The 2011 Iditarod in Review

Without Target, this article would not be possible, so, first, a thanks to Target® as the sponsor of the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ position. Its sponsorship is the reason I am writing for this E-runner. From assistance with cold weather gear to transportation to lodging to the opportunity to experience the Iditarod firsthand so I can authentically bring the race to teachers and students around the world, Target has made it possible. Target’s commitment to literacy and its connection with the Iditarod show that this corporation is “right on target” with education.

So many memories come jumping out at me when I think about writing about the race and the experience. Chronological order is the best way to organize them.

The Junior Iditarod

The Junior Iditarod, teams coming off the Yentna River arriving at the roadhouse for their layover. Teens setting and pulling snowhooks with the ease of much practice and foretelling their futures in the mushing world. Early morning at 3 a.m., so cold that moving was essential to warmth, teenagers up at that hour, feeding dogs, hooking up harnesses, packing up gear, teams dashing down the cut trail to the Yentna River, starting the homeward leg of their race. At dawn, the curve of the new moon hanging over the trees on the riverbank, its pale light contrasting with lightening dawn. Anticipating Jeremiah Klejka’s surprise when he realizes what we all know what he does not know—that he is first to finish.

The Iditarod in Skwentna

Fast-paced Skwentna—the teams are still bunched together at this point, so many volunteers direct mushers to food, to straw, to water, to their parking place, and all this starts in the dark, continuing through the night. By late morning, all the teams but three are gone, a fishbone skeleton outline of straw beds on the river.


Nikolai for a few hours- a visit with Ms. B’s class who is excited about the mushers coming to Nikolai. Their autograph books hang in the gym where mushers and visitors can buy moose stew or mushers stretch out on the gym floor pads to sleep, despite noise and light. Martin Buser hooking up his team, game face on, intent on leaving Nikolai to be first into McGrath. The volunteer veterinarians working their way through each team, with exams, scratches, and rubs for each dog.

Flying out of Nikolai with five dogs, including a canine co-pilot in the right seat, for company and warmth. The dogs look out the window to see where their pilot is taking them, then lie on my legs and feet for a short snooze on the way to McGrath.

Busy McGrath

McGrath, a busy hub, with logistics organizing the Iditarod Air Force planes and volunteer pilots, the backbone of the race’s transportation of volunteers. I get there early enough to see the trailbreakers come through, putting in the trail ahead of the first teams, and I’m early enough to see the first musher, Martin Buser, pull in and out of McGrath on his way to 24 in Takotna.


Takotna to meet more teachers, more students, more villagers. Norwegian students in reflective parking vests valet park teams as they arrive throughout the village between homes, the community center and post office, along the road into Takotna edging the river bank. Kristy Berington and her leaders with dawn’s early light touching their faces. Fourseater planes landing and taking off on the river with cut evergreen branches sprouting from the snow to form the landing strip outline. In a hurry to get back to the river for an outbound flight, sprawled in the snowmachine sled on top of gear and Iditarod Insider camera equipment bags, HANG ON and ZOOM! Down the river bank.

Anvik and a Five Course Breakfast

Anvik where Hugh Neff reaches us first to take the First to the Yukon award, $3500 of cash in a goldminer’s pan and a five-course meal cooked on hotplates. His GPS tracker showed an early morning arrival time, and we all rolled out to greet him, then John Baker, then Lance Mackey. The time spent waiting for Hugh was passed with listening to Ken Chase, an Anvik elder who ran in the very first Iditarod, his voice betraying his passion for the event, even now.

More teachers and students in Anvik, a young boy studying Lance closely as Lance booties up his team, the apprentice watching the master. Children caring for the pup who thought she should run from Shageluk to Anvik because she saw Aliy Zirkle’s team running on the river.

Shageluk, Grayling, Eagle Island, Kaltag, & Unalakleet

Squashed in the back of Dave Looney’s plane, on top of gear with gear on top of me for quick trips to Shageluk, Grayling, Eagle Island, an outpost of nothing but what volunteers set up for camp, Kaltag and the nearly straight-up climb from the river to the village, to Unalakleet for the first shower in about four days. Another hub of logistics and people crossing paths. By now, I am greeting people I met earlier on the trail as we all move to our next villages and checkpoints, just ahead of the first mushers.


Koyuk, where I pitch in moving HEET to the Dodge Lodge, wash the spaghetti with caribou meat sauce dishes, and greet the first five mushers from late evening to 3 a.m. John Baker arrives first, and the villagers crowd into the checkpoint for his arrival (they are following the GPS trackers on their home computers) and stay, to be near John. Speculation begins—Will he be the first Eskimo to win the Iditarod? The Koyuk hillside cemetery painted pink in the rising sun’s light, simple crosses moving me more than eloquent marble. Young boys footracing Mike Williams, Jr. and his team as he comes off the ice.

Running into White Mountain

White Mountain, flying over John and arriving just before he does for the mandatory 8 hour layover. Now, unless something unusual happens, John will win, although Ramey Smyth is second and literally has a track record of making the fastest times between here and Nome. Will it be a foot race?

Nome, Mile 1049

Nome, where it all finishes, but not until all are finished. Not a contest that ends with the first contestant to get there, but one that ends when the last athlete arrives, under the burled arch. A contest recognizing the work, the time, the effort, the perseverance to complete the thousand mile Iditarod. From John Baker to Ellen Halverson, now the race is complete.

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Iditarod in the Spring

Spring is bursting out all over here, and classes are enjoying hearing about the 2011 Iditarod. Patriot Elementary students saw cold weather gear and asked questions about the race and the dogs. This school held two Idita-Reads, one for kindergarten through second grade and one for grades three through five. I Skyped with the Red Lantern classes, the classes who kept reading, persevering to finish their school’s Idita-Read.

A first grade at Mt Pleasant Elementary School enjoyed following this blog, the videos, and the pictures, especially the one taken from the air. These students compared the temperatures in Alaska to their temperatures and charted the temperatures. They followed the progress of the mushers during the race, too.

I followed up their activities with a classroom visit, bringing my cold weather gear, showing pictures of the race, answering questions, and, their most favorite, showing a dog bootie to pass around and fit their little hands inside.

Mount Pleasant Middle School students followed the race, moving their mushers along a gigantic race map in the school’s display case, reading blog updates, and measuring the temperature on a thermometer made by the school’s art teacher. They compared temperatures, discussed the weather patterns of their state and Alaska, and how the seasons change. This school participated in an Idita-Read with students reading a book per mile and earning prizes like Iditarod shirts and books.

A First-Grader’s Alaska Story


Alaska is very very cold.

My grandma has ben there lots of times.

There are husky dogs there in Alaska.

You have to race on sleds.

The dogs pul the sleds so you can go.

There are 62 people on the sleds.

There are 992 dogs puling you.

Written by a 1st grader, typed here as written

This first grader took herself to the computer at home and wrote this story. She asked questions about the number of dogs and people and how to spell people. That’s it. I discovered the story in the printer tray. Engaged in the topic of the Iditarod and Alaska, this young writer produced the basis of a seven page picture book.

