A Turkey on the Trail


Turkeys in disguise while training for the 2016 Iditarod

In honor of Thanksgiving this year, my class disguised paper turkeys as husky dogs and mushers preparing for the 2016 Iditarod.  They wrote about their plans for escape from the farm in first person narratives. This time-honored school tradition involves a lot of creativity, humor, and great writing.  What a perfect way to save a turkey from a horrible fate.  The farmer would not suspect a thing!

We brainstormed other ideas for our turkey disguises as well.  How about a moose on the trail?  Some of my students created polar bears, and snowflake disguises for their turkeys.  All of these creative ideas have a great tie-in to the study of Alaska and the Iditarod race.

If you are a teacher with an Iditarod Insider subscription, now is a great time to watch the musher videos preparing for the race.  This is a great source of inspiration for the writing project.

A Turkey on the Trail Narrative


Turkey in Disguise

The Turkey on the Trail Lesson Plan


Make your turkey digital by using an app like Chatterpix for Kids to create a voice-over for an image of their finished project.  Students can record themselves reading their plans of escape in 1st person that allows the beak of the turkey to move.  This can be shared with parents or embedded on a teacher website.

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The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for teachers 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 Snapshot of Jeff Schultz



A “snapshot” of Jeff Schultz biographies in the Iditarod classroom

We have been spending some time in class this last week learning about some of the people behind the scenes of the Iditarod that help bring The Last Great Race® to people around the world.


Jeff Schultz on the Iditarod Trail – photo courtesy Bob Jones

When my students see the amazing photographs of the mushers and their dog teams along the trail, they ask me who captures these incredible images for all of us to enjoy.  I shared with my students this week that Jeff Schultz, celebrating 35 years as the official Iditarod photographer this year, is the reason we can share in the Iditarod experience in such a special way.

Jeff’s photographs can not only be seen on the Iditarod site, they grace the covers of magazines, calendars, and books all over the world.

To teach my students about the life of Jeff Schultz and his work, I created a simple “biography snapshot” booklet complete with a camera cover and six pages with guiding statements or questions to write and illustrate.  We used Iditarod website articles about Jeff to learn fascinating details about his life.  This lesson was created to be completed with illustrations by our kindergarten buddy class.

Lesson Plan – A Snapshot of Jeff Schultz

Primary Grades – Gypsy’s Jeff Schultz Iditarod Research

Upper Grades – Jeff Schultz Iditarod Research

(View our Q&A at the end of this post or open and print the PDF below for your class research:

Jeff Schultz Q&A with the 2016 Iditarod Class – PDF

We used our biography research from the Iditarod site to write about Jeff Schultz, and then we visited our kindergarten buddy class and shared our information with them. We asked our buddies to illustrate the pages with us.  The results are a wonderful collaboration research project that can easily be adapted for primary or upper grades.

Biography Snapshot Camera Cover

Biography Snapshot Page #2

Biography Snapshot Page #3

Biography Snapshot Page #4

Biography Snapshot Page #5

Biography Snapshot Page #6

Biography Snapshot Page #7

Jeff Schultz


Jeff Schultz and Iditarod Memories

I am excited about my special time as Teacher on the Trail™ in March, and I am especially looking forward to seeing Jeff in action while I am there.  I was curious about some of the experiences from the trail from the teachers who have come before me, so I reached out to a few familiar faces to reflect upon a special, personal memory with Jeff Schultz with all of us.

Andrea “Finney” Aufder Heyde, 1999 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™


“Finney” 1999 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ (2nd from left) at the Jr. Iditarod – photo by Jeff Schultz

Andrea Finney Aufder Heyde, or “Finney” for short, was the very first Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ almost 18 years ago. Her courage and independent spirit started this special program, and I will be forever grateful.  She shared a special memory with me from that very first year with a picture of her taken by Jeff Schultz from the Jr. Iditarod.

“Some of the volunteers at Yentna Station! My first sighting of the Northern Lights was here when I was up with the young mushers!!”

