How Does Your Puppy Grow?


Meet our pups; future Iditarod champions!

Puppies are the future for an Iditarod kennel.  As the 2016 Iditarod draws near, we have been spending a great deal of time talking about husky dogs and learning all about them.  We fell in love with veteran musher Matt Failor’s puppies this year after his Insider interview when Iditarod veteran “Cool Cat” gave birth to her litter of adorable, squealing newborns.  We wanted to know more about Iditarod husky puppies, and how they are raised to prepare to one day be Iditarod champions.  I reached out to Matt and he shared some personal video with us so we could learn more:

Matt gave us some interesting information about newborn puppies.  “They are born with their eyes shut (fused shut).  The eyes usually do not open until around 10-12 days.  This is one of the reason a dogs nose is sooooo much stronger than ours (humans), because they rely on it from day one, since they are blind.  The whining from the puppy will release a chemical in the mom’s brain, to begin the flow of milk.  The pups instinctually go for the belly to find food.  The RACE is on!  They will fight for position and latch on to her.  Truly fun to watch and educational.”

Of course, my students wanted puppies of their own, but since that was impossible, we made our own rice and sock version to learn some husky puppy math and start a dog diary about them.  Our source of inspiration was a wonderful lesson from 2007 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Kim Slade.  I loved this activity, and since we wanted to learn more about husky puppies, I brought it back out of the Iditarod archives and updated it this year for my class.

Husky puppies are born weighing 12-16 ounces.  Since we are learning about measurement in math class, I decided to test my students and see how close they could make their husky rice puppies weigh 16 oz (1 pound) on a scale with estimation.  First, we measured out 1 ounce. on a scale to see what it looked like, and feel it in our hands.  From there the challenge was to see if we could first estimate then fill our sock with exactly 16 ounces with rice.  We chose a men’s sock we liked out of white, black, or gray, then we used funnels to fill our sock.  Students went back and forth to the scale to measure them until they reached exactly 16 ounces.

Now for the fun part! We used little rubber bands to tie off the head, paws and tail.  Some students added a muzzle with an extra rubber band.  Then we added a black pom pom for the nose, felt ears, google eyes, and a little pink felt tongue.  Students could add extra felt for special markings for a personal touch.


Time for a husky puppy name!

We fell in love with our puppies, and when we were all finished it was time to name our litter.  Mushers have a special tradition when naming a litter of puppies in their kennels.  We read a great Iditarod post about how this is done, and we talked about what our theme should be.  Can you guess?  From that theme, each student gave their puppy a unique name.  Read our husky puppy names below, and see if you can guess what it is:

Our theme is “Texas” of course!  Our puppy names were inspired by the Lone Star State: wildflowers, food, spices, places, and even NASA.  What would your theme be?  Kim’s original lesson plan had a puppy birth certificate, so we created our own.

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Puppy Birth Certificate Word

Puppy Birth Certificate PDF

How Does Your Puppy Grow? Lesson Plan

Matt’s puppies have grown up quickly in the last few months.  Matt share with us how he starts to train and prepare his puppies for the Iditarod in the future.   In the video below he walks around his kennel with the 14 puppies from Cool Cat who are now 3 months old and weigh 15 to 20 pounds.  He explains how he starts walking with the puppies and mom when they are young, but then he walks them alone so they can bond with him.  The jingle of a bag of dog kibble keeps them running to him and not wandering off.  It is amazing to see them all stay close together and trust him. 



What is more fun to watch than Matt Failor’s puppies?  Matt Failor’s puppies in slow motion:



We wish we could have had the real thing – but we learned a lot with our sock version!

Follow my journey this year as 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™  We have partnered with Skype and I will be sending recorded video messages daily along the trail to classrooms around the world.  Sign up for a free Skype account, and then join the “Iditarod Classroom Club” to follow along.  Click the link below:

The Iditarod Classroom Club



Want to know more about Matt Failor and other 2016 Iditarod mushers and their teams?  The name says it all.  The ULTIMATE INSIDER ultimate-school-300x300 gives a school access to everything!  All of the benefits of the INSIDER VIDEO combined with the ability to “Track the Pack” with the GPS INSIDER!  Access to all of the commercial-free video.  Spotlight up to 5 of your favorite mushers and receive email alerts when they enter and leave a checkpoint.