"You have to race on sleds."

Where could you take this story? Illustrate each sentence, publish the work, and now you have a published author. A thermometer showing cold temperatures on page one, sleds on page 4, and it would be fun to see how young authors illustrate 992 dogs pulling. Hold an authors’ reception complete with ice cream sandwiches, sno-cones, or milkshakes.

What national standards (NCTE) would this meet?

NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills

Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies

Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge

Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

Communication–How It Happens on the Trail

Comms volunteer, Nancy, uses a walkie talkie to receive and confirm information from the race checker upon a team's arrival in Eagle Island.

How many forms of communication did you use today? Generate a list. Were all of the forms on your list electronic, or did you include forms like sign language, writing, or speaking? Make a chronological list or timeline of the development of all the forms of communciation you used in one day.

Now, think about how quickly or slowly these forms of communication worked. Did you have to repeat any of them in order for the person receiving them to get the communication?

During the Iditarod, a group of volunteers works a job called Comms, for Communications. Comms volunteers work at every checkpoint and send information such as musher arrival or departure dates and times and the number of dogs they arrive or leave with to the Comms department in Anchorage. This process is how the race standings are updated by the Anchorage Comms volunteers. Comms also communicates messages from people at the checkpoints to others elsewhere.

In Alaska, Comms is challenging. The Iditarod runs through remote Alaska, and after leaving Willow at the start, the race is off the road system, as they say in Alaska. That means there is no road connecting the villages and checkpoints; flying, snowmachine, or dogteam are the only ways to reach them.

The remoteness affects communciations–race checkers and checkpoint Comms volunteers may use walkie talkies to communicate arrival and departure information to each other. Using cell phones to transmit race details to Anchorage Comms is not reliable because there isn’t cell service in all areas; Internet service may be available via ethernet cable connection or wireless, but usually it isn’t wireless.  Sometimes the Internet is only accessible by satellite, and sometimes a sat phone (satellite phone) is all there is to use, like in Iditarod checkpoint. In Eagle Island, information is sent by data sat–that means a satellite phone is attached to the laptop and an antenna outside the Comms tent gets satellite signal to transmit the communication. In a day and age when people are accustomed to almost instantaneous communication, this could seem to be a delayed process.

And, all of us who use email or text messaging have experienced sending a message which disappears into who knows where, and the intended recipient doesn’t receive it.

My phone was off and packed after Skwentna because it didn’t get service; no phone for me for about 3 weeks. I used ethernet cable and wireless at other places, and in a couple of places, there was no Internet for me to use because it was more important for Comms to access it than me. And, I got down to basic communication as well, just asking and talking, instead of calling or emailing.

In the photograph, notice the heater and laptop in the tent. Clothing is hanging in order to dry–wearing sweat-soaked clothes in cold weather chills the body, something to be avoided. Find out why this should be avoided and explain it to someone else.

Back in Anchorage 3.22.11

Last night the last group of volunteers, except those working in the dog lot in Nome where teams rested awaiting their flights home, returned to Anchorage. The group included cooks, dog handlers, vets, trail sweeps (people who follow the end of the race on snowmachines), Iditarod Insider crew, ITC employees, and me.

On Sunday, an enormous number of volunteers set up the Nome Recreation Center for the finishers banquet. Staff from the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage came in to help prepare the Alaskan king crab legs, halibut, beef, vegetables, salads, and strawberries which were arranged in dog sleds on the buffet tables. 800 tickets were available for the event, and I didn’t notice empty seats, or empty stomachs after that meal! Someone from Little Diomede kindly showed me how to crack the crab legs and get that delicious, sweet meat to dip in butter. (Check the map to find out where Little Diomede is and what is on that island now.)

Monday found me at Nome Elementary School and the Head Start program presenting to all the grade levels. The school is a beautiful building and is filled with student projects including hatching salmon and bulletin boards of newspaper clippings about the Iditarod.

Monday was a windy day with snow falling. By recess, though, the snowfall had stopped. Students played outside on the playground equipment and pushed snow around into piles with their hands, as if in a sandbox making sandpiles. Compare and contrast your recess time with the description and photos of the Nome Elementary recess time.

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After being interviewed by a high school student and visiting with a high school English and journalism teacher in Nome, I was dropped off at the church where I’ve been staying and I packed my gear bag, readying it and me for the flight to Anchorage.

This isn’t my last post, though, so return to the blog to read new posts.

Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights 3.19.11

Nome, cloudy skies, some snow, perhaps drizzle falling today

Northern Lights, McGrath, AK


In Takotna a week ago, the Northern Lights appeared brightly, shimmering green. A friend sent me photos he took of them that night; to photograph these, a tripod is necessary because it’s difficult to hold a camera still enough.

This site,, gives aurora borealis forecasts as to how “good” the night’s show will be. The night I saw them, the forecast was a 4. These lights are a natural light display in the sky, caused by the collision of charged particles directed by earth’s magnetic field. They are especially easy to see in the polar regions.

The Northern Lights were named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas.

The science of these lights involves photon emissions from ionized nitrogen atoms which regain an electron and oxygen and nitrogen atoms changing from an excited state to a ground state. Solar wind particles excite, or ionize, these atoms when they collide. Oxygen emissions produce green or brownish-red lights and nitrogen emissions produce blue or red lights.

Chemistry classes—research this light phenomena, illustrate the process by which it happens, visit the site above for information on the Northern Lights. 

Northern Lights, McGrath, AK

Wattie McDonald’s Team & Handlers

Wattie (pronounce the a in his name like “ah”) is back again for his second Iditarod. He’s from Scotland. Notice the flags being carries, the kilts, and the dogs’ coats.

St. Patrick’s Day in Nome 3.17.11

Temperature 16 degrees F, feels like 2 degrees F

People sported green for St. Patrick’s Day in Nome, attended their parade, and took their pictures under the burled arch finish line attired in green. Kelly Maixner finished his race today in a St Patrick’s Day top hat.

Kelly Maixner, DDS finishes his first Iditarod.

 Did you figure out what the four people in yesterday’s post had in common? Besides running the Iditarod, all four are native Alaskans.

An event at the mini-convention center was a reading of Robert Service poems by Richard Beneville, including The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee. These poems’ inspiration came from Service’s time spent in the Yukon Territory in the early 1900s. The Cremation of Sam McGee has a surprise ending. Study it with your students and discuss their different interpretations of the ending.

Photos 3.16.11

What do these mushers have in common?

Close Finishes and Broken Records 3.16.11

Temperature in Nome 0°F, winds 3 mph

Last night there were some CLOSE finishes which is very unusual in a sled dog race. Ken Anderson and Jessie Royer raced into the chute at the same time, Ken’s team taking 9th position by 3 inches of dog nose. In close finishes like this, it’s the dog that gets under the arch first that is the winning team, and sometimes a team wins by a nose, just like in horseracing.

