Checkpoint Checkup – Skwentna to Finger Lake

 . 68 68 "We're on a journey here, and we don't have a road map." — Ralph Brennan


“We’re on a journey here, and we don’t have a road map.” — Ralph Brennan

 

If you are following our journey of checkpoints, you know we were just at Yentna Station.  Our journey will take us up the trail 30 miles to Skwentna.

Welcome to Skwentna Checkpoint.  Most of the trail to Skwentna is on the Yentna River.  The population in 2010, the latest census, was 37.  Skwentna is another checkpoint at which the teams are coming in very close to each other. All volunteers involved at this checkpoint have their job down to a science. This checkpoint is so organized, some volunteers compare it to a factory. There are four major jobs at the Skwentna checkpoint: veterinarians, comms (communications), the Darlings, and the Sweeties.

The Comms team is always progressing with technology. The volunteers on the Comms team do a fantastic job of getting information back to headquarters. The veterinarians must check each team that comes through Swkentna. The teams come and leave Skwentna very fast. To keep things running smoothly the vets need to be on top of their game when checking the dogs. The mushers, of course, are going to be in a hurry, but the vets need to do their jobs in checking the health of the dogs.

The Darlings run the river part of the checkpoint. This group takes care of setting up the area of the checkpoint where the teams come in, parking the teams, and they act as the checkers. Many of the Darlings have worked this checkpoint for years. Several of them worked directly along side of Joe Delia who hosted the checkpoint for many years.

The Sweeties, as they are affectionately known, are the cabin crew. Their job is all about food. The Sweeties take care of all the cooking. They cook for all the volunteers as well as the mushers. There is always food and a hot, damp cloth for mushers as soon as they enter Skwentna. In addition to cooking, the Sweeties take care of the dropped dogs. Who else would you want taking care of your dog than someone with the nickname “Sweetie?”

After a quick stop in Skwentna we continue our journey up the trail 40 more miles to Finger Lake, population 2.

This checkpoint is also operated by Carl and Kristen Dixon.  Kristen makes free meals for all the mushers passing through.  Finger Lake Checkpoint is actually on Winter Lake. Old timers call it Finger Lake because the lake is shaped like a finger.

The next part of our journey will take us through the infamous Happy River steps.  I hope you are excited. 852 miles to Nome.

Next checkpoint checkup: Rainy Pass to Rohn.

Glogster – The Iditarod, Machu Picchu, and Denali

"To travel is to take a journey into yourself."     - Danny Kaye

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.”
– Danny Kaye

Many teachers always comment that they want to incorporate the Iditarod all year, but they don’t know how.  As a result, the Iditarod makes it into their classroom for a small amount of time.  It is very possible to teach the Iditarod year round while still teaching your other curriculum.

My students are currently studying the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations.  During this unit we take a look at the history of Machu Picchu in Peru.  Many hike the 26 mile Inca Trail to the highest point, 4200 meters, Machu Picchu.  My class did some comparing and contrasting of Machu Picchu and the Iditarod.  We also added a third adventure, climbing Denali.

This lesson was done using the online tool, Glogster.  Glogster is a type of social networking site in which you create and share Glogs.  A Glog is an interactive poster that includes text, images, audio, video, etc.  Glogster can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom.  A couple different ways to use Glogs are having students create an interactive poster as a unit project or a teacher generated lesson.  For this topic, I created a lesson for the students to complete in groups.

Photo Sep 08, 8 31 38 AMAt the top of the Glog the assignment is posted clearly for the students.  The assignment is to view the Glog, making sure to click on all the links, images, and view all video clips.  When they are finished they are to individually answer two writing questions; 1. What do you feel all three adventures have in common?  Defend your answer with facts from the Glog.  2. Which adventure do you feel is the most challenging?  Defend your answer with facts from the Glog.  Check out the Glog here.

Photo Sep 08, 8 31 54 AM

With some glitches here and there with Internet connections, this lesson took three days.  We will then have a class discussion over the three adventures.  Our final task will be to get the perspective of someone who has climbed a mountain and has done the Iditarod.  Our class rookie musher, Cindy Abbott has summited Mt. Everest and has attempted the Iditarod twice.  We will ask her which was more challenging for her and why.

Glogster is a great way to incorporate technology into your lessons.  You are able to add so much more to your lessons.  My students are looking forward to creating their own Glogs.

Trivia Question: Who is the “Father of the Iditarod”?

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Joe Redington, Sr.

Have your students research the “Father of the Iditarod.”  Who is he?  When did he start the race?  Why did he start the race?  Did he ever race in the Iditarod himself?  Does he have family members still racing?  

Click here for the answer.

The Journey of a Volunteer

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.”  - William J. Bennett

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.” – William J. Bennett

The definition of volunteer is a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.  There are thousands of people who volunteer each year for the Iditarod.  Without these many volunteers, there is absolutely no way this race could happen.  The journey of a volunteer does not just take place during the few weeks of the race.  An Iditarod volunteer can be a year long journey.

GailI spoke with Gail Somerville about her role as an Iditarod volunteer.  Gail has been volunteering for the Iditarod since 1978!  Gail’s journey as an Iditarod volunteer is not just during March; she does many things throughout the year.

Gail retired from teaching at the end of last school year.  She had been a teacher for 46 years!  Gail has always volunteered her time with many different organizations and events.  Now that she is retired, she is looking forward to volunteer even more of her time.

Even though most people only see “Iditarod” in March, it is a year long event.  One job Gail helps with is selling raffle tickets at the Alaska State Fair in August.  The raffle tickets are another way the Iditarod raises money to put this event on.  Another job Gail helps with in the summer is providing transportation for the teachers during the summer camp for educators.DSC_0799

Gail’s primary volunteer job is to write homework questions for elementary students.  She then emails these questions to all the elementary school teachers in Anchorage.  With this project she also gets middle school students scheduled to volunteer at headquarters in the phone room each school day to help answer the questions from the elementary students that they phone in.  Just writing about this task makes me tired.  That is a lot of time and effort Gail puts into that project.  Shout out to Gail for helping the Iditarod and incorporating it into education.