  • GPS Tracker
  • Commercial-Free access to all video content
  • Highlight 5 Mushers with email alerts


Gee! Haw! Hike! with Musher Larry Daugherty


2016 Iditarod rookie musher Dr. Larry Daugherty and Bumper


“How do sled dogs know where to go?”  This simple question has been asked often in my classroom this year as my students learn more and more about the Iditarod.  Mushers and their teams have a very special and trusting relationship, but how do they communicate on the trail with each other?  For help I turned to 2016 rookie Iditarod musher, Dr. Larry Daugherty.  


Photo courtesy of Iditarod

Larry is living his childhood dream of leading a dog team to Nome in the Last Great Race on Earth®. His grandparents were global adventure seekers which inspired him early in his life to one day mush in the Iditarod.  He is now a respected doctor at the Alaska Cancer Treatment Center in Anchorage, bringing the same loving care to his dog team as he does to his patients.

I met Dr. Daugherty this June at the Summer Camp for Teachers, when he signed up to be a musher at the volunteer picnic.  He is an Iditarod rookie…just like me!  His enthusiasm and positive attitude are contagious!

Larry is under the tutelage of veteran Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey this year.  Larry took some time on the trails of Willow, Alaska to show us how unique verbal commands help a musher and sled dogs communicate and work together throughout the race.  As Larry explains in his video, sled dogs understand when to turn left or right, stop, and go, with special words from their musher.  

There are a few basic mushing commands that help guide sled dogs and let them know what to do.  He began the video by telling his team “Whoa!” which means to slow down and come to a halt.  His dogs understood just what to do!  When he said “Hike!”, they started trotting up the trail.  


Larry’s team turning right after hearing “Gee!”

He helped guide his team on the Willow trails with “Gee!”, which is the command for a right turn and “Haw!”, the command for a left turn.  There are times on the trail where there may be several paths to take.  What does a sled team do?  When a dog team is well trained, they listen and follow the correct command from their musher to guide them the correct way, so they won’t make a wrong turn.  It truly is teamwork at its best.  Larry also does a wonderful job of showing how even the pacing of the dogs is watched carefully by the musher to ensure the team moves along the trail safely.

We watched Larry’s fascinating video in our PE class, and we put together our own activities using the mushing commands he shared.  Stephen Presley and Jeannette Michael are our amazing PE teachers here at Eanes Elementary School, and they love bringing the Iditarod into their classes each year for all our students.  They created a high-energy warmup activity using the basic commands in mushing.  Watch “The Iditarod Shuffle” in the video below:

In the warmup, students shuffled to the right when the teachers yelled, “Gee!”.  They shuffled to the left when they heard, “Haw!”.  When the teachers gave the command “Whoa!”, they made a deep lunge to the floor, and when they heard “Hike!”, they jumped up and ran in place.  This was a fantastic warmup, and soon the students had their hearts racing and were ready for some real sled dog racing with scooters and mats!

The Iditarod Shuffle Lesson Plan


A Texas sled dog team!

For “The Main Event” lesson, an obstacle course was set up in the gym using numbered cones to represent checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail.  Mrs. Michael first reviewed the mushing commands they had seen in the video from Dr. Daugherty and discussed the rules for our Iditarod lesson before the fun started.  For this PE activity, students were also expected to use responsible social behavior and sportsmanship towards their teams.  

Small scooters were placed under large mats and 3 students at a time created a dog team.  A “lead dog” pulled the “sled” with ropes, the “musher” yelled the commands around the course, and a student in the back helped guide the “sled” to Nome.  This was especially helpful as many sleds took a spill on the trail! 

The Main Event Lesson Plan

Students had a fantastic time in the gym using the commands, working as a team, getting their heart rates up, and showing great sportsmanship in our own version of the Last Great Race on Earth®.  See the video below of all the fun:

Dr. Daugherty took some time on the beautiful Willow trail recently to introduce us to some of the members of his dog team.  You can tell they are ready and excited for the Iditarod!

Larry is living his dream with the support of his wonderful family including his wife, Prairie, and and his five children: Bailey, 15, Calvin, 13, Azalea, 9, Conrad, 6, and Charlie, 4.  He loves inspiring children, and he is a big supporter of the Teacher on the Trail™ program, his Boy Scout Troop 29, and the organization Radiating Hope improving cancer care around the globe.  He believes that “Success is possible through hard work, dedication and perseverance.”  I hope to see Larry and his team under the burled arch in Nome this March.  I know his family, friends, and his patients will be cheering him on the whole way there!