Shortly afterwards, we thought we were standing at the chute waiting for DeeDee Jonrowe to come in, and were surprised to see Aliy Zirkle come in ahead of DeeDee. Aliy takes 11th place and DeeDee is in 12th. Read these 2 paragraphs again to figure out what position Jessie Royer is in.

The fastest race time record held by Martin Buser was broken by John Baker this year. Calculate how much faster John’s time is than Martin’s.

2002 Martin’s record–8 days 22 hrs 46 min. 2 seconds

2011 John’s record—8 days 18 hrs 46 min. 39 seconds

John Baker holds the distinction of being the first western native Alaskan to win the Iditarod, a fact that fills Kotzebue, his hometown, and native Alaskans with pride, a recognition of running dogs as a traditional way of life for these people.

Other native Alaskans in this year’s race include Paul Johnson, Mike Williams, Jr., Robert Nelson, and Ramey Smyth. Please note this list may not be complete.

What are you proud of in your family or town?

Koyuk to White Mountain to Nome 3.15.11

Children in Koyuk check the GPS tracker with race volunteer, Troy.

Koyuk is a beautiful, peaceful village. Under bright sunshine, the river ice sparkles. During the night, we stood outside and spotted headlamps coming across the ice. During the day, we spotted the teams, dark caterpillars moving along the trail. Children played near the checkpoint and people visited inside. When John Baker was there late at night, people quietly visited so as not to disturb his, or other mushers’, sleep.

Sunday I left Koyuk ($18 for a 22 quart container of Tang at the Native Store) for White Mountain. Flying into White Mountain, I got this aerial photo of John Baker coming to White Mountain.

John Baker and team shadows running into White Mountain

White Mountain is where all mushers take an 8 hour layover. As they do every time they rest the dogs, mushers spread straw, removed booties, and fed them before coming into the White Mountain checkpoint. Faces red from wind and sunburn, the sleep-deprived mushers slept for part of their layover, leaving wakeup calls with the volunteers working Comms (communications). Crowded with mushers, volunteers, and vets, people slept all over the floor in the library, the gathering room, and in chairs.

Native Alaskans are very proud of John Baker’s win, a native Alaskan. At the finish under the burled arch, drummers wearing native dress celebrated with songs of their culture.

The burled arch on Front Street in Nome.

Price a 22 quart container of Tang where you live. What is the difference in price of it and the Tang in Koyuk? Is it twice as expensive, or more than that? How many containers of Tang can you buy where you live for $18?

Dropping In

3.12.11 Anvik temperature 8 a.m., 8 degrees F

3.13.11 Unalakleet 10 a.m., 5 degrees F, winds 5 mph 

Shageluk, Grayling, and Eagle Island—I dropped in on these three checkpoints briefly over one day. The principal/teacher’s daughters were bestowing rubs on Justin Savidis’ and Paul Johnson’s teams as they rested, in Justin’s case, or bootied up, in Paul’s case. Paul, who ran the Iditarod in 1986, headed for Anvik as we prepared to fly to Grayling. Paul is Middy Johnson’s brother and is running the team Middy ran last year. Ed Stielstra’s team came off the approximately mile-wide Yukon River into Grayling, past St. Paul’s Church, to rest for a while. Vets from New York and Maryland examined the dogs while Ed took off their booties and fed them. Eagle Island is not a village, but set up at a fish camp. The race volunteers here set up heated tents, a restroom (unheated), a checker’s tent, and the drop bags and straw for mushers. On the banks of the Yukon, also, this checkpoint is definitely a camping experience.

GPS Tracker, Hugh Neff First to the Yukon 3.11.11

Temperature in Anvik 3.11.11, 21°F, winds 5 mph. Search for the formula to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius to calculate the temperature.

All the mushers have a GPS tracker strapped to the front of their sled or inside their sled bag. Slightly angled on the sled, these trackers update automatically every fifteen minutes or so. When you follow the mushers on the Iditarod Tracker, you can see their location by latitude and longitude and where they are on the trail. Miles per hour is given, too.

The tracker I carry is exactly like the one the mushers have on their sleds. It weighs about 2 pounds, and I’ve wedged it in my backpack’s side pocket. When I’m flying, you can compare the miles per hour I’m traveling to the miles per hour of the teams. You can locate my latitude and longitude on a map. At different checkpoints, people tell me they use my tracker position as a point of reference to make it quick to read the list of mushers and their positions. My nickname is “the TOT” or “the teacher”. So, people look at the tracker list and say, “Here’s the TOT. Where’s Hugh Neff right now?”

Can you compare the latitude and longitude of Anchorage and Grayling?

Hugh Neff earned his first race award today when he arrived in Anvik first. The First Musher to the Yukon award is presented by the Millennium hotel. The chef from the hotel flew to Anvik and cooked a fancy meal for Hugh to eat. Hugh also won $3500 in cash. After taking his 8 hour layover (mushers have to take an 8 hour layover somewhere on the Yukon River), Hugh left for Grayling, the next checkpoint. Look at the GPS tracker to see where Hugh is now.

Out of Takotna 3.10.11

 Temperature in Takotna, 8 a.m., -12°F, no wind 

Mushers left last night beginning at 2200 (can you convert that to a 12 hour clock?) with Martin Buser. A few mushers who had taken their 24 hour layover in McGrath blew through Takotna and headed to Ophir. All the mushers have to declare a 24 hour layover during the race and McGrath and Takotna are popular places to “24” as they say in race lingo. Trent Herbst, a 4th grade teacher, reached Iditarod, the halfway point of the race first and won $3000 in gold nuggets. See the video at Iditarod Insider—Trent has a big grin under that beard! I bet his class and family are proud of him. I’ve had lots of “firsts” on this trip—landing on frozen rivers, flying with race dogs in the plane, collecting urine specimens from dogs, seeing the Northern Lights, eating blueberry pie in Takotna, riding in the snowmachine sled packed in with bags of Iditarod Insider gear.

Jeff Schultz, the official race photographer, has super photos on under Images (right side of the page and scroll). He caught me walking a dog during specimen collection time. Check it out.

Before I flew out of Takotna this morning, I saw Kristy Berington and Justin Savidis leave for Ophir. Enjoy the shots.

A Hodge-podge of Checkpoints, Ambling & Alacrity 3.9.11

What’s a hodge-podge? Can you figure out what it means by looking at these different photos? You’ll see photos of students, teachers, mushers, dogs, and sleds. When you think you’ve made a good guess at what hodge-podge means, ascertain its meaning by checking a dictionary.

Think about this: You know I have a GPS tracker in my backpack like the 2 pound trackers that are strapped to the front of the sleds. Like them, you can see where I am and when I am moving on the Iditarod Tracker on A vet told me this afternoon they knew when I started walking from McGrath checkpoint to logistics based at the airport because my speed was 2.9 miles per hour, a walking speed. She told me that I was ambling to logistics, and I agreed with her, because if I walk with alacrity, I get hot and sweaty. Getting hot and sweaty in cold weather is not good, because then the sweat cools and your body gets cold. What do ambling and alacrity mean?