Let’s get our students to understand the importance of volunteering and helping others.  If it were not for volunteers like Gail, this race could not happen.
What can you do in your classroom?

Discuss what a volunteer is.
Discuss the importance of helping others.
Discuss the different volunteer jobs there are for the Iditarod.
Is there something your class can do to help the Iditarod?

The Journey to Your Starting Line

The hardest part of starting a new journey is the leap of faith at the beginning.  -Unknown

The hardest part of starting a new journey is the leap of faith at the beginning. -Unknown

Don’t let your journey to the starting line begin in late February/early March. Start as soon as you can. Yesterday was my first day with students here at Camanche Middle School. I love the beginning of the year. It is always exciting to decorate my classroom and start a new year with fresh ideas. Of course, my classroom is going to have an Iditarod theme throughout. As you start preparing to start your year, think about what you can do to begin your journey to the starting line.

Photo Aug 08, 12 50 52 PM In my room I have designated a specific area to Iditarod books and treasures. Last school year the wood shop class made my classroom a sled. Our goal this year is to have the art class decorate the sled. Currently the sled is our bookshelf for books and other Iditarod items. Would you love your own sled in your classroom? Take a look at the plans our shop class used. It is a very simple model.  Dog Sled plans

Get your hands on as many posters as you can. Hang the posters in your room, spark interest with your students. Would you like lots of posters for free? Come to the winter conference or the summer camp for educators.

Photo Aug 08, 12 46 52 PMThis year I am going to assign jobs to my students. The idea for my classroom jobs came from Jen Reiter, last years Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. I tweeked it a little to fit more to middle school students. “Jobs on the trail” is a great way to introduce your students to some of the volunteer jobs along the trail.

Jobs on the trail

Dog Handler – Take Dixon outside (Dixon is our therapy dog)

Volunteer pilot – Water any plants and keep Dixon’s water dish full

Chief Veterinarian – Help new students get the information they need for class

Checker – Check the extra copy folder and make sure class agenda is filled out

Race Comms – In charge of Twitter (student will create a tweet at the end of class)

Race Stats – Update board (date, homework, Today in history, Iditarod trivia)

Musher (mail carrier) – Pass out newspapers at the beginning of class

Start your journey immediately.  You do not have to do something every day, but slowly introduce the Iditarod to your students to generate interest.  I’m excited for this journey and I want my students to be as well.

The Journey Ahead

"When the journey ahead seems bleak, don't forget to look behind you and see all you have survived already." -Andee Jaide

“When the journey ahead seems bleak, don’t forget to look behind you and see all you have survived already.” -Andee Jaide

 

As the school year approaches, August 7 for me, I want to share with you what you can look forward to this year.

If you read my blog entries from summer camp, then you may have picked up on my theme, “Journey through the Iditarod.”  I plan on using this theme in a variety of ways.  I will be sharing with you the journey a musher takes to get to Nome.  This journey does not start in Anchorage, it most likely started several years ago.  You will also experience the journey a dog takes from puppyhood to his or her training schedule to travel to Nome.  Several other journeys will be shared as well; pilots, veterinarians, volunteers, etc.

DSC_9875Another topic I am excited to share with you is the checkpoints.  I want you and your students to be familiar with each checkpoint prior to the race.  You will also notice Iditarod trivia questions to use with the students.  This would be great to post on the board in your class or even in the hallway for the entire school to view.  As a whole class your students can work to find the answer to the question.  Another option is to see how many students can find the answer by the next day.  The answer will be posted the following day.  Take time to discuss the answer with your students.

I am most looking forward to sharing with you a variety of technology ideas through Iditarod themed lessons.  I will be introducing you to many new and exciting ways to incorporate technology in your Iditarod lessons.

My class is very “social.”  Meaning, we use social media a great deal in my classroom.  We would love for you to follow our journey as a class this year.

Follow us on Twitter @DixonsClass1

Follow us on Instagram @dixonsclass1

Follow us on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/user/emontclass

Check out our website http://missemontclass.weebly.com

Building Character

“Character is a journey, not a destination.” William J. Clinton

 

As young mushers evolve into seasoned veterans, they build a lot of character along the way.

barbToday our group made a visit to Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla. While there, we were able to listen to Barbara Redington speak. Barb is the wife of Raymie Redington, son of Joe Redington, Sr. (“Father of the Iditarod”). Barb spoke to us about the Jr. Iditarod. Barb has the honor of being a board member of the Jr. Iditarod and has also run the race.

The Jr. Iditarod started in 1977. Four young men came up with the idea and spoke with Joe Redington, Sr. about it, and he loved the idea. Prior to the Jr., races for young mushers were mostly sprint races lasting 10-15 miles. These guys wanted a longer race. The Jr. Iditarod is a 175-mile trail that starts on the Knik Lake and heads out to Yentna Station. In Yentna, the halfway point, the mushers have a mandatory 10-hour stop. After their rest, they head back to Knik Lake to finish. Many of the same rules that are used in the Iditarod are used in the Jr. For instance, no outside help can be used.