Get to know rookie musher Dr. Larry Daugherty a little better.  Read his Q & A from the 2016 Iditarod class below:

Q & A with Rookie Musher Larry Daugherty

See the articles and information below about mushing commands from the Iditarod site:

Mushing Terminology

Libby Littles Article


Our PE teachers, Stephen Presley and Jeannette Michael, were inspired by musher Larry Daugherty, and they created these lessons for the students at Eanes Elementary School.  Our students had a great time, learned a lot, and we hope you can share this activity with your school too!


Want to know more about Larry Daugherty and other 2016 Iditarod mushers and their teams?  The name says it all.  The ULTIMATE INSIDER ultimate-school-300x300 gets access to everything!  All of the benefits of the INSIDER VIDEO combined with the ability to “Track the Pack” with the GPS INSIDER!  Access to all of the commercial-free video.  Spotlight up to 5 of your favorite mushers and receive email alerts when they enter and leave a checkpoint.


  • GPS Tracker
  • Commercial-Free access to all video content
  • Highlight 5 Mushers with email alerts

The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for educators around the country to come together and learn best teaching practices surrounding the theme of the Iditarod.  Check out the Iditarod site for more information about this unique professional development opportunity.

Iditarod and the Ultimate Sports Showdown

At this point in the year, social media is buzzing with excitement as folks from all over the world cheer on their favorite mushers and dogs preparing for the greatest race on Earth.  I cheer right along with them.  Am I biased?  I wanted to find out, so I decided to put my favorite sport to the test in an ultimate sports showdown.  

I challenged my 4th grade students to compare and contrast the Iditarod to any race, game, or sport of their choosing to see which would come out on top.

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The Featherduster – “The Ultimate Showdown”

I didn’t have to look far for inspiration for this project.  I teach in a remarkable school district in West Lake Hills, a suburb of Austin, Texas.  Westlake High School is consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation, and The Featherduster is a national award-winning student created magazine in the journalism department.

The 50-member student staff of The Featherduster produces three print issues each year and produces all content for the website The students, under the leadership of their editors, make all the decisions regarding stories, photos, and designs for every issue. 

A few years ago, The Featherduster published an issue called “The Ultimate Showdown.”  Students wrote and designed articles comparing and contrasting restaurants, video games, and even movie characters in a persuasive “This vs. That” format: Lord of the Rings vs. Star Wars, Mac vs. PC, Barnes and Noble vs. Half Price Books, and more.  
Even though The Featherduster is a high school paper, we often use their writing as a source of inspiration in our Writer’s Workshop.  We decided to create our own version for a digital sports smackdown!
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Our inspiration: The Ultimate Showdown Volume 40 Issue 4 – Photo courtesy of the Westlake Featherduster


We first brainstormed a list of all the races, sports, or games we could think of: the Winter Olympics, tennis, fencing, baseball, the World Cup, etc.  My students chose their favorite to go head-to-head against the Iditarod, then spent some time online using a safe site called for research.

We also utilized the Iditarod site, which has wonderful videos and information about the race, mushers, and their teams.  We have the Ultimate Educational Insider subscription which allows us access to all the videos on demand throughout the year and the around-the-clock GPS tracking during the race.  We also read through the official 2016 Iditarod rules, which gave us great insight into the requirements of the race, especially the section about sportsmanship on the trail.

We made lists of all the qualities about each race, sport, or game that made it unique and special.  A Venn diagram is a great graphic to organize the information.  Students had to include 3 interesting facts about each sport in our writing and then include a final opinion in the conclusion.  Some students even took an actual vote from other students after sharing their opinions.  

In the end, the Iditarod was the hands down winner.  The personal challenge of surviving in the frozen wilderness of Alaska, the love and friendship with a team of huskies, the sportsmanship between mushers…the Last Great Race on Earth® lived up to its name and more!  In the end, the fact that men and women mushers compete on equal terms was an important deciding factor for many of my students in our sports face-off. 