Juxtaposition and Iditarod 3.9.11

Temperature in McGrath 3.9.11, 20 ° F, winds 9 mph. That means it feels like 9°F.

Clicking on a photo will enlarge it.

In literature, juxtaposition means to contrast two objects or texts that oppose each other. Describe the juxtaposition seen in the pictures here. How deep can you think about juxtaposition with the airplane and dog sled photo? How about the chef from Arizona flipping a Denver omelet in McGrath checkpoint? Another idea, write about the car with flames from the car’s point of view.

Zooming GPS Tracker & Logistics

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Temperature Nikolai 3.8.11, -2 degrees F according to the round thermometer on Schnuelle’s sled

Follow me using my GPS tracker and when I’m flying, I’ll be zooming. You can see what checkpoint I’m staying in, too. Compare my speed to racers’ speeds. I carry my tracker in my backpack. It weighs about 2 pounds, and is the shape of a brick, or close to that size. I don’t have to reset it, and it transmits every 15 minutes. I’ve had emails from schools and on the Iditarod Trail Committee Facebook page about how interesting it is to “see” where I’m going. Today I flew to Nikolai and back–the return trip was with a few dropped dogs. They slept on my feet and legs, and one was sitting where the right seat (copilot seat) would have been–the seat was removed to make room for dogs.

I’ve followed the race for a few years, now, but it is another experience entirely to be here watching it unfold. The logistics of getting volunteers, supplies, vets, and so on are incredible. Penair caravans (cross between cargo and passenger planes) and small planes are scheduled almost constantly during the day to organize flights to checkpoints further along the trail, and a few earlier checkpoints, too. Cargo includes rakes, generators, food, people, awards, shovels, and more. Flights aren’t scheduled after dark as the pilots only fly in daylight hours. The weather has been great for flying, and great for aerial photos.

I had moose stew for lunch in Nikolai today–it tastes like beef stew. Think about it–why would the village make moose stew instead of beef stew for mushers and visitors?

Martin Buser arrived first in McGrath, winnng the Penair Spirit of Alaska award. He was there only for a couple of minutes before heading on to Takotna. Mackey, Schnuelle, Neff, Redington,Jr., Seavey, and Bundtzen did the same.

Official Start & Skwentna 3.7.11

Temperature 3.6.11 in Skwentna, 25 degrees F, calm wind

Temperature at 7 a.m. 0 degrees F, calm wind

On a gorgeous day, the 39th Iditarod got off yesterday and mushers went through Yentna and Skwenta during the night and early morning. The Iditarod Air Force busily flew volunteers to Skwentna and points further along the trail. Iditarod Insider film crew members loaded gear to capture the race for you.

The Skwentna Sweeties are at Skwnenta as they traditionally are, cooking and welcoming volunteers and mushers. They arrived on Friday to begin preparations in the checkpoint building. Mushers can even get hot towels to refresh faces and hands here.

It’s a small world, too. Within 15 minutes of my arrival yesterday, I met 2 vets from North Carolina, one from the town my parents live in. I toured the post office in Skwentna; Joe Delia has been the postmaster for years and, this morning, was connecting sleds behind his snowmachine to pick up mail from the plane.

DeeDee Jonrowe arrived first in Skwentna last night, followed by numerous other teams in quick succession. This early in the race, the mushers have not had time to spread out yet, so a lot of volunteers work at Skwentna to handle the arrivals. The “river crew” parks teams at bales of hay, explains where to get hot water, HEET and to leave their supplies they want to mail back home.

Next stop for me, back to Anchorage to catch a flight to McGrath, AK.

Part Two of Women Mushing On!

Women Mushing On!

Here’s Part One of Women Mushing On. Use these photos of the 2011 women mushers, plus Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod, to create a memory game. Research the women, find an important fact or bit of info about each one and write it on a card. Put the picture on another card. Turn over cards and match the photos to the info. Or, match the photo to the musher’s name written on another card. Let your students do the computer research and create the game for others to play.

Mushers Banquet and Start Positions

Hobo Jim & Iditarod fans singing "I did, I did, I did the Iditarod Trail"

Temperature 3.3.11 average 20°F, wind speed 13 mph

Temperature 3.4.11 20°F, wind gusting 15-23 mph  Feels like 6°F

Last night the mushers drew their starting positions for the race. Unlike a horse race, all the mushers don’t begin at the same time—the teams leave the start line every 2 minutes, and the start position, or bib number, determines the order in which they leave. Drawn out of a mukluk (search mukluk to find out what it is), the positions are announced and mushers briefly thank their sponsors and so forth.

Race fans had ample opportunity to get memorabilia autographed by mushers as they left the stage area. Hobo Jim, Alaska’s balladeer, and Mr. Whitekeys provided musical and humorous entertainment.

You’ll find the race positions on on the home page. The bib  number is the starting position, and as the race gets underway, the race standings include the current race position and the bib number, which will be different from each other. Students may find it easier to locate the musher they are following by looking for the bib number, since this doesn’t change.

Newton Marshall of Jamaica, running his 2nd Iditarod this year

Dr. Seuss and Volunteers 3.2.11

Temperature in Anchorage at 7 a.m. 4° F, calm wind

School presentation group

After two days of ferocious (one of my favorite words) wind, it died down in the Anchorage area. My day started with a couple of Skype calls to East Coast schools, followed by presentations to Chinook Elementary and Willow Crest Elementary. These capped 11 or 12 presentations I’ve given since arriving in Alaska, sometimes to a couple of classes in a grade level, and sometimes to 200 students at once. Willow Crest celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday today. The author would have been 107 years old. Mr. Bryan Bearss, a kindergarten teacher at this school and an Iditarod race veteran, invited me to speak to the school. The teachers wore Cat in the Hat hats, and students dressed as book characters. I remember seeing one girl dressed as Thing Two.

At the Millennium Hotel, the Iditarod Race Headquarters, race activity is picking up. Volunteers from around the world are checking in, including from Tennessee and South Africa. Trainings for Comms (communications) volunteers train them in expectations at the checkpoints, the media which covers the race attended a press meeting, and on Thursday, the musher meeting commences in the morning. Only a few people are actually employed by the Iditarod Race—the majority of the people who work with the race are volunteers, like me, who love the race and come from all over to work, whether in Anchorage or out in the villages at race checkpoints.

The mushers’ banquet is Thursday night and they will draw their starting positions from a mukluk. If students aren’t familiar with the term mukluk, ask your students to track down what a mukluk is. The ceremonial race start begins Saturday, 10 a.m. in Anchorage. Lucky Idita-Riders, people who bid on a chance to ride with a musher, ride in the sled for this race start. I get to ride, also, in Matt Hayashida’s sled.

Wow, Is It Windy!

Siberian looking at you

Temperature 22 °F, wind speed 10 mph (which makes the wind chill temperature 11°F)

Did you calculate the wind chill factor and temperature for yesterday? It’s still windy in Anchorage today, giving us the 11 degree temperature stated above. This is two straight days of wind whistling at cracks of windows, rippling flags straight out, and sneaking inside unzipped jackets or up long sleeves. Ask your students what is personified in the italicized sentence.