Lynden, a family construction and logistics company, has sponsored the race for years. The Lynden family used to be sponsors of Susan Butcher when she was racing. They provide sponsorship in many ways from taking pictures at the race, being a M.C. at the banquet, to providing scholarships to the mushers. Last year $28,000 in scholarships were awarded. The winning mushers, Conway Seavey, came in first and won a $6000 scholarship. The rest are split amongst top finishers. The city of Wasilla also chips in money towards expenses for the race and prizes for the mushers. The race cost about $10,000-15,000. At the banquet the scholarships are awarded to top finishers. On top of that, all mushers receive some prizes. This past year $15,000-17,000 in prizes were past out. There were prizes from hamburgers to a beaver hat. Libby Riddles, first woman Iditarod winner, makes a hat each year for the first female Jr. finisher. The winner of the Jr. also receives 2 round trip tickets to Nome to the Iditarod finishers banquet to receive his/her award.

jrpicThe Jr. board is very proud of the scholarships awarded to the mushers. The scholarships cannot be exchanged for cash. The mushers must use them at any learning facility. This can be a college, vocational school, etc. One musher used the scholarship to get her pilot’s license. Barb stressed how important it is for these young kids to further their education. She is happy to be able to give these young kids this opportunity.

jrpatch1To run the Jr. Iditarod you must be between the ages of 14-17. This race does a great job of promoting punctuality among the young kids. When they get to the halfway point, they really have to manage their time well so they are able to leave when scheduled. Remember, they are not just taking care of themselves; they are taking care of 10 dogs. They also promote sportsmanship. This year the sportsmanship award was given to Kevin Harper. Kevin was in 3rd place when leaving Yentna. All of a sudden he realized there were 2 white dogs behind him. Kevin found out they were Jimmy Lanier’s dogs by looking at the tags. Kevin grabbed the dogs and did a 180 with his dog team and sled, which is tremendously difficult. He headed back towards Yentna looking for Jimmy. He found him. Turns out Jimmy’s swing dogs chewed the gangline and the lead dogs got loose. After Kevin returned the dogs, he did another 180 and headed back towards the finish. Kevin finished the race in 3rd place and was awarded the sportsmanship award for helping Jimmy out on the trail. This was such a selfless act. Knowing he was in 3rd place, competing against others, Kevin went out of his way to help a fellow competitor out. That is the great part about mushing. The integrity they have on the trail.

Many of these veterans can attest to the fact that a lot of character is built out on this 175 miles worth of trail.

Visit the Jr. Iditarod website.

The Jr. Iditarod also has a FaceBook page – Junior Iditarod

"You have 175 mile trail to complete, but you have a life of trail ahead of you." Barb Redington

“You have 175 mile of trails to complete, but you have a life of trails ahead of you.” Barb Redington

Charles’ Last Run

"It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end."

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.”

 

What do mushers do with their sled dog when he/she retires? Just as they had the best life before their journey through the Iditarod, they have the best life still, but more relaxing. Our best bud here at Vern’s, Charles, retired as a sled dog on March 1, 2014.

CharlesCharles is a 10-year old Alaskan Husky. Charles was not born at the Dream a Dream Dog Farm. Vern acquired him from Jeff King. Charles has quite the sled dog resume. Charles has finished many sled dog races in the state of Alaska. What is most impressive is he has finished five Iditarod races.

Unbeknownst to Charles, this season would be his last. Charles took his last pre-race truck ride down to 4th street in Anchorage. He jumped up and down anxiously in his harness, in lead, under the starting line in Anchorage for the last time. He heard the announcer call, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1….GO,” for the last time. He charged out of the starting chute one final time. This one last run for Charles was the Ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod. He led Cindy Abbott, her “Iditarider”, and his best friend Vern, down 4th street around Cordova and out to the Campbell Airstrip. He was unharnessed and unhooked one last time. He took one final post-race truck ride to the kennel.

When Charles was taken out of the truck after they arrived at the kennel he was not hooked up. Instead Vern said, “You are free!” Free to roam the kennel. Free to sit on any kennel he wants. Free to sleep anywhere he wants. Free to be “King of the Kennel.” Charles just stood there. He didn’t know what to do. His journey through the Iditarod had come to an end. Nobody asked him. I think if Vern had given Charles a choice, he would continue to work as a sled dog for the rest of his life. That is how much he loves it, and how much all sled dogs love their job.

CharlesWatching Charles around the yard now that he is retired is awesome. He comes right up to us wanting love and attention. He sticks his paw out as to say, “Pet me. Love me.” So, what do we do? We pet him. We love him. He struts around that yard as if he owns the place. He sits up top of Aspen’s house like it is his. It is, of course, exactly where his house used to sit. Charles still thinks he is a working sled dog. He will forever be an extraordinary lead dog.

Charles is now a pet. Most sled dogs become musher pets when they retire. Some dogs will sell their retired dogs to select homes that will take extra good care of their special friends. All sled dogs will miss their job tremendously. But, just as humans enjoy their retirement, sled dogs will enjoy the relaxing and love and attention they receive with retirement.

Teacher turned Dog Handler

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“Life is an interesting journey, you never know where it will take you.”

My journey today was quite interesting, however, it was awesome.  This morning Terrie Hanke, author of the Eye on the Trail blog for the Iditarod, and I went to breakfast before beginning our shopping list for camp.  When we got back to Vern’s Dream a Dream Dog Farm we started helping Linda prepare sandwiches for the 9:00 tour group, no big deal.  After making sandwiches it was time to turn our attention to that shopping list….or not.  After about a minute upstairs Linda shouted up the steps, “Terrie, Erin, get out here and help harness up the dog teams!”  We looked at each other and headed down.  My thought was how in the heck am I going to do this.  I have harnessed a dog before, once.  That was exactly one year ago when Vern taught us at summer camp.  I quickly asked Terrie, “how do I do this again?”  Terrie is a seasoned veteran at harnessing dogs as she has her own sled dogs back home in Wisconsin.  She reminded me and off we went.

"Aspen, put your leg through there."

"Aspen, first put your head through here."

So, Linda, Serene, Cindy Abbott, and Terrie and I harnessed and hooked up two 16 dog teams.  Ten minutes of noise and controlled chaos was followed by complete silence and peace.  After the two teams took off, I took a deep breath and looked around and said to myself, “Wow!”  Terrie and I proceeded to high-five after a job well done.

We attempted to start that shopping list again while we waited.  As soon as the teams arrived back at the kennel we headed back down to water the dogs.  After earning their water and a fish snack, it was time to unhook and unharness the teams and take them back to their kennel.  Not quite as crazy, but this time muddy and wet.  During the dog ride the dogs splash through a mud pit.

Remember that shopping list?  We finally got to it.