The Ultimate Sports Showdown with Pic Collage for Kids

We used two pieces of technology to help us create our Featherduster inspired articles.  Pic Collage for Kids, or Pic Kids for short, is a free app that let us design a page that looked very much like it came from a slick, glossy magazine.  

Pic Kids has text boxes, colorful decorative backgrounds, labels, and stickers that helped us become instant graphic artists, without design software or even a computer lab.  We took our lists, information and rough drafts and typed them into Pic Kids directly making columns, and then added a picture of each of our sports at the top.  For that, we turned to a useful web site that features free, attributed photos for classroom projects.

Photos for Class is a free, web-based site for students to find and download attributed photos for educational projects. This provides teachers and students a safe place to find photos for the classroom that are also licensed by Creative Commons for public use.  You simply type in a word into the search field and hundreds of choices come up, ready to download, with the image citation printed at the bottom of each photo.

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The Iditarod site is also a fantastic resource for teachers and students to find information and photos for the classroom.  It is important to teach our students to be mindful of citing sources when using someone else’s photographs or information in their projects.  After we had our images downloaded, we uploaded them into our Pic Collage pages.


We spent some time editing our writing: a great lead to “hook” the reader, descriptive word choice, at least 3 unique qualities for each sport, and an opinion in the concluding sentence to bring it all together.  Our pages looked just like The Featherduster magazine we had used for inspiration.  Below are a few Iditarod articles to help students research and understand the phenomenal dog care and musher character traits involved in the race:

8 Traits of Iditarod

Checkpoint Protocol and Dog Care

Veterinary Center

We printed our pages and created a classroom magazine to share.  You can also create a digital magazine, like The Featherduster, using free sites such as Livebooklet, Shutterfly, and Issuu.  You simply upload PDFs and the sites create the pages for you.  You can embed the digital magazine or book on your site and share it with a link or an embed code.

We used to create our online magazine, and it created a unique web link to share with others.  Click on the link below to read it:

(you are leaving a secure site – not responsible for content)

The Ultimate Sports Showdown

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Read our magazine on


Venn Diagram PDF 

The Ultimate Sports Showdown Lesson Plan

Check out the original example from Westlake High School below using

(you are leaving a secure site – not responsible for content)

Teachers can gain inspiration from the students at Westlake High School who work and create this magazine.  Here are some of the latest awards for The Featherduster and the student staff that produces it:

National Scholastic Press Association: First Place Best of Show for special edition (spring 2015)
Columbia Scholastic Press Association: Crown winner for 2015 (print and online combined)
Interscholastic League Press Conference: Gold Star for print Featherduster and Silver Star for online (2014-15)

In Writer’s Workshop we use mentor texts as examples for our own writing all year long.  I am always looking for great sources of material for my 4th graders.  If you would like to try this opinion writing project, print out our examples to inspire your own students:

Iditarod vs. Track     Iditarod vs. Softball     Iditarod vs. Tennis   

Iditarod vs. Winter Olympics     Iditarod vs. Ski Racing     Iditarod vs. The Super Bowl

Iditarod vs. Sledding     Iditarod vs. Gaga Ball     Iditarod vs. Parkour   

Iditarod vs. Rock Climbing     Iditarod vs. Ice Skating     Iditarod vs. Hockey

Iditarod vs. Gymnastics     Iditarod vs. Cheerleading     Iditarod vs. Football II

Iditarod vs. Baseball     Iditarod vs. Champions League     Iditarod vs. Football

Iditarod vs. Boxing

Click on the links below for resources for this project:

(You are leaving a secure site – not responsible for content)

Kid Rex

Photos for Class

Pic Collage



The Featherduster – The Ultimate Showdown Issue – Volume 40 Issue 4




Sled Shopping with Musher Kristin Pace

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The sled and mandatory gear for rookie Iditarod musher Kristin Pace

Reading the actual 2016 Iditarod rules is a fascinating learning experience for any classroom teacher, and it is a very important process to understand how the Last Great Race on Earth® is successful all the way from Anchorage to Nome.  

There are many interesting questions from students about the requirements for an Iditarod musher, especially the section about mandatory gear for the race.  We are far from the life of a musher here in Austin, so my students wanted to know more about making it to the starting line.