This afternoon the teacher conference visited Jon and Jona Van Zyle’s home and kennel of well-behaved Siberian huskies. Both of them are talented artists, and Jon creates the official Iditarod poster each year for the race. The dogs played in the dog yard with us, exercised on their exercise wheel, which they jump on and off as they wish, ate at their “buffet” table, and gobbled down fish snacks.

Before the visit to the Van Zyle’s, I gave a program at Denali Elementary School which is a Montessori School. The school is about 8 years old, and was designed to let in as much light as possible with skylights and small windows tucked in everywhere. Light is important in a part of the world that has so much darkness in the winter time. Research the scientific reasons why Alaska is “in the dark” in the winter. An aquarium held salmon eggs which, when hatched, would be returned to the fish hatchery that the eggs came from.

When I left the school, I had to help hold the doors open for students and adults returning from a cross country ski field trip to a nearby park. The school owns these skis for students to use as well as the special boots worn with these skis. In physical education classes, they had learned about cross country skiing, and judging from their faces, they all had a great time on their field trip today. What’s your favorite physical education activity? Is it an unusual activity, or a common activity?

Math, Language Arts, Art, and the Junior Iditarod 2.28.11

Temperature in Anchorage, 27°F, wind speed 12 mph

Calculate wind chill using this formula.

Wind chill temperature = 35.74 + 0.6215T – 35.75V (**0.16) + 0.4275TV(**0.16)

In the formula, V is in the wind speed in statute miles per hour, and T is the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit

In downtown Anchorage I see the Chugach Mountains in the distance. Last night the wind increased so that snow scoured the roads in serpentine patterns, s’s in the snow. Have your students use context clues to figure out what serpentine means. Read the italicized sentence aloud to have them notice alliteration. Illustrate the snow scouring the roads under clear, starry skies, birch trees and snow edging the road from Willow to Wasilla.

Yesterday the Junior Iditarod champion realized he was in first place when he didn’t see sled tracks crossing the lake, the final approach to the finish, in front of him. What a surprise for him, and his family met him at the banner, the crowd yelling ecstatically for Jeremiah Klejka (say clay-kuh). Jeremiah won a sled, snowshoes, equipment, and a college scholarship. I had met his family the night before at Yentna, and it was fun to see them greet the second Iditarod winner in their family. His sister, Jessica, won in 2008. His brother, Jesse, competed this year also, finishing sixth.

Enjoy the photos of the Junior and “like” the Iditarod’s Facebook page for more information.

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Fill Your Sled with Transportation 2.27.11

Yentna Station Roadhouse 2.27.11, 4 degrees

Iditarod Air Force plane

 Temperature Updates Wasilla 2.26.11, 12 degrees, windchill -1 degree

The Junior Iditarod started yesterday at Knik Lake, (say ka-nick) near the homestead of Joe Redington, Sr., Father of the Iditarod. The 14 -17 year old mushers, 14 total, raced to Yentna Station Roadhouse to spend their 10 hour layover around the traditional bonfire. Race volunteers (timers, HAM radio operators, vet, race marshal, and support volunteers) traveled to the roadhouse on the frozen Yentna River by plane and snowmachine to provide race support. I flew in with an Iditarod Air Force pilot, Phil Morgan, the musher with whom I rode as an Idita-Rider in 2005. People traveling on the Yentna can get a meal or a place to sleep at the roadhouse, buy gas and oil, or get their snowmachine repaired.

The photos today are of different transportation modes that I used at Yentna yesterday. Some ideas to use these photos: order them in chronological order from oldest mode to most recent mode of transportation; use a photo for a writing prompt; write a story from the snowmachine’s point of view; describe the musher’s trip to get to Yentna Station; research gas mileage of snowmachines and calculate how much gas is needed for a 75 mile trip; research airplane history.

Junior Iditarod Race Weekend 2.25.11

The thirty-fourth running of the Junior Iditarod race start is Saturday, February 26. The field of 14 mushers, ages 14-17 years old, departs Knik Lake at 10 a.m. with mushers leaving every 2 minutes. This 150 mile race from Knik Lake to Yentna and then to Willow is a qualifying race for the Iditarod, ending Sunday, Feb. 27.

Mushers take a 10 hour rest at Yentna, and were warned to expect temperatures of  minus 25°F. I’ll be at the race start and then will fly to Yentna to view the race, spend the night, and  head back for their finishers’ banquet.

Like the Iditarod mushers, these young mushers will have GPS trackers on their sleds. You can track their race progress on by clicking on Iditarod Tracker on the right side of the home page.

Lynden is a major sponsor of the race, providing scholarships to the top five winners. Other awards recognize the Red Lantern winner, the Rookie of the Year, and the Sportsmanship trophy recipient.

Local businesses provide items for the mushers and the race as well.

Mushers and their parents met late Friday afternoon for the mandatory musher meeting. Paperwork was completed, the trail and its markers described, and the mushers drew their starting positions.

Visit to find out more about this race and to follow it this weekend. Don’t miss it!

More than a Building for Education 2.25.11

Temperature in Wasilla, high 32°F, winds 5 mph

During my school visits the past two days, I’ve noticed that the schools are more than the place young people attend to learn. These buildings serve as community centers, a place for families and students to gather and take part in activities outside of school hours.

At Willow Elementary, the roller skates in the storage room roll once a month when the Lions Club sponsors a skate night in the school gym. The ice skates get use on the hockey rink at the school, and there is a school cross country ski club which meets after school hours. Driving into Larson Elementary, the school sign announces the school’s progress in their Idita-Math Trail competition and that movie night is coming up soon.

Of course, the schools serve as institutions of learning, too. Willow Elementary students also complete an Idita-Math Trail. First graders explained that their class’s progress along the Idita-Math Trail, which goes down one side of a hall and up the other side, is based on the students doing their math homework every night. And, if someone doesn’t do the math homework, it slows the team’s progress. Sounds like a fun way to encourage students to practice their math skills!

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Finding What Works in the Classroom 2.24.11

Temperature in Wasilla, late morning, 20°F, little wind

Teachers want to know what works in the classroom to facilitate student learning and to achieve growth in their learning. The research-based document,What Works in Classroom Instruction by Robert Marzano, Barbara Gaddy, and Ceri Dean (,  is a good resource which explains the research behind classroom strategies and their effect. The effect sizes of various strategies range from .59 to 1.61. An effect size of 1.0 is roughly equivalent to one year’s growth in achievement. Please refer to the above article for a table of strategies and effect sizes.

Strategies that were found to strongly affect student achievement include homework and practice, setting goals and providing feedback, non-linguistic representation, summarizing and note-taking, identifying similarities and differences, cooperative learning, reinforcing effort and providing recognition, generating and testing hypotheses, and activating prior knowledge. The two highest effect sizes fell in the strategies of summarizing and note-taking and identifying similarities and differences. This site has helpful information about using these strategies.