This day provided me with a thrilling adventure and a great deal of thought.  So many different journeys taking place.  Serene, Vern’s handler, to her this is just a normal day.  She is working for Vern during the summer handling sled dogs.  Linda, Vern’s employee, again, to her this is just another day setting up and taking down for a tour.  The dogs, this is their summer Iditarod training schedule.  Cindy Abbott, she is here to sign up for the 2015 Iditarod and this is normal to her too.  For Terrie and me, this was an awesome new experience.

Summing it All Up

We summed up our year of Iditarod fun the same way we started it… with the Quilt.  If you remember, our class hosted one of the Iditarod Travelling Quits.  You can read that original post here:  LINK

To summarize our experiences, we decided to create our own quilt square to be added to a new Iditarod Travelling Quilt.  First, each boy designed his own square. They included symbols, words, and pictures that showed what they thought the “message” behind the race is.  We also talked about the idea that our final quilt square would need to give information about where the square came from.

After we assembled our quilt, we spent some time looking at it and looking for similarities between the squares.  We figured if something appeared on many squares that must mean it’s important to us and should probably appear on our final square.

We came up with a game plan of what we wanted our final square to be.  We decided to divide it into two sections – one for Alaska and one for Maryland.  Each side features a map of the state colored like the state’s flag and is surrounded by symbols of things that the state is known.  For Maryland there is afootball to represent the Ravens, a baseball for the Orioles, a lacrosse stick to show our state team sport, and a steamed crab.  The Alaska side shows a gold pan, mail for the mail trail, a dog, and cross country skies.  Then there is a dog sled running the Iditarod across the bottom and horses running the Preakness across the top.  The center features the quote that the boy think best represents the race:  “Dream. Try. Win.” ~ John Baker.

The boys are excited to see their final design featured in a new quilt next year.  To get your class involved in the Travelling Iditarod Quilt Project, check out this site: LINK and contact Diane Johnson at djohnson@ iditarod.com

Robitarod!

So this year everything I’ve touched has gone to the dogs… and that includes my Robotics Club!

I work with a group of fourteen fourth and fifth graders once a week after school using Lego Mindstorms to begin to explore programing and basic robotics.  We usually spend the fall semester learning how to program and use the various sensors we can add  to the robot and then in the spring semester we compete in a series of challenges… a Summo Tournament, a Triathalon, and this year the Robitarod!

The boys were presented with seven Iditarod themed challenges and then given six weeks to earn as many points at they could.  Everyone started by building their sleds.  They first needed to determine if the robot itself was going to be the dog or the sled.  Then they needed to create the sled.  The official Iditarod Race Rules have this to say about the sleds:

Rule 15 — Sled: A musher has a choice of sled subject to the requirement that some type of sled or toboggan must be drawn. The sled or toboggan must be capable of hauling any injured or fatigued dogs under cover, plus equipment and food. Braking devices must be constructed to fit between the runners and not to extend beyond the tails of the runners.

Therefore, we asked the boys to accommodate for the following in their sleds:

  1. There must be space in the sled for a dog to fit.
  2. There must be an allocated place for the musher to stand.
  3. There must be allowances for where equipment and food would be carried.
  4. There must be evidence of a braking device between the runners of the sled.

From there, they got to determine which of the remaining six events to attempt and in what order.   The challenges required them to take what they had learned in programing, using sensors, and from the earlier challenges and use them in new and unique ways… and all while pulling a sled!  Some teams quickly learned that attaching a sled to their robot really changed the game.  It seemed to affect the drivability and maneuverability of the sled.

It was also a great exercise in strategy.  There just wasn’t enough time to do all of the challenges.  So, the question becomes do you do the ones you perceive as being the easiest first?  Or the ones that are worth the most points first?  And then somewhere near the end, one team started going for partial points at several stations and that proved to be a game changer too!

We had a great time with our robotic dog teams!  You can read descriptions of all of the challenges here: Robitarod

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!

Coming Full Circle

Earlier in this school year as a part of our study of National Parks and as a wonderful tie it to the dog sledding theme that runs throughout my school year, my students and I did a Distance Learning Field Trip with Denali National Park.  [LINK] This is a wonderful program that is presented by the rangers in Denai via Skype. Through pictures, videos, discussions, and hands on activities, the ranger introduces the kids to the sled dogs who help patrol the park in the winter to access areas that are not opened to motorized vehicles.

One of the questions which came up was, “What happened to the dogs when they were too old to work at the park?”  We learned that the retired dogs are adopted by families all over the United States.

While I was on the trail this year, I was contacted by Sharon Winter, with the exciting news that she and her husband Dan were lucky enough to be adopting a retired Denali sled dog!  She was wondering if there was a way to keep the kids involved in the sled dogs’ lives and for them to learn what it means to be “retired” to a sled dog.

It will not surprise you to hear that my answer was “YES!”

Sharon and Aurora on retirement day!  Check out Denali in the background!

Sharon and Aurora on retirement day! Check out Denali in the background!

This week, my class had the chance to meet Sharon and Dan and their newest family member Aurora, via Skype from their home in Eagle River, Alaska.  Aurora’s full name is Princess Aurora Sparklepants!  She wasn’t born at Denali, but was given to the park when she was young.  She is now nine years old and has been living with the Winters for just about a month now.  They also have two other dogs, Amos and Snoopy.  Snoopy is a tripod dog, but he gets around just fine!

We learned that going through the process to adopt a retired Denali sled dog can take years!  There is a long application process that prospective families have to go through, including providing references.  The park looks at where the dog will live (both in terms of climate and kennel space at the home), if the families are active and can provide enough exercise, and if the families have experience with dogs.  It’s really nice to learn that the park works so hard to ensure that their dogs are well cared for in their retirement.

Sharon reports that Aurora’s retired life is pretty different then her working life, but still pretty different then a pet dog’s life!  She has a dog house outside of the house and has her own fenced in area. The fence both keeps her in and any wildlife in the area out.  She goes for several long runs and walks a day, and spends a lot of time with the family outside during the day.  They are trying to get Aurora used to being inside the house too.  She has really never been inside before!  When they first brought her in she wasn’t used to anything in the house!  She was scared of the ceiling fan.  She doesn’t like the noise of the TV either.  She really prefers to be outside.