Terrie Hanke, 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

“In 2006, as the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, I was assigned to fly with Jeff and his pilot, Danny Davidson. At any moment in time, Jeff might point at something and Danny would bank sharply to get Jeff in position for a shot. Danny’s plane was specially equipped with a flip up window for Jeff. So after banking sharply and getting into position, Jeff would flip that window up and click, click, click.  Sitting directly behind Jeff, I got the brunt of the frigid air at roughly 100 miles an hour. I learned very quickly that the only way to stay warm was to fly in full gear. Let’s face it, if Jeff was shooting something, so was I. The only difference was that I had a little Canon point and shoot while he was using a Canon with a mega zoom lens capable of showing whiskers on dogs at 800 feet.”

Photos (above) taken by Terrie Hanke. Read about Terrie’s article about Jeff Schultz on the Iditarod site.

Read Terrie’s full article about her time on the trail with Jeff Schultz here:

Jeff Schultz article

Martha Dobson, 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

“Two great memories of my 2011 year–getting to fly with Jeff for a day while he took photos for the race. Because I flew with him, I got to a number of checkpoints I wouldn’t have seen otherwise: Shageluk, Grayling, the primitive checkpoint of Eagle Island, and Kaltag. I also took one of my favorite photos during the race there in Shageluk, a four year old girl exchanging nose kisses with one of Paul’s dogs.  Another fun memory is getting to work with the Pee Team in Takotna. They invited me to help collect urine specimens, and Jeff took photos of that.

Linda Fenton, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™


Linda Fenton, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™  and Jeff Schultz – photo by Terrie Hanke

“I saw Jeff a lot on the trail.  He was tireless and focused on his work.  It was fun watching him find just the right spot for his shot.  The picture (above) was taken in Nome.  I was posting and Terrie was taking my picture.  He just sat down and joined me for the shot.”

Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

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Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ – photo by Jeff Schultz

“I was most struck by how much of a true team he and his people are.  It’s just another piece of the “team” mentality that gets this whole race down the trail: the volunteer team, the mushers and their dog teams, the judging team, the Insider Crew team, Jeff and his people.  There are lessons to be learned about teamwork in all facets of the race.

That and that I knew if I watched where he stood to take pictures, waited until he walked away and then stood in the same spot I could get some pretty good shots myself! 

At the Volunteer Potluck Supper after the race, he presented a slide show of close to 200 photos from the race.  They were amazing. But what was even more amazing was the story that he was able to tell about every single one.  It’s amazing how what seems to be such a simple picture can become so much more when you have the story behind it.

Jeff Schultz Q & A with the 2016 Iditarod Class:

IMG_0662Q: How many years have you been taking pictures for the Iditarod?  

A: I photographed my first Iditarod in 1981 and I’ve been the Iditarod’s official photographer since 1982

Q: In the Iditarod, do you go to every checkpoint?

A: I’ve been to every checkpoint. Each year I try to go to each one. Sometimes I miss one or three.

Q: Have you ever taken a picture under water?

A: no


Q: How did you get inspired to take photos of the Iditarod?

A: I met the “Father of the Iditarod” Joe Redington Sr. in 1979 and he got me interested in it.

Q: Why do you like to photograph the northern lights?

A: It’s a unique phenomenon that does not happen everywhere.  So it’s fun and a challenge to make photos of them. 


Q: Who inspired you to be a photographer?

A: I found that I had a God-given talent of composing photos and I was good at it.  My brother-in-law Reggie Miller encouraged me to follow my passion when I was 14.

IMG_0655Q: How many pets do you have?  Are dogs your favorite?

A: No pets, but dogs are my favorite 


Q: How many books about the Iditarod have you taken pictures for?

A: My photos have been published in 8 or so books on the Iditarod.

Q: What colors have you seen in the northern lights?

A: Red, purple, green and yellow


Q: When did you start taking professional pictures?

A: I was 14 when I got paid for my first assignment… taking photos at a 25th year wedding anniversary, but I became a full-time professional in 1982.

Q: Have you ever been in an airplane while filming the northern lights?

A: No, but that’d be cool.

IMG_0656Q: Have you ever gotten frostbite on the trail?  

A: No, by the grace of God.

Q: When you were a kid, did you follow the Iditarod?

A: No.  I had no idea what the Iditarod was until I met Joe Redington Sr. in 1979.