Part of my job as the Target® 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ is giving presentations to students in Alaska schools. I started those today.  The presentation gives students a chance to learn aboutsome  similarities and differences of Alaska and North Carolina. Letting students use a Venn diagram, Thinking Maps (double bubble or bubble maps) or write about the differences and similarities of the two states would be methods to carry out a strategy with a high effect size.

The Iditarod Race is a tool to use to create a lesson on note-taking and summarizing or on identifying similarities and differences. Perhaps your area has a sport or race which could be compared and contrasted with the Iditarod, or watch Iditarod Insider video clips to practice taking notes and then organizing those notes into categories. Maybe those categories could be more easily remembered by using non-linguistic representation, another strategy which can positively affect student learning.     

Eagle, Moose, and Mountains

Temperature in Wasilla, high of 22, light winds

Bald eagle near Lake Hood

Surrounded by the Chugach Mountains, we drove to Anchorage from Wasilla. I kept my eyes open for moose and eagles. A moose was spotted far off the road, as well as an eagle perched in a tree near Lake Hood in Anchorage. The eagle reminded me of the huge number of eagles I saw in Homer, AK last summer. Do some research to find out why eagles are common in Alaska.

Chugach Mountains

Filling My Sled 2.23.11

Temperature in Anchorage, 8 a.m. 14 °F

Fill Your Sled is the theme of this year’s posts—fill your sled with ideas for your classroom, fill your sled with photographs, fill your sled with experiences to enrich your students’ learning. Today I filled my sled with a new experience—standing on the runners of a sled behind an 8 dog team of FAST dogs!

At Aurora Dog Trails, I rode a second sled behind a musher’s sled and her 8 dog team. She showed me how to put harnesses on the dogs, I walked (trotted) a couple of them to the line and helped hook them up, and when she pulled the snow hook, we were GONE! Zippity zip, down the trail! The dogs love to run, and these dogs run short distance races, so they run fast. Both of us crouched on the runners, feet on the sled brakes to slow them a little bit as we took off.

Riding a second sled is a little bit like the game of Crack the Whip, and I had to pay attention to slowing my sled with the brake when the musher slowed hers. It’s not just stand on the runners; it’s lean left or right, pushing a little with your foot to guide the sled around curves in the trail.

We did a quick three miles in about 15 minutes or so under a blue, blue sky surrounded by mountains in 14 degree weather. What an experience to put in my personal sled!

Iditarod Inspired Poetry

In my classroom, our study of poetry falls at the end of March. To ease the transition from the Iditarod and Alaska to poetry, I start with The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service.

“There are strange things done in the midnight sun/By the men who moil for gold; The Arctic trails have their secret tales/ That would make your blood run cold;” (Robert Service, The Cremation of Sam McGee) 

A darkly humorous narrative poem, its setting is familiar to the students who have been following the race.  This poem is an easy way to teach stanzas, rhyme scheme, and figurative language, especially personification.

We work with haiku and concrete poetry, also. This serves as a unique method to summarize their knowledge of the race and Alaska. Illustrating their poems serves as another way to summarize what they know, too, and lets those creative juices flow.

Enjoy the poetry photo exhibit. Especially note how the mug of hot chocolate poem was colored to look like a winter jacket.

Honest Dogs

Martin Buser

Honest dogs—I first came across those words in Gary Paulsen’s book, Woodsong, used to describe one of his dogs, Storm. Paulsen defined Storm as a dog who always worked, always pulled, ran many miles, and taught Gary many things about life.

Curious about the phrase, I researched it by asking people who asked others about “honest dogs”.  Author and Iditarod finisher Pam Flowers describes an honest dog as one who is a hardworking dog, and if the dog is not working hard as it usually does, then the dog has an honest reason for not doing so—snow or ice between the toes, getting jarred while running by stepping in a hole, sneezing, or other reasons to make their line go slack. (Note: the line referred to is the line attached between the tug at the rear of the dog’s harness and the gangline)

Pam says it’s the musher’s job to find out what the reason is and to take care of it. A dishonest dog is one who has learned to keep the line just tight enough to make it look as if the dog is pulling, but he isn’t.

Martin Buser, four time Iditarod winner, defines an honest dog in the following way:

I don’t mind if a dog eventually goes off the line during a long run as long as he or she gets back to work on their own.  Taking a break is fine by me, the honest part is that the dog does not lay down or quit.  If I’m stupid, I can make any dog quit.  One has to find what is possible to ask, what can be given.

 How does a musher know if a dog is pulling or not? They keep an eye on the line from the harness tug to the gangline. If it’s tight, the dog is pulling. If it isn’t, the dog is taking a break.

So, after I gathered all this information about honest dogs, I started thinking how this is an example of figurative language and how it relates to people. Usually, we think of honesty as a the quality of being truthful, saying what is true. But, honesty can show in actions, too.

How do we people know when other people are working like honest dogs work? We don’t have harnesses, tugs, and ganglines to look at. I think people listen to what we say we will do, and then people watch to see if we do what we said we would do.  People watch to see if we carry out our responsibilities or not.  Carrying out our responsibilities is like keeping the line tight.  Some people call this “talking the talk and walking the walk”. You do what you say you’re going to do.

Hardworking, “honest” people take breaks too, to recharge or to consider another way to get something done, causing their line to go slack for a little while. They get back to work, tightening their lines on their own. And if an honest person falters or hesitates, the reason they do so is an honest reason, a real reason.

When people offer excuses or dishonest reasons for not getting something done, then it’s like being a dishonest dog—pretending to do the work, but not really doing the work. The line looks tight, but the job isn’t getting done.

And, as a teacher or employer or co-worker, think about Martin’s statement that if he’s stupid, he can make any dog quit, that it’s up to him to find out what is possible and what the dog can give. Seems like that’s advice for folks who work with students, employees, and colleagues, too, not just mushers.

Are you an honest dog?  How do others know that you are? Think about it! (Thanks to Terrie Hanke, Sue Allen, Pam Flowers, Hugh Neff, and Martin Buser for their help with this information.)

Something to Do While You Follow Me!

When I arrive in Alaska around February 22, I’ll post often to keep you in the loop about what I am doing and what is going on with the race. And, when the race starts March 6, I’ll post daily about the race and teachable moments.

The NUMBER ONE question I’m asked is: “Don’t you get cold in Alaska?”   To help others Outside of Alaska understand the cold, I’ll post the temperature and wind speed daily on my site while I’m in Alaska. By the way, Outside refers to anywhere not in Alaska, and usually to  the other states of the U.S. Use this information for the following activities to figure out if I’m getting cold! (Don’t worry. I’ve got all the right gear to keep from getting cold!)