For help, I turned to 2016 Iditarod rookie musher Kristin Knight Pace from Hey Moose! Kennel in Healy, Alaska.  Kristin, a fellow Texan like me, was born and raised in Ft. Worth and moved to Alaska in 2009.  She fell in love with the beautiful, wild landscape of the north and is now a wilderness planner for Denali National Park.  She feels, “There’s no better way to see and experience the country than on the back of a dog sled.”  

I was curious to see what the mandatory gear for the Iditarod looks like and what kind of expenses mushers have in order to meet their requirements.  This looked like a great math lesson to me!  Kristin shared pictures with my class of some of her gear for the Iditarod, along with the costs of the individual pieces of equipment below: 

According to the Iditarod rules, a musher is required to have a harness for every dog on the team, and from the harnesses they are all connected together to the sled.  A system of cables, or lines, give the dogs freedom to run and move, but in sync, as a team.  All of the dogs with their lines work in tandem to keep them moving along the trail safely.  See the diagram below to understand how it all looks from above:


Kristin was kind enough to take some video of her Hey Moose! Kennel team preparing for the 2016 Iditarod.  She said, “This was taken about 4 miles from our training camp. We are on the Denali Highway heading east toward the Maclaren River.”  In the video, you can see the tow line, necklines, tuglines, and harnesses helping her stay in control and keep the team together, but with flexibility and comfort for the dogs.


Let’s go shopping!  With all of this great information and video, students can pretend to be mushers preparing for the 2016 Iditarod by going shopping for mandatory sled gear.  Using the Iditarod official rules, review the section about what is required on a sled and discuss why they are important. The health and safety of the dogs is always the top priority for race officials and the mushers.  Using the lesson plan and spreadsheet, students should estimate costs of the mandatory gear required and find a total amount due for a sled with 16 dogs.  The inspiration for this lesson came from 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, Jen Reiter.  Her math lessons can be accessed on the Iditarod site in an extensive PDF booklet called, “Mathing Down the Trail”.

The 2016 official Iditarod rules state that a musher must have 12-16 dogs at the starting line.  For this lesson, we will pretend to start with the maximum number, 16.  Mushers will carry extra tow lines, necklines, and tuglines on their sleds, but we used the required amount for our math.  Have a conversation with your class about having extra supplies on your sled.  What would be the benefit?  Hint: the safety of the dogs is the most important factor in the Iditarod, and dogs can sometimes chew their lines!

Iditarod Official Rules 2016

Let’s Go Shopping Catalog

Let’s Go Shopping Spreadsheet

Sled Shopping Lesson Plan

Kristin, and her husband Andy, also took a few moments on the trail to stop and introduce their dog team to us!


The life of a musher is a fascinating one.  Do you want to know more about Kristin Pace and her life as a musher?  My students created questions to get to know her a little bit better.  Read her Q & A to find out more about Kristin and her rookie Iditarod musher journey:

All About Kristin Pace


Training changes throughout the seasons for a musher and sometimes requires moving to a more remote location in the north for the best snow and weather conditions for the dogs.  Kristin said this is, “a picture of our winter training camp at Alpine Creek Lodge in the middle of the Denali Highway. The highway is not maintained in the winter, so we are 65 miles down the trail from our trucks and about a 7-hour trip to town one-way.”

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Winter Training camp for Andy and Kristin Pace and the dogs

Kristin and Andy have a wonderful site and blog about their kennel.  Their writing is deeply personal and emotional.  Check it out below: (you are leaving a secure site)

Coming Attractions

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Join in a live Twitter chat with sled dogs!  Mushers will pretend to be their sled dogs as students send in questions through Twitter.  The sled dogs will answer in first person…live.


Want to know more about Kristin Pace and the other 2016 Iditarod mushers and their teams?  The name says it all.  The ULTIMATE INSIDER ultimate-school-300x300 gets access to everything!  All of the benefits of the INSIDER VIDEO combined with the ability to “Track the Pack” with the GPS INSIDER!  Access to all of the commercial-free video.  Spotlight up to 5 of your favorite mushers and receive email alerts when they enter and leave a checkpoint.


  • GPS Tracker
  • Commercial-Free access to all video content
  • Highlight 5 Mushers with email alerts

The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for educators around the country to come together and learn best teaching practices surrounding the theme of the Iditarod.  Check out the Iditarod site for more information about this unique professional development opportunity.


Doghouse Design with Musher Matt Failor


Iditarod doghouse design and a sweet treat!