We had a really wonderful time talking with the Winters and their dogs.  We learned a lot about how sled dogs live their lives when they are retired and it was a great way to wrap up our sled dog filled year!

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

Scaling Up the Trail

Several years ago, we realized that we were never getting to the Geometry Unit that inevitably occurred at the end of the math book and therefore at the end of the school year. We decided to break up the unit into pieces and teach it periodically throughout the year. Inspired by the book Mathematical Art-O- Facts: Activities to Introduce, Reinforce, or Assess Geometry & Measurement Skills by Catherine Johns Kuhns, we decided to accomplish this by using art to create monthly geometry projects. This allowed us to teach the geometry skills throughout the year in a hands-on way that require the students to use the new geometry skills immediately to create something.

When I returned to my school from my Alaskan adventure, the boys were returning from Spring Break and the time was prime for a hands-on Iditarod related geometry project. We spent a week enlarging Jon Van Zyle’s print A Nod to the Past to six times the original size! We had a wonderful discussion about the piece of art, the feelings it evoked, and the Iditarod memorabilia it featured. We worked as a full class to compete the project. While each boy was responsible for completing one square of the enlargement, the nature of the project was such that they naturally checked in with each other to see if their measurements were matching up. There were wonderful discussions and coaching between boys about how they were solving the problems. When it came time to color their masterpiece, leaders naturally rose to the top as they discussed shading and combining colors to achieve the desired results. It was nice to see the artistic boys have a chance to be the leaders. The finished product in the hallway is a show stopper and visitors often stop by to admire it and ask questions! Attached is a lesson plan to explain how we completed the project.

2014-04-22 09.33.19

Scaling Up the Trail Lesson Plan

As the Trail Turns

Meanwhile Back at School:

Rule Number 6 deals with timing on the race:

Rule 6 — Race Timing: For elapsed time purposes, the race will be a common start event. Each

musher’s total elapsed time will be calculated using 2:00 p.m., Sunday March 2, 2014, as the starting

time. Teams will leave the start and the re-start in intervals of not less than two minutes, and the time

differential will be adjusted during the twenty-four (24) hour mandatory layover. No time will be kept

at the Saturday event.

2013-03-02 16.36.50-2

And, a lot of the data generated by the race deals with time – time on the trail, time in the checkpoints, required resting times, starting times, differential times, and so on.

So we are all about time, military time, and elapsed time these days in math class.  We started the week by reviewing telling time.  We talked a lot about how accurate the checkers have to be in recording the in and out times of the mushers because every minute counts!  I gave each student a sticky note to keep on their desk and periodically throughout the day I rang a bell and yelled out things like “Monica Zappa just checked in to Unakaleet.  What time is it?”  “Ken Anderson is pulling out of Safety.  What time is it?”  “Dallas Seavey just arrived at Shaktoolik.  What time is it? He wants to stay ten minutes.  What time is he leaving?”  The students recorded the answers on their sticky notes and later in the day we checked their results.

Something you will need to teach your students about time in order for them analyze the timing information they find on the Iditarod paperwork is military time.  The time is reported on the official reports in military time to avoid confusion.  Here is an assignment you can use for converting military time to conventional time:  Time on the Trail CW

We also delve into calculating elapsed time, which traditionally is a challenge for some of my third graders.  Here is an assignment for calculating elapsed time:  Passing Time at the Checkpoints Classwork

To wrap everything up, I challenge the students to calculate their musher’s average time on the trail for the first seven legs of the race. This requires them to convert military time to standard time, calculate the elapsed time, and find the average.  We compare our results and discuss whether this information is helpful in predicating the outcome of the race.  After the first seven legs it is really tough to tell what is going to happen!  As the Trail Turns Lesson Plan

And finally, here is a homework assignment to review elapsed time.  Ken Anderson Homework

What’s an Average Leg?

2013-03-03 20.38.15-1Meanwhile Back at School:  This week we have been exploring mean, median, mode, and range.  This skill have been removed from the elementary curriculum by the Common Core, but for me, it’s still a great way to review the basic operations and it’s pretty essential to understand some of the data that comes out of the Iditarod.

So, this week we have been analyzing data galore.  We have calculated the mean, median, mode, and range of the overall winnings of some of the top mushers, ages of the mushers, and numbers of Iditarods they have run.

Attached you will find our culminating activity for this section of the unit. The students will determine what an “average” leg on the Iditarod is.  Half of the class will find the average leg of the Northern Route, half will find the average leg on the Southern Route, and then they will compare their findings.  They will then use this information to determine which route they would rather run on.  My students are usually spit on this decision, but their reasoning is always fascinating to hear!

What’s An Average Leg Lesson Plan

Game Day!

Meanwhile Back at School:

We have been working really hard in math these days, so it’s time for a little fun challenge!

Here are some Paw Print Sudoku puzzles for you to share with your kids! Depending on their level, you may want to draw the mini-grid lines in or have them draw them in prior to trying to solve the problems. Enjoy!

Paw Print Sudoku 1

Paw Print Sudoku 2

Paw Print Sudoku bonus

Tales from the Trail: Special Delivery

This year, two mushers will be carrying special packages on their sleds to make a special delivery in Nome.

In order to promote vaccine awareness, Martin Buser and Aliy Zirkle will carry vaccine from Anchorage to Nome.  Vaccines are given to children to help prevent various diseases.  This event is being organized by Lisa Schobert, Vaccine Coordinator and Dawn Sawyer, PA.  The I DID IT BY TWO: Race To Vaccinate program has been working hard to encourage people to have their children immunized.  The program has done several events to promote their cause including providing dog jackets for the Iditarod race dogs on start day, giving families mushing themed charts to track their immunizations, and many more.  The I DID IT BY TWO slogan is to remind families:

I  – Iditarod

DID – Did you know that children need 80% of their childhood vaccines by age 2?

IT – It can seem a little complicated keeping up with recommended immunizations, but the payoff is big!