  • Elementary–Color a paper thermometer which shows your area’s temperature and another one showing the temperature I posted. Write the temperatures correctly.
  • Elementary–Make a chart or graph showing the temperatures I post.
  • Middle School—Use the lesson plan I posted in Coordinates for Your Sled-The Math Trail to make a 2 or 3 line graph plotting and comparing the temperatures I post and your area’s temperatures.
  • Middle School—Relate positive and negative numbers to the temperatures I post and the temperatures in your area.
  • Secondary—Convert the Fahrenheit temperatures I post to Celsius, and then back again. It’s a great workout for your brain! (Don’t use the converter program, use brain power.) Accessed 12.27.201    

 Fahrenheit to Celsius  

    Celsius to Fahrenheit  


  • Secondary—Calculate windchill and use those algebra skills. I’ll post the temperature and the windspeed daily during the race. You calculate the wind chill for a REAL brain workout. Accessed 12.26.2010
  • Any age level—Research and learn about Fahrenheit and Celsius temperatures. Write a paragraph or paper or create a power point show about the history of how these different ways of measuring temperatures came to exist, why scientists use Celsius more than Fahrenheit, which countries use Fahrenheit more than Celsius, what Celsius used to be called, etc.
  • Read Sanka’s postings on Zuma’s Paw Prints. This K-9 reporter includes weather and climate information in his postings.

Mushing on,


Iditarod is Coming! Fill Your Sled Now!

(Keep on reading to find some ideas of activities for your students to do.)

Mushers carry the following mandatory items in their sleds during the race. I bet you can make this list relevant to what students need to be prepared for their job of school.

  •  Proper cold weather sleeping bag weighing a minimum of 5 lbs.
  • Ax, to weigh a minimum of 1-3/4 lbs., handle to be at least 22” long.
  • One operational pair of snowshoes with bindings, each snowshoe to be at least 252 square inches in size.
  • Any promotional material provided by the ITC.
  • Eight booties for each dog in the sled or in use.
  • One operational cooker and pot capable of boiling at least three (3) gallons of water at one time.
  • Veterinarian notebook, to be presented to the veterinarian at each checkpoint.
  • An adequate amount of fuel to bring three (3) gallons of water to a boil.
  • Cable gang line or cable tie out capable of securing dog team.
  • When leaving a checkpoint adequate emergency dog food must be on the sled. (This will be carried in addition to what you carry for routine feeding and snacking.)

Right now, mushers are preparing for the race by freezing and bagging their dogs’ food for the race, planning and preparing their people food and supply bags, running their teams on daily training runs and in races like the Copper Basin, the Sheep Mountain 150, or the Gin Gin 200. I am always curious about names, so I researched how the Gin Gin 200 got its name.

Who was Gin Gin?
The Gin Gin 200 is named after a remarkable dog who dominated a dog kennel for over 10 years. She was an inspiration both on the trail and in the dog yard. She was a dog with unswerving loyalty and stubbornness. She did not know” quit”. Her ability, drive and attitude should serve as an example to dog drivers everywhere. accessed 1.1.11

Fill your classroom sled with some of these ideas to get your class prepared for the Iditarod.  Choose one way or several ways, or think of your own way to connect your students, your curriculum and the race.

  • Start now visiting and , the For Teachers section of that site for ideas to use. There is an exciting lesson plan idea using the Blabberize website on the For Teachers section.
  • Read Zuma’s Paw Prints at the For Teachers page. Zuma and other K-9 reporters give you information about the race.
  • Adopt a musher(s) and use this form to chart his/her race progress. Scroll down to find the southern route chart. The southern route is run in odd-numbered years. The race data is free and is found on
  • Create a race route map along your classroom’s walls or down your hallway and move your adopted musher(s) along the map. This link takes you to the race map and access to a list of the mileage between each checkpoint for the southern and northern race routes.
  •  Teach a novel or read books about the race or related topics. Find books to choose from on these lists.
  • Math problems for elementary and middle school are in December’s posting on this site.
  • Teach students to convert the 24 hour clock time, used to report race times, to 12 hour clock times. Great mental exercise!
  • Temperature charting, wind chill calculation, converting temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius and back again. (See my posting on this site titled Something to Do While You Follow Me! for details)
  • Watch the free Iditarod Insider videos or sign up for this special video view of the race. You and your class can see what’s happening in the race via these clips.

Mushing on,


The Travels of Bullseye

Bullseye, the Target® mascot, travels with me to presentations I make and on trips I take. We’ve traveled to schools in North Carolina and to Asheville, NC, where we hiked a short section of the Mountains to the Sea Trail  with Cathy Walters, the Target® 2009 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. Recently, Bullseye and I traveled to New York City to visit a special exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History about the race to the South Pole—Roald Amundsen’s and Captain Robert F. Scott’s expeditions and efforts to be the first to reach the South Pole in 1911. The Norwegian explorer, Amundsen, reached it December 14, 1911. Scott’s party of five men, including Scott, reached it in 1912, but perished on the return trip due to bad weather and a lack of supplies. Bullseye couldn’t have his photo taken with any of the exhibit displays, but enjoyed being photographed elsewhere around New York City. The dinosaur photo is from the American Museum of Natural History. Balto’s statue is in Central Park and was placed there by New Yorkers in honor of all the dogs’ efforts to deliver diphtheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska in January 1925. The restaurant called Fred’s is named after a dog! Enjoy his photos from schools, Asheville, and New York. Highlight the captions that blend with the background so you can read them more easily.

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North Carolina, my home, is a state with very different regions—the Appalachian Mountains in the western part of the state; the rolling land of the Piedmont where I live; the flat coastal farmland edging to the Atlantic Ocean. Snow frequently visits the mountains of NC, but not so often elsewhere in the state.

Snow fell the first two weekends of December in the Piedmont, not much at all, but considering I can’t remember the last time snow fell here in December, the snowfall was remarkable for that fact alone.

Usually the snow that falls here is fluffy flakes; last week the snow looked like tiny balls of Styrofoam. Take a look at the pictures to see it.

Whether you live where snow falls or not, enjoy these books about snow. By Cynthia Rylant, the book titled Snow; Snow Show by Carolyn Fisher which explains scientific process regarding snow; Recess at 20 Below by Alaskan teacher Cindy Lou Aillaud about playing outside in cold weather conditions; The Snowflake-Winter’s Secret Beauty by Kenneth Libbrecht and Patricia Rasmussen; The Truth About Snow People by Blue Lantern Studio, available at Target®; and, of course, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.

What books do you already enjoy about snow? Enjoy them again with hot chocolate or apple cider. Happy Winter to you!

Mushing on,


Iditarod Math for Elementary & Middle Grades

The Iditarod and its race statistics make math real-life situations for students, helping them understand how math is used in everyday life. Use these math problems for practice, homework, extra credit, review, or in middle school at the beginning of class to focus students on an independent activity. Some teachers call these “at the bell” problems.

If you have Notebook software, put these problems in that software and present them via your SmartBoard. Put the problems in a shared folder so all teachers can access them.

There are problems appropriate for K-2 and grades 3-5 (addition, multiplication and division) and for the math skills expected of sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Solutions for the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade problems are here. These problems will probably give you some ideas for other problems. Visit and look around the site to find more information to use for your math work.