Visiting a musher’s kennel in Alaska is an amazing experience.  I remember the first time I saw a dog yard full of huskies.  I had never seen so many happy, wagging tails at one time, but I also noticed the unique design of the doghouses.  I had never seen any built quite like that before: neat, orderly rows, personalized cubes, happy dogs jumping on and off the roofs for hugs.  I wanted to know more, so I turned to veteran Iditarod musher Matthew Failor for help.  

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Team Matt Failor of the 17th-Dog Kennel

According to Matt, “The dogs and I spend all summer, fall and winter together living as a family and learn to work towards a common goal, improving in everything we do and never stop learning.”

thMatt was the perfect musher to reach out to about innovative doghouse design and how it benefits the life and health of the husky.  

I had the pleasure of meeting Matt at the Winter Conference for Educators, where we toured his kennel and learned so much about the preparations it takes to be ready for the Last Great Race on Earth®.  He let me try on his official parka and otter-skinned gloves, and we learned about the mandatory gear on his sled.  It was a fascinating learning experience for all the teachers there.

I asked Matt about the design of a husky doghouse and why they are built the specific way they are at his 17th-Dog Kennel in Willow, Alaska.  Matt responded with a holiday video of his dog yard, proudly showcasing his brand new houses made for his team.


Matt also shared interesting information about a musher’s kennel, and how doghouses actually play an important part in overall dog care:

“Everything I do for my dogs is for a specific reason…the houses are made a certain way for several reasons.  That size of house can be made out of one sheet of 4×8 sheet of plywood, we like efficiency.  

More importantly when a dog sleeps they curl up and bury their noses under their tails to preserve heat…knowing this, the houses should not be big!!!  They need to help keep the dog warm, any one who pays the heat bill will understand that philosophy.  Dogs, like people, like their personal space.  Like brothers sharing a room they have their own sides of the room. This is one of the many reasons why each dog has their own space/house.  Another important reason is to better take care of the dogs, if you have thirty dogs loose in a pen (which I do many times for a few hours a year for


Photo courtesy Matt Failor

fun and to teach the dogs things) you won’t know which loose stool came from which dog? Which dog vomited? Which dog has worms in their stool? Dogs in a pen sounds great but for a long time is not responsible…of course potential misbreedings, fights, dominance issues, etc.  Our way each dog knows their own house and will go there without asking. I know what went in each dog and more importantly what came out of each dog!!!  Each house has a removable lid for easy cleaning. Straw is put in regularly to help insulate the houses and keep dogs comfortable.  We use straw in houses as well as on races…connection would be, this is where we sleep! Important when straw is presented on rest stops.  

Chains have snaps on both ends in case of emergency (fires) so each dog can be taken from the house with their chain and then tethered to something (fence, tree, etc).  My handler and I wanted to just make little cute cabins for the dogs, so we added the rough cut siding for looks! And it will add insulation.  Many more reasons!!! Dog mushers are constantly innovating and coming up with new exciting ideas for the dogs…one of the many reasons I love this lifestyle!”

Many of my students have dog houses with a pointed roof in their own back yards, but I reminded them that many times huskies can jump on top of their houses at a musher’s kennel.  I asked Matt about that and he replied:


Photo courtesy Matt Failor

“It’s a simple design.  Pointed roofs would be difficult.  The dogs do enjoy getting up on top to see and get a different vantage point. Many mushers will teach the dogs to jump up on the house…easier to groom the dog, socialize with the dog, harness the dog on top of the house than on the ground.  Some mushers don’t teach the dog to jump up on the house in fear they could potentially sprain or injure themselves.  I like teaching them to get up on their roof.” 

 I learned so much from Matt’s response, and as a teacher, I found this information invaluable for my students.  We looked at doghouse design from the Iditarod site, and talked about Matt’s information and discussed what we had learned.  We created a classroom anchor chart together with all the facts we remembered.
Now it was our turn to design our own Iditarod doghouses!  Since it was the last week of school before the holidays, we used graham cracker squares, white icing, pretzel sticks, and red hot candy to create a husky doghouse fit for an Iditarod champion.  
Students had to try designing their house using inspiration from Matt Failor’s design: cube-shaped, insulated, and a roof ready for a husky.  When they completed their homes, a plastic toy dog replica was placed on top and a photo was snapped.  Finally, they were able to eat their treat.

