McFarland Teacher Redefines Education for the TikTok Generation

Tuesday April 9, 2024

In today’s fast-paced digital era, where trends flash by and short-form videos dominate Gen Z’s attention, a McFarland High School history teacher has unlocked the secret to engaging students and adults alike. This has led to incredible opportunities to collaborate with teachers across the globe and various television and streaming networks. Three years after launching her popular “Gen Z History Lessons” online, Lauren Cella is adding ‘gameshow contestant’ to her impressive resume.

On April 9, Cella will appear on NBC’s game show Password, joining famous names such as Jimmy Fallon and Keke Palmer—an opportunity she never thought would happen in her wildest dreams. The achievement is not just a testament to her sudden rise to fame but also reflects her unique ability to make history accessible, engaging, and fun, which ultimately caught the eye of media producers for the show. For Cella, it was an easy choice to say “yes.”

In her daily life, Cella teaches at McFarland High School and posts history lesson videos to over 155,000 followers on TikTok and 124,000 on Instagram.

Her journey of creating videos for her students began during the COVID-19 pandemic when virtual lessons temporarily became the norm. She decided to make videos that would help to summarize her lesson plans in fun and relatable ways, and soon, her students persuaded her to start posting them online so other students could learn.

“I was sort of forced to make videos due to COVID-19,” said Cella. “Within that next year, I was making videos every day to help my kids understand the content. Then I thought, you know, it might be kind of fun to do more satirical skits. I did question it a little bit, but my students were right – a lot of people do like learning history this way!”

Cella draws inspiration from her regular curriculum and pacing guides when choosing content to highlight on her platforms. Although Cella creates detailed lectures for students in her actual classroom, her videos are condensed to around sixty seconds and focus on breaking down harder-to-understand concepts. However, she also chooses to make videos about current events or holidays. For example, in Cinco de Mayo, Cella made a video explaining the holiday’s significance and how it does not mean it is Mexican Independence Day. Her explanation quickly went viral, with over a million views across both TikTok and Instagram.

Striking a Balance

Despite Cella receiving national acclaim for her innovative teaching methods, she was quick to recognize the entire McFarland Unified School District for encouraging teachers to be forward thinkers. Much of this is due to the district’s vision of embracing digital and social media platforms as educational tools.

@laurencella92 Here’s the chisme, bestie 🇲🇽💅🏻PS: I will give this speech to anyone who thinks May 5th is Independence Day💀 #genzteacher #history #cincodemayo #mexican #genz #millennial ♬ El Cinco de Mayo (Mariachi) – David Peña

Lauren Cella, left, competes on NBC’s Password game show.

According to Dario Diaz, McFarland High School principal, Cella’s methods are both innovative and accessible, recognizing how successful she is at fostering critical thinking and digital literacy skills.

“We have been a 1-to-1 district for many years,” said Diaz. “This means that students going to school in McFarland begin integrating and using Chromebooks and many other digital tools into the classroom as kindergarteners from the age of 5. As they get into high school, we have seen how our proactive approach directly puts our students ahead of the curve.” 

Advanced technology implementations within McFarland High School’s CTE courses include Artificial Intelligence (AI), which has helped media students generate content efficiently. They are also using Scikit Learn, GitHub, and AlphaCod, all tools for data analysis and automating repetitive tasks.  Meanwhile, at Browning Road STEAM Academy, an elementary school within the McFarland Unified School District that focuses on STEAM implementation, students have been using augmented and virtual reality for years.

These implementations promote active learning, increased student engagement, and real-world applications, Diaz says.

“At McFarland High School, we will continue to prepare students for the demands of the modern workforce while also fostering creativity and adaptability,” he said. “I believe Mrs. Cella is at the forefront of revolutionizing teaching methods. Her efforts are instrumental in creating engaging and effective learning experiences for her students.” 

Cella, on the other hand, insists that her success at finding the balance between educating students and keeping them engaged is just an example of what all good teachers do. She is also aware of how students experience barriers when it comes to learning history, saying that many students are predisposed to the subject being boring or hard to understand.

“There are a lot of barriers in social science that have been put up on purpose,” said Cella. “People think it’s boring or too complicated, and it’s really not. Most of the time, when people think otherwise, it’s because it’s not their history or because they have been left out of history. When you take those barriers away, students can see it how I see it: fascinating.” 

Opportunities Abound

What started as a fun way to teach her students during a stressful time has transformed Cella from a local educator into a viral sensation, redefining what it means to teach and learn in the 21st century. With her newfound online following, Cella has been excited to take part in opportunities that she never thought she would be able to do. Recently, Cella has collaborated with the History Channel about a new John F. Kennedy documentary premiering on their network and Apple TV Plus, who invited Cella to the World War II Museum to talk about a new Band of Brothers show released on their streaming service.

At the end of the day, Cella hopes that her success brings positive attention to McFarland High School.

“I never want my students to get overlooked, especially since our students have some of the highest graduation rates in the county,” said Cella. “They are doing amazing things, and I just want them to see that somebody who is doing something in McFarland can be just as successful as someone living somewhere else.”

To view more of Cella’s Gen Z history lessons, you can follow her on TikTok at @laurencella92 and on Instagram at @laurencella. You can catch her on Password, which will air on April 9 at 10 p.m. PST on NBC and will be available for streaming on Peacock the following day. 

Photos courtesy of NBC.

By Jennifer Bryan

By Jennifer Bryan

Jennifer Bryan joined Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2021 as a Communications Specialist. As a creative and motivated marketing communications specialist, she has a special knack for storytelling and content creation. Born and raised in Kern County, Jennifer has worked in major industries within the region such as agriculture and oil and gas before she made the transition to education.