Mushing on with math,


What to Wear in Alaska

THE box arrived a week ago. THE box I’ve been waiting for contains an anorak, arctic boot and a mukluk to try on for size. Target® provides my anorak and arctic boots, and now is the time to get the right sizes ordered. Terrie Hanke, the 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, sent me her gear to try on. My gear will be similar to hers. I’m also having fun finding plunge mitts with a leash to keep these North Carolina hands warm. (Explore the Internet and search for plunge mitts to see what those are.)

 People ask, “Don’t you get cold?”, but dressing in layers of the right gear helps prevent getting cold. Layers of long johns, fleece, insulated snow pants, a down coat under the anorak plus mitts with liners and a hat all work to keep me comfortable. The technology applied to fabrics and materials to meet the challenge of cold temperatures while making it possible to move easily in the gear is amazing.

 Students at my school watched this video on the TV announcements, and my sixth graders were amazed at the size and lightness of the boot. So was I! Quite a few of my students hunt, or their family members hunt, so they are familiar with dressing for the cold, and enjoyed their hands on experience with this gear.

Meet the Sled Video

Learn about an old sprint sled, introduced by a couple of my students on our school’s TV announcements.

Sled Dog Genetics

Taz poses in retirement, 2007, Dream a Dream Dog Farm, Willow, AK

Breeding dogs to achieve the desired characteristics is a science for mushers. They breed dogs with these characteristics, looking at the dogs’ backgrounds of their “ancestors”. One line, descended from Togo and Leonhard Seppala’s Siberian huskys who ran the Serum Run of 1925, is called the Seppala Siberian.  Visit this site to find out more about the Seppala Siberian, which is considered a natural dog. Be sure to visit the page about the Seppala Standard, because this shows the characteristics formed by nature and function that define a Seppala Siberian. The page called What is a Seppala traces the breeding history of this working dog.

Another type of dog that mushers breed is the Alaskan husky, the result of breeding to develop a faster dog with northern dog characteristics and the physical attributes of the working sled dog. Most mushers have the Alaskan husky. When I first saw an Alaskan husky, I was struck by how they looked like a mutt—you can see the Siberian and northern dog characteristics in them, but also the characteristics of a hound. (A mutt is a mixed breed dog, and I use the term with all respect to this husky.) The Alaskan husky is smaller than the Siberian or malamute, making it a faster dog. Although not recognized as a pedigreed dog, mushers carefully plan breeding of this dog to produce the desired results.

Some mushers prefer to run only Siberians, so watch Blake Freking’s team or Karen Ramstead’s team to see Siberians in the Iditarod. Jim Lanier runs only white dogs on his team. Wonder what kind of genetic planning that entails to get so many white dogs?

This lesson for middle school focuses on physical characteristics of sled dogs. A genetics worksheet is included, and a website address for video and information about sled dogs. These pictures can be used with the lesson which addresses eye color, straight or floppy ears, and bushy tails in dogs. Many thanks to Susan Harrington and my husband for explaining genetics to me and helping me develop this lesson.

Mushing on,


Brochures, Research, Cite Your Sources!

This lesson plan addresses several different skills for students. It’s written for sixth graders, but can easily move up in grade levels. Most eighth graders write a term paper, and this lesson introduces younger students to doing research both on the Internet and using print media in preparation for the term paper. Skills covered are evaluating websites for accuracy and reliability, technological skills to search for information, taking notes, ethics in using information found on the Internet and in print media, and the proper format to cite sources. This is a great time to introduce plagiarism.

Before starting their research, discuss with students the qualities of a reliable, accurate source, whether it’s a print media or Internet. Also discuss what copyrighted material is, how they can identify it, and why they cannot copy and paste it without permission from the author. The same applies to photographs, artwork, and clipart. When we did this project, we got permission from the website or the photographer to use certain photos.

These brochures were “made by hand” for several reasons. Scheduling enough time in the computer lab to do them on the computer was not possible; for some students, trying to format a newsletter on the computer would be too challenging; entering text takes them a long time as most have not learned correct keyboarding skills; and I wanted them to enjoy the creativity of design, colored pencils/crayons, and decorating.

The brochures pictured unfold in the center and students had the entire inside to fill with information and photographs or artwork. On the back of the brochure, they cited their sources. We used MLA format because that is what they would use in eighth grade and in high school.

Mushing on,


Iditarod Traveling Quilts

Quilt squares-remnants of fabric that by themselves are of little use, but sewn together, they become protection against cold, works of art, and expressions of individuals and the times they live in, achieving something that no one square could achieve.

Team members- individuals who, on their own, may be of little help in achieving a goal, but joined together for the common good achieve a goal greater than any one part could.

Quilt squares : Team members :: Join together : Achieve a Goal

An analogy for the race and for life 

There are seven traveling Iditarod Quilts visiting schools around the country this year. The squares are made by teachers who attended the Summer Iditarod Teacher Conferences or by people at schools who hosted quilts. My school has had two quilts to visit, one a couple of years ago, and the second one earlier this fall.

Quilt, as each quilt is called, hung in our school display case along with my sled, and we spent a couple of days observing Quilt and the sled, writing about each and designing our own quilt squares. Recently, after some lessons in word processing, students entered and formatted their sled paragraphs. This is a good way to practice formatting skills and following directions to format correctly. The next part of our activity will be to revise the quilt square designs and create a paper quilt on bulletin board paper. The students’ quilt square designs were inspired by the squares on Quilt in the display case, so designs include encouraging quotes, sleds, mountains, and dogs.

Keep checking on the For Teachers link for more Quilt postings.

Mushing on,


Word Processing and Iditarod

As a sixth grade English/language arts teacher, one of my responsibilities is to teach students word processing. By sixth grade, most students are familiar with the mouse, the delete button on the keyboard, and have a general idea of where the letters are on the keyboard. Formatting a document, though, is something they usually aren’t familiar with, and to prepare them for 21st century learning, they need to know how to do this.

This lesson and its skills were written for sixth grade. Each document is about a different aspect of the race—mushers, awards, and the Junior Iditarod race. Included are pdfs of the document to format, how the document should look after formatting, and directions for formatting each document. Skills used are justifying and centering text, capitalization, indenting, single spacing, cutting and pasting, highlighting, deleting, spell check and grammar check, and entering text.

The first day we’re in the computer lab, we work through the musher document together as I assess where the students are with their skill level. Each student has a copy of the directions for formatting that lesson in front of them, and teaching this is aided by projecting the image from one monitor via LCD projector. During the second lesson about race awards, students work slightly more independently, and by the time they get to their third lesson about the Junior Iditarod, they can usually work independently.

A couple of tips—I teach from the back of the computer lab where I can easily see everyone’s monitor and know at a glance how their work is going. At my school, the technology facilitator put these documents on the school’s shared folder for students to access, and we discovered that sometimes Microsoft Word wants so badly to capitalize words that it wouldn’t “hold” what should be wrong so the students can correct it. After a few tries, it held. Other subject areas could teach Excel or Database using Iditarod information, too.

Mushing on,