The activity can easily be modified using cheap household or classroom items for the design instead of food.  I created a design challenge sheet for students to use in the creation process as a first step.

Design Challenge Worksheet

After their doghouses are completed, students can take their photo and label it using a web-based program such as Canva, or apps such as Popplet and Explain Everything.  The labels should include facts they have learned about the benefit of great Iditarod doghouse design.  

After they have labeled their photo with correct information, students can then write a research report about husky doghouses using their mind-maps.  Below is a Popplet chart using Matt’s information:


Check out Matt Failor’s 17th-Dog site below for more information about Matt and his team. (You are leaving a secure site – not responsible for content)


Teachers can create an assessment for the student doghouse research report using a free online rubric such as Quick Rubric. (You are leaving a secure site – not responsible for content)

Doghouse Design Lesson Plan

The doghouse design lesson was a part of our Iditarod-themed holiday class party this year.  We made artificial snow out of baking soda and shaving cream and recreated the Iditarod Trail with plastic and Arctic themed toys, toothpicks and marshmallows were used to create bridges over frozen lakes, Christmas photo ornaments were placed on homemade sleds, and instead of Elf on a Shelf we invented Hide the Husky.  Our party was complete with musher hot chocolate, “paw”-tato chips, and “Go fetch!” pretzel sticks.  The holidays are a great time to enjoy some Iditarod-themed games, and learn a lot about the life of a musher as well.

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View a video interview on Iditarod Insider with Matt at this link.

*You must have an Insider Educational Subscription to view the video.

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Join “Team Texas” at the Winter Conference!

The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for educators around the country to come together and learn best teaching practices surrounding the theme of the Iditarod.  Check out the Iditarod site for more information about this unique professional development opportunity.

I will be joined this year by a few talented teachers from my school, Eanes Elementary, here in Austin, Texas.  We will be sharing STEM and STEAM hands-on lessons based upon the Iditarod theme with conference attendees.  We hope to see you there!

A Musher’s Night Before Christmas


Getting in the holiday spirit

Just in time for the holidays, I read Musher’s Night Before Christmas, by Tricia Brown, to my class.  The book is a fun version of the Clement C. Moore classic poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas written in 1822.


Musher’s Night Before Christmas by Tricia Brown

In this modern Alaskan tale, Santa asks the help of a champion musher and his dog team to bring Christmas presents to the children of Nome.  It seems Rudolph’s nose is not so bright, and the headlamp of Tom the musher is what Santa needs to guide his sleigh from above.

“In the wink of an eye, Tom was planning his scheme.

Quickly suited and booted, then assembling his team. 

From a kennel of champions, Tom chose his best eight:

Joe, Lance, Susan, Rick, Doug, Jeff, Martin, Kate.”

Vocabulary terms and information are woven into the story, and there is a glossary at the end of the book with facts and information for children about the Iditarod and mushing.

To make this lesson a little more fun and challenging, I read another book to my class based upon ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, but this version had a theme from the Lone Star State.


Texas Night Before Christmas by James Rice

In Texas Night Before Christmas, by James Rice, Santa arrives on the prairie with a wagon pulled by a team of longhorn cattle.

“He was dressed all in rawhide with a Stetson on top.

His big Texas boots hit the floor with a clop.

His eyes were both squinty and his skin was like leather

From too much exposure to the raw Texas weather.”

I covered our class tables with black butcher paper, and I handed out colored chalk to my students.  I drew giant Venn diagrams on the paper, and students were put into groups to compare and contrast the two Christmas tales.


Collaborating and comparing the holiday stories

When we were finished with our Venn diagrams, we had a class discussion and compared our collaborative efforts.  My students worked hard to find details that were unique about each version and what they both had in common.

When we completed our group work, I gave a Venn diagram worksheet to each student.  After the lesson, they filled in their worksheet as an independent assessment tool.

Venn Diagram PDF

A Musher’s Night Before Christmas Lesson Plan

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The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for educators around the country to come together and learn best teaching practices surrounding the theme of the Iditarod.  Check out the Iditarod site for more information about this unique professional development opportunity.

I will be joined this year by a few talented teachers from my school, Eanes Elementary, here in Austin, Texas.  We will be sharing STEM and STEAM hands-on lessons based upon the Iditarod theme with conference attendees.  We hope to see you there!

