How a virtual race teaches history and geography

We take distances for granted. They’re marked on highway signs that whiz by at 70 miles an hour — 205 miles to Asheville, 83 miles to Kansas City.  And, as adults, we run shorter distances and know what that feels like — 5k, 10k, 13.1 miles. Some people even know what it feels like to run 100k.

But most of the journeys that we read about in history classes traverse distances that go way beyond the scale of our everyday imagination.  Who can relate to weeks and weeks of walking nearly 2000 miles on the Oregon Trail?

Oregon Trail Virtual Race

To help history or geography teachers convey a little of what such a journey would feel like, we’ve started creating virtual races on maps of famous treks. We’re starting with maps of the Oregon Trail and the Underground Railroad in Ohio.

How would a class use this? Pooling their exercise mileage,  a class of 25 fifth graders should, in theory, be able to cover the Oregon Trail in four to eight weeks.  More ambitious classes can break into 10-person teams and go further per week… or longer.  Here’s where students can register to start slogging along the virtual route of the Oregon Trail. Porridge and ponchos are optional, of course.

virtual race to houses on the Underground Railroad in Ohio
Or students can try to imagine the distance and complexity experienced by antebellum slaves trudging north to freedom, dodging from town to town on the informal network of safe houses we now refer to as the Underground Railroad.  As you can see at right, the path we’ve traced, hitting all 11 homes in Ohio that are on the National Register of Historic Places,  would have been twisting and difficult. The home names and their towns are listed in the virtual Underground Railroad’s “about” section.
Got a historical route you’d like us to map out for your students?  Request a customized virtual race route here.  It’s free!