Q: Do you take pictures outside of Alaska?  Where? 

A: Not really.  Only when I’m on vacation and it’s just for fun then. 


Q: Have you ever been a musher in the Iditarod?  

A: no

IMG_0653Q: Do you live in Alaska?  How long have you lived there?

A: Yes, I live in Anchorage.  I’ve lived here since I was 18.  I moved up 3 months after graduating from High school.


Q: Who flies you around during the Iditarod?

A: Great volunteer pilots fly me. I typically have one dedicated pilot fly me.  Over my 35 years, I’ve had 3 main pilots… Dr. Von Mitton DDS, Sam Maxwell and most recently Danny Davidson.  Sometimes I get rides from other volunteer Iditarod air force pilots


Q: Do you open the door or window to take a picture during the race?  

A: 95% of the time I open the window to take photos. 

IMG_0643Q: How long do you seen the northern lights during the night?  And what is the longest time you have seen them in one night?  

A: I have seen them last only a few minutes sometimes, and I’ve seen them last for 6 or more hours. 

Q: Have you ever taken a photo of a shooting star?

A: Yes.  Sometimes, when making long exposures of the night sky, a shooting star will fly through the frame.  It’s only by luck that happens. 

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Join me and three exceptional Eanes Elementary School teachers at the 2016 Winter Conference for Educators

The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for teachers 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!

Giving a Hero His Due

I was recently sent a copy of a book to preview, and just today ordered a class set of them for my classroom for next year!

Dog Diaries #4: Togo by Kate Klimo is a fantastic story of Togo who, according to many historians, should get the mostdownload credit for the success of the 1925 Serum Run into Nome.  Balto was the lead dog who carried the serum into town, but Togo was the lead for the longest leg of the relay, almost double the length of any other team!  The story is told from Togo’s point of view, which honestly usually rubs me the wrong way, but this one is really well done!  Togo has a lot of spunk, energy, and determination.  I think the book will be great for talking about visualization with readers… it’s easy to see many of Togo’s pre-serum run antics in your mind!  The appendixes are full of extra information too.  I was thrilled to see that the appendix talks about the Iditarod without claiming the race commemorates the Serum Run!  Instead, it makes the connection between the two via the history of the trail, which to me is the perfect way to do it!  The book is recommended for grades two to five.  I think it will be a fairly easy read for my third graders, so perfect for the beginning of the year.

I’m thinking that I will pair this book with my unit on Stone Fox (LINK) next year.  I think there will be many good connections made between the two books.  Throw Mush! Sled Dogs of the Iditarod (LINK) in there as a non-fiction text and I think I will have the perfect little trilogy of sled dog stories to start my year and set the tone and ignite the passion for following the race!

If you have a couple of weeks of school left, grab Dog Diaries #4: Togo as a quick read aloud.  Or, grab a copy for yourself to preview for next year.  Later this summer, keep an eye on the Iditarod Education Portal. I will post my unit plans there for anyone who is interested!

What Makes a Hero?

Teachers at this year’s Winter Conference for Educators had the fortune to hear Shelley Gill share some of her amazing stories of Alaska, her 1978 Iditarod run, and her work as a humpback whale researcher in Prince William Sound.  Shelley is an engaging speaker, and I have always shared her book Kiana’s Iditarod with my students when we first start talking about the race.

Shelley recently published a new book, Alaska’s Dog Heroes:  True Stories of Remarkable Canines which I have been sharing with my students in small snippets since I’ve been back from the race.  This book is a collection of stories of dogs who have demonstrated their intelligence, loyalty, and heroism in the most demanding of environments – Alaska’s frontier.  There are lot of stories that could be used for a variety of character development lessons – these dogs possess all the qualities that I wish I could find in a best friend!

Of particular interest to my students are the stories of Tekla, Hotfoot, and Dugan – the lead dogs of Iditarod mushers Susan Butcher, Dick Wilmarth, and Libby Riddles!  I’ve been looking forward to next year (one of my strategies for saving my sanity at this time of year!) and have been thinking that featuring these three dogs and discussing what makes a good leader may be a great way to jump start character development lessons in the fall.  Having the students identify what makes great lead dog and then discussing the qualities that make a great leader, the foundation is set for further discussions and lessons of what they can do as leaders in the classroom.