BY – by immunizing your children on-time by age…

TWO!

Lisa tells me that she chose Martin Buser to help with the project because he has worked with the I DID It By Two group before and is a great spokesman for the campaign.  He will be carrying the DTAP.  This vaccine is given to children between the ages of  two months and six years.  The DTAP is a vaccine given to children to prevent diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough).  The organizers think that with Martin’s playful personality, he may actually pass the vaccines off to other mushers to carry down the trail!  That would be in keeping with the spirit of the original serum run which was actually a relay.

Aliy Zirkle was asked to participate because Lisa wanted a front line contender, and with second place finishes in the last two races, Aliy certainly meets that criteria.  Knowing how competitive she is, Aliy will most likely put the vaccine in her sled and run her race!  She will be carrying Tdap vaccine which is used for adolescents and adults.  Tdap stands for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis and is used for people aged seven and older.

Each musher will get a box of ten vials to transport and they can package them however they would like to.  Each box weighs 2.3 ounces.  This made me think of the classic, “Can you package an egg and drop it off the roof?” science experiment.  So here’s a little Iditarod themed twist on that activity:  Protect that Vaccine

Here are some photos to share with your kids to show what the vials will look like:

The temperatures that the vaccines are stored at are very, very important.  If the vaccines are not kept between 35-46 degrees F they cannot be given to patients.  Lisa explained to me that if the refrigerator door is left open or someone goes in and out of the refrigerator a lot, the inside temperature can be affected.  They use a Data Logger to continually monitor the temperatures of the vaccines as they travel from one location to another.  The logger, which is similar to a thumb drive, can record temperatures for fifty-six days. Then when the vaccines and logger arrive at their final location, the data can be loaded onto the computer and the temperature information can be displayed in a graph form.  My class has been given a data logger to experiment with, but you can replicate this with a basic thermometer and a refrigerator at home or school:  Keeping the Vaccines Cold

Obviously, to many people, the Iditarod has come to serve as a reminder of the 1925 Serum Run.  That was not Joe Redington, Sr.’s main objective though. His main goals in establishing the race were to project the sled dogs and their role in the culture of Alaska and to save the historic Iditarod Trail.  The Serum Run definitely has a huge role in the history of Alaska and the history of the Iditarod Trail, so it’s kind of neat to see this event as a way to bring the message of the importance of immunizations to villages on the trail.  Here is more on the history of the race and the reasons it started from Katie Mangelsdorf:  Bustingmyth

The go-to picture book for kids to learn about the Serum Run is the Great Serum Race by Debbie Miller.  You can also join the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for a Distance Learning Program about Balto. I wrote about that here: LINK

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has a great PDF file you could print to give some kids the story behind the Serum Run.  It even has a picture of the original vials to compare to the ones Zirkle and Buser will be carrying this year:  LINK

Here’s a Venn Diagram you could use to compare the Serum Run with the modern trip the vaccines will be taking with Aliy and Martin this year.  VennDiagram

For a writing piece, students could write and record radio spots, like public service announcements for the I DID IT BY TWO Campaign.

The official Press Release is here:  January Press Release – Vaccine

You can learn more about this project here:  LINK

I will have more information soon about other mushers who are “mushing for a cause” or using their Iditarod runs to bring awareness about causes near and dear to their hearts!

Mini-Musher Banquet

I didn’t even really get to say goodbye to my students or my co-teachers…

The last day I was meant to be at my school there ended up being snow day!

That day was also supposed to be the day of our big “Musher Banquet” so, now that the kids are back in school after their five day extra-long weekend, they finally got to have their banquet!

The banquet was the time that they finally rounded out their Fantasy Iditarod Team by choosing the musher for their team.  When we first began our Iditarod Math Unit, they did some research and chose the sixteen dogs for their team.  You can see that lesson here:  LINK

Previously, we had also completed a series of probability lessons where we predicted the characteristics of the winning musher (male, veteran, from Alaska, etc).  In that lesson we created “musher stacks”.  There is one stack per musher and shows their gender, race status, and location.  You can see that lesson here:  LINK

When the day of the banquet finally arrived, the kids signed in to school on a board in the order of their arrival. This was to simulate the mushes “signing up” for the race, which in part determines their order for drawing their numbers.

At the banquet,  kids were seated at long “banquet” tables decorated with puppy print tablecloths and some extra copies of the centerpieces we had sent up to Alaska for the “real” musher banquet (more on that here – LINK).

The boys began the festivities by belting out Hobo Jim’s “The Iditarod Trail Song” and munched on Klondike Bars and cookies shaped like dogs and sleds.

When it was their turn to choose their musher, they went to the front in the order they signed up in the morning, reached their hand into the mukluk and drew out one the musher stacks from the probability experiment.  (In real life, the mushers to go the stage, reach into the mukluk and draw out a chip with a number on it.  That number becomes their starting number for the race).  The students then had to choose a musher from the board that matched the characteristics on the stack they had drawn.

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Once they chose their musher, they moved through the autograph chute and autographed some posters (not quite as many as the mushers do at the banquet!) and then proceeded to pick up their race packets. (The mushers will find their dog tags and the identification tags for their handliers in their envelopes, now that they finally know their start order.)  The students found biographies of their mushers, an Iditarod pencil, and a blank biography card in their packets.   While the others were choosing their mushers, they got started on completing the biography card of their musher that will be displayed with their tracking map.

Everything of course was photographed and filmed by the “paparazzi” from the Gilman/Anchorage Daily News and the Gilman/Nome Nugget!

I was sorry I missed the banquet.  By all accounts it was a huge success!  The countdown is on!

Petchup or Muttstardt?

As you probably know, we were thrilled to be able to announce to all of our followers that our favorite musher Monica Zappa had gotten a new sponsor:  Petchup.  LINK

So my kids were really intrigued by the whole idea of ketchup and mustard for dogs.  We knew that Monica was experimenting to find out the best way to feed it to her dogs, so we decided to do our own experiment.

