found out that her semester project disk worth 120 points has NOTHING on it!

Oh, the nightmares. Computers crashed, disks were lost, links went dead, the end of the semester loomed. Somehow or other, and in differing degrees, the job got done. And we were still...


I'm guessing you'll see a huge difference between the first and second semester web pages. This is NOT the fault of the students. I've told them many times this thing is a work in progress. (This is distressing to those students who need order in their lives.)
The other student-created part of the web site is the Road Book Review page. If you haven't been able to tell that this project is really inter-disciplinary, here's another example. I was speaking with Matt Formato (English Dept.) about the trip and the web site. He said something like, "You've GOT to include a book list. Do you have any idea how many great books have been written on this oh-so-American theme of travel-movement-migration?" This, of course, was another wonderful idea. I went immediately to our wonderful librarians and asked if they could create a list.
Did they ever! Between our library, the Downers South library, the Downers Grove Public Library, the Woodridge Public Library and the inter-library loan system, they collected over one hundred books on the theme of American movement, or "Road Books".<
We then had each student choose one book and write a "Road Book Review, with a one-to-four star rating.
We're working with our music department to compile a list of great American Road Songs.
And our art department to logo-ize and design us, so we look spiffy.
And other departments are also talking about coming on board. The Science Department, for instance, may be doing something with calories burned per pedal stroke.
The sky's the limit. We're having fun. Somewhere in here I have to train to ride 4000 miles. And teach. Oh yeah.

Our WebMaster

A key person in this whole venture is our most excellent webmaster, Mr. Matt Marengo. Matt is a senior at North, a National Merit Finalist, a member of our boys' volleyball team, and most importantly for this site, fantastic with the computer. Matt agreed to put all the pieces of this thing together.
I knew next to nothing at the start of this adventure, so I can't begin to tell you how important he has been to its success. (He is open to receiving offers that would result in large sums of money.) His ability to read my mind has made my job easy. All I have to do is tell him my idea for a page, and he makes it look better than the picture I had in my mind.
Judge for yourself.