Iditarod S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d Art


An old calendar gains new life in the Iditarod classroom

As the year comes to a close, we have been organizing, cleaning up, and preparing our classroom for the new year.  One of these tasks involves bringing down our 2015 Iditarod calendar from the wall.  Old calendars can be recycled into a fantastic art project I like to call “stretched art” using basic art supplies and a lot of creativity.

Optical illusions hold a special fascination for my students.  I have a collection of these types of books in my classroom that are continually checked out and shared throughout the week.  I decided to combine our interest in this visual phenomenon with our calendar art project in 10 easy steps.

Step One:

Share optical illusion books from the library with the class and discuss the visual trickery involved.  Some of my favorites are:

Xtreme Illusions by National Geographic

Optical Illusions by DK Publishing

Magic Eye: A New Way of Looking at the World by Marc Grossman

Step Two:

Tear apart your out-of-date calendars, and let your students choose their favorite month and picture for the project. Turn it over and lay it on a larger piece of standard, white construction paper; any length will do.  Lay the picture exactly in the bottom left-hand corner of the paper.


Step Three:

Using the top of the calendar as a guide, draw a line all the way across the top of the white paper.  Cut off the excess strip and recycle it.


Step Four:

Use the daily grid lines on the back as a guide, and have students simply cut the calendar page into long strips.  I find it best to number the strips across the top, so they can be put back in order easily when they are flipped over.  For a mathematical challenge, you can require different measurements across the page with a ruler.


Step Five:

Turn over the strips and make sure they are in the correct visual order.  Keep the first strip on the far-left side, then stretch the last strip all the way to the end on the right.


Step Six:

Now simply stretch the other strips equally between the ends of the paper.  When you have them evenly spaced apart, glue each strip down.


Step Seven:

Now the fun begins!  Students should use a regular pencil to draw in the missing picture between the strips first, then add color.  Use any medium you want to fill in the blank spaces between the strips as accurately as you can.  We found colored pencils and oil pastels worked well together.


Step Eight:

Oil pastels bring a bright pop of color to the design.  They also add a little realism to the optical illusion when students blend the color with their fingers.


Step Nine:

It’s helpful to let students see their project from across the room as they work.  Viewed up close the picture may look a bit strange, resulting in some giggles from the class.  Held up a few feet away, the optical illusion comes together, and they can see their added design brings the strips into a cohesive image, resulting in many “oohs” and “aahhs”.

Step Ten:

The stretched art project makes a wonderful bulletin board display in the classroom.  I used a black background to make the illusions stand out for the viewer.


For an extra challenge, have students remove more strips to leave larger empty spaces.  More creativity and problem solving will be needed to fill in the blank areas with their drawings.

This activity is also a great beginning for a writing lesson.  My students wrote similes and metaphors about their pictures since we are learning about figurative language in class.  An Iditarod themed narrative story is a great choice or a how-to procedural text about the entire art process: the possibilities are endless.  We had great fun creating our optical illusions, but the Iditarod stretched art project has the added bonus of recycling and reusing obsolete calendars destined for the trashcan.

Iditarod S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d Art Lesson Plan

View our slideshow to see our gallery of Iditarod illusions:

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Get your gear for the 2016 Last Great Race on Earth™.  Be prepared for the upcoming school semester by ordering your new Iditarod calendar from the online store now.


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Later this week we will celebrate the holidays while learning about some special features of the Iditarod race.  We will be comparing and contrasting two books with a unique take on the Christmas classic, The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore.

Musher’s Night Before Christmas, by Tricia Brown, tells the tale of a team of determined Iditarod huskies who must help Santa deliver gifts to Nome during a snowstorm.  Texas Night Before Christmas, by James Rice, is a Lone Star State version of the classic tale with southwest themed imagery; cowboys, cowgirls, and a sled pulled by eight longhorns.

The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for educators around the country to come together and learn best teaching practices surrounding the theme of the Iditarod.  Check out the Iditarod site for more information about this unique professional development opportunity.

I will be joined this year by a few talented teachers from my school, Eanes Elementary, here in Austin, Texas.  We will be sharing STEM and STEAM hands-on lessons based upon the Iditarod theme with conference attendees.  We hope to see you there!