Monica told us that she was experimenting to find the best way to use the product with the dogs both in the kennel and on the trail.  At the kennel, she could just mix some with the dogs’ food and they slurped it right up!  On the trail, things may get a bit more complicated.  She is playing with adding it to water in warm races, putting it on the dogs’ kibble, squirting it directly into their mouths, and even making Petchup ice cube pops as a treat.  Monica feels like the product is having a positive impact on her dogs’ energy and overall health.  We were anxious to see if we could add anything to her discoveries.

DSC_0205So first, we needed a subject for our experiment.  Enter Atti, our service dog in training.  Our math and science teacher, Ellen Rizzuto, is training a service dog with the help of our Lower School.  Atti gets used to being around a lot of people and activity and our boys learn how to handle a dog that is working and isn’t to be treated like a pet.

We wanted to see if Atti would prefer Petchup or Muttstard and if she would prefer it alone or on her kibble.

We let the boys smell the two products – the Muttstard is turkey flavored and the Petchup is beef flavored. They made their predictions about which one they thought Atti would prefer.  We put a little of each product in a bowl, showed Atti where they both were, let her smell them both and then let her go…. She chose the Muttstard first and totally devoured it!  She also then devoured the Petchup, so she liked them both, but we think she preferred the Muttstard.  For the second experiment we put a bowl of plain kibble, a bowl of kibble with Muttstard, and a bowl of plain Muttstard out for her to select.  We think the first time she just went to the bowl that was the closest, so we reset it up so the bowls were closer together.  This time she chose the kibble with Muttstard first.  She did eat them all again, but we think her preference was kibble with Muttstard.  So, our recommendation to Monica is to carry Muttstard and squirt some on the dog’s food and they should love it, just like Atti did!

It actually turned out to lead to a very interesting discussion about the fairness of the experiment and how certain we could be of our results. Plus – it’s fun anytime Atti visits us!

International Sled Dog Race

The formal name of the race we all know as the Iditarod is the Iditarod Trail International Sled Dog Race.  And it truly is an international pool of mushers this year.  A quick look at the musher list shows seven different countries (US, Norway, Jamaica, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden) and seven different states (Alaska, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, California, Montana, and Washington) represented!

There is quite a Norwegian influence in this year’s race.  There are five Norwegian mushers competing in the race led by two time Iditarod champion, Robert Sorlie.  Robert Sorlie first entered the Iditarod in 2002 when he finished in ninth place.  He returned to complete in 2003 and 2005 when he won.  His most recent entry was 2007 when he finished in twelfth position.  To compete this year, Robert Sorlie will be travelling about 3,967 miles from his home in Hurdal, Norway to Anchorage, Alaska.  According to his blog, Robert and his dogs will leave home on February 17th, land in Seattle in February 19th, and then travel to Alaska by air from there.

I’ve been trying for a while to find some information about the history of mushing in Norway, and the best I can discover is that it spread to Norway around the start of World War 1 as a way to deliver supplies to soldiers in the field as well as for nature tours.

Now, if Curt Perano was to travel from his kennel in Roxburgh, New Zealand to Anchorage, he’d have to travel a whopping 7,715 miles!  Lucky for him, he is staging his race season out of Willow, Alaska.

An easy way to give your kids a visual of where in the world the mushers are coming from, have them checkout the musher list and have them color in all of the represented locations on a map. Here’s a cool one I found that features both the states and the rest of the world:  http://www.travelsworlds.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/printable-world-map-with-countries-and-statesblack-white-world-map-with-countries-us-states-and-canadian-cej7ukat.jpg

Recycled Dogs

I once joked with a coworker that I could turn anything into an Iditarod related lesson, and today I found another example!

I had a chance to visit the Anchorage Museum, which is one of my favorite museums.  They have an amazing exhibit on the history of Alaska, a fantastic kids area, and the beautiful Smithsonian Arctic Studies gallery of Native Alaskan culture and artifacts.  They also have an area where they host changing exhibits.

This year, the changing exhibit is called Gyre:  The Plastic Ocean.  A gyre is a swirling vortex in the ocean.  There are gyres in each ocean.  The gyres are massive, slow moving, whirlpools that sweep garbage into them.  Discarded items can be pulled into gyres where they slowly are pulled in the whirlpool and are pushed towards the center where they form floating garbage piles in the ocean.  You can learn more about gyres here:  http://5gyres.org/

This is, of course, a problem for marine life who often misinterpret the waste as food or are caught up in the plastics especially.

The Gyre expedition and exhibition is the result of a team of scientists and artists who explored the coastlines of Alaska and collected plastics most likely deposited from the North Pacific Gyre.  The exhibit was a sobering reminder of what we are doing to our planet.

The artists who were included in the exhibit took different approaches to the project.  Some displayed found objects as they were, which was sobering.  Some made juxtapositions between the ugly trash and the beauty of the environment in which they were found.  And still others used the found materials to make something new.  Like this dog sled and team!

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Wouldn’t this make a neat art project?  Could you and your class create a life sized dog team from recycled materials?  And there’s a perfect tie in between plastics in our oceans and the Iditarod!

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!

A is For Iditarod!

A is for Iditarod!

“What?” you ask.

A is for Iditarod.

Because the Iditarod awesomely takes place in Alaska and starts in Anchorage!

One of my favorite books to share with my students is A is for Musk Ox by Erin Cabatigan.  My third grade boys always roll their eyes when I tell them I am going to share an alphabet book with them – they are WAY too cool for that you know.

But, by the second page they are hooked!

This book is a funny way to show the kids how to play with language, use humor in writing, and teach them a lot about musk oxen!

We used the book as mentor text for our own version of the book A is for Iditarod.  The boys worked in groups to brainstorm ideas and then we combined their ideas together into one book.  We created illustrations, bound them, and then presented them to our kindergarten little buddies as a gift!  It’s a great way for my boys to get some practice reading orally and for the little buddies to learn a little more about our Iditarod obsession!

You can see a fippable copy of our book via Youplisher here: A is For Iditarod Book

Here is a copy of the brainstorming sheet my boys used: A is for Iditarod

Shout Out Via Skype!