Here’s a worksheet that you can use to compare these Iditarod heroes and to begin to look at their character traits:  Dog Heroes Worksheet

You can learn more about Shelley Gill here:  LINK

Animal Heroes Everywhere

Alaska races sled dogs.

In Maryland we race horses.

Alaska has stories about heroic dogs.

We have stories about heroic horses.

My school and I wanted to send greetings to the schools along the trail as a way to kind of let our schools meet each other and to show a connection between schools that are so far apart, and yet have so many commonalities.

My boys and I have been talking all year about the similarities and differences between Alaska and Maryland.  While there are obviously many, many differences, we did find several similarities.  Alaskans race sled dogs. There are different styles of racing dogs – sprint, marathon, etc.  There are many sled dog races throughout the state, the biggest one obviously being the Iditarod.  Here in Maryland, we race horses.  There are different styles of racing horses – speed, agility, steeplechase, sulky, etc.  There are many tracks and many races in Maryland, the biggest being the Preakness which is a part of the Triple Crown.  We have also learned the names and stories of many of the dog heroes of the Iditarod Trail.

Here at Gilman, we all know the story of one particular horse hero above all others.  We all know the story of Goliath, one of the brave horses who helped saved the city during the Great Baltimore Fire.  We all know the story, because one of our very own teachers, Claudia Friddell, researched and wrote a picture book telling Goliath’s story.

So, naturally, Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire became the perfect good will wish to send down the Iditarod Trail.  This week, each of my third graders paired with one of Mrs. Friddell’s first graders to write a letter to accompany a book down the trail to a new school.

We hope the students will enjoy learning about one of our heroes as much as we have enjoyed learning about theirs!

Mushing Towards Understanding Non-Fiction Text Features

My students, maybe because they are boys, seem to gravitate towards non-fiction texts. They love to pour over the pictures and stats that fill their favorite non-fiction books.  But, I have noticed that they don’t always use all of the features in the book like captions and sidebars to their advantage as readers, and they certainly don’t carry those elements over into their own non-fiction writing.

The non-fiction book, Mush!  Sled Dogs of the Iditarod, published by Scholastic is a great book to use to introduce features of non-fiction texts to your students (and sneak a little Iditarod knowledge in too)!  I introduced this book to my boys after we had finished our first fiction novel and had analyzed the elements of a story.  I began by having the boys search through Mush with sticky notes in hand, marking everything they found that isn’t typically found in fiction novels.  After we discussed them, the boys made posters that explained the various features and why authors may choose to use these devices in their books.  The posters will serve as our anchor charts for this unit.

As we read the book, we focused on using those non-fiction text elements to pull out important details. We made bio cubes highlighting Dallas Seavey’s accomplishments, debated if mushers are as athletic as their dogs, identified characteristics of huskies, and compared and contrasted changes in race equipment over time.

Attached is the unit plan with five days of lessons (although, truth be told, the bio cubes took two days – one to plan and to create).  I’ve also posted one of my student’s responses to whether or not mushers are as athletic as their dogs here:  LINK  Don’t forget to send me your student’s writings!  I’d love to post as many as I can!

Mush Unit Plan

Cube Planning Sheet

Stone Fox

Students wearing the Aurora Borealis T-Shirts

Students wearing the Aurora Borealis T-Shirts

In order to keep students engaged the last week of school before the Holiday Break, I had them read Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner.  This is a great book of friendship, family and the love between a boy and his dog.  All the things to keep students wanting to turn the page and go on to the next chapter are in this book.  My students are third graders, but it would be a good read aloud for 2nd graders and I know teachers thru middle school who have used it in their classroom.  (I don’t want to spoil the ending, but keep a tissue handy.)

I’d like to keep track of how many students we can get to read this book.  If you have already read it with your students (or when you read it in the future), please send me your name, grade level, number of students who read the book and your city & state at:  emailtheteacher@iditarod.com

Full lesson plan with activity ideas are attached.  The attached Venn Diagram is for watching the movie Stone Fox after you have read the book.  It’s a great lesson in how much is changed when making movies.

Stone Fox

Stone Fox.2