I have had a jam packed three weeks doing pre-trail Skypes with schools all over the country.  It’s been a lot of fun to talk Iditarod with kids of all ages and all levels of experience with the race via Skype in the Classroom.  One of main goals while I’m out on the trail is to try to connect with these schools live from the trail! I’m hoping to be able to share the energy and excitement of what I’m experiencing at the checkpoints with all my Skype schools and my own students.  I’ll also be blogging and reporting here, so be sure to check back frequently!

Here’s to all the classes who are going to be joining me on this adventure…. Hope to see you from the trail!

Ms. Hawkins’ Classes in Kentucky

Ms. Walsh’s Class in New Jersey

Mr. Grabowski’s Class in Ontario

Ms. Tousignant’s Class in Illinois

Ms. Whitman’s Class in New York

Ms. Castonguay’s Class in Maine

Ms. Whyte’s Class in Canada

Mr. Kersey’s Class in England

Ms. Baechler’s Class in Homer, Alaska

Ms. Carroll’s Class in Massachusetts

Ms. Worthington’s Class in Florida

Ms. Louk’s Class in Montana

Ms. Mitchell’s Class in Virginia

Ms. Pavlik’s Class in Ohio

Ms. Schneider’s Class in Minnesota

Ms. Avery’s Class in Arizona

Ms. Kilroy’s Class in Washington

Ms. Reagan’s Class

Ms. Crook’s Class in North Carolina

Ms. Kilpatricks’ Class in Massachusetts

Ms. Boynton’s Class in Indiana

Ms. Kress’s Class in Ohio

Ms. Phillips’ Class in Montana

Ms. Fox’s Class in Illinois

Mr. Johnson’s Class in Wisconsin

Ms. Skrdla’s Class in Nebraska

Mr. Redmon’s Class in Iowa

Ms. Coyne’s Classin New York

Ms. Youngers’ Class

Ms. Morphew’s Class in Arkansas

Ms. Doyles’ Class in Maryland

Mr. Jesser’s Class

Ms. Schuette’s Class

 

Tales from the Trail: Eight Gold Stars on a Field of Blue

Stories from the Trail:  Eight Gold Stars on a Field of Blue

alaska_02_256Eight stars of gold on a field of blue -
Alaska’s flag. May it mean to you
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes, and the flow’rs nearby;
The gold of the early sourdough’s dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams;
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The “Bear” – the “Dipper” – and, shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
Over land and sea a beacon bright.
Alaska’s flag – to Alaskans dear,
The simple flag of a last frontier.


Alaska State Song

Very few state flags have the story behind them that Alaska’s flag does.  In 1927, The Alaska Department of the American Legion decided to sponsor a contest for students to design a flag to represent Alaska.  Each town set up a panel of judges to judge the designs at a local level and then choose the best ten to be sent to Juneau for the final judging.  Some of the designs sent to Juneau featured polar bears, some featured fishing and mining, and many featured the territorial seal.  But the winning design that became the flag we know today was designed by a thirteen year old Aleut student named Benny Benson who was living in an orphanage in Seward at the time.  In addition to having his design made into the official flag, he won a gold watch and a $1,000 towards a trip to Washington, DC.

In this lesson, the students will discover the story off Benny, his flag, and the meaning behind it and then will create their own flag to represent their classroom.

Alaska Flag Lesson

The Sleeping Bag Patch

One thing that each Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ is required to do is to create a patch for inclusion on the official Teacher on the Trail sleeping bag. You can learn more about this tradition and the sleeping bag here: LINK

I decided a long time ago, that this was going to be a wonderful way to get my school involved in my adventure, and I approached my student council to see if they would be willing to help me out with this project.  They readily agreed and decided that the best thing they could do would be to have a school wide contest to design the patch.  I explained that the patch needed to reflect my theme for the year, “Tales (and Tails) from the Trail” and that it should represent our school and show that we are located in Maryland.

The contest was announced and the boys ended up with over fifty designs to judge and choose from.

They finally settled on a design which was created by three students in my homeroom:

patch

Next came the fun part.  We submitted the design to the company who would make the patch and they forwarded it to their graphic designers.  The graphic designers in turn provided us with the first version of the patch:

patch proof 1

The artists were not impressed.  They quickly sent back a list of corrections and received this version:

patch proof 2

Again, the artists had more edits.  They finally got back this version which seemed to satisfy them.  And just recently, we got the completed patches in the mail:

2014-01-24 19.03.28

I think it represents my adventure perfectly!  The open book is for the tales I will collect from the trail.  The left hand page shows the map and flag of my home state, Maryland.  The right hand page shows the map and flag of Alaska.  The crest in the middle is my school’s crest, and the two tails coming from its sides are the “tails” part of the motto.

I stitched it onto the sleeping bag today, and it will now and forever be a part of Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ history!

It’s Crunch Time!!

It’s getting to be crunch time and I am finalizing plans for my sub for the time that I am away on my amazing adventure! 

Here are some things that I am leaving for her to do that you may be able to use also!

Math:  The class will be rolling along with our Iditarod Math Unit, most of which I have shared with you in one form or another.  And more will be coming!  Once the race actually begins, they will be tracking their mushers, updating their charts, and moving their pin along the map during their warm – up time.  In the meantime, here are some of the quick activities that they will be using as math warm-ups:

Week 1:  Mental Math Challenges:  My guys love mental math challenges.  These test their mental math skills AND their Iditarod knowledge!  Iditarod Themed Mental Math Challenges

Week 2:  Create a Number Challenges:  Students will create number sentences to form Iditarod important numbers.  Create a Number Challenges

Reading:  My boys will be reading Mystery on the Iditarod Trail by Carole Marsh. I’m surprised to say that I’ve never actually taught this unit to my class!  I’ve been in Alaska for the Iditarod during this book for the last three years!  In any event, that’s why it’s pretty much a stand along unit!  It’s a third-fifth grade reading level, but others would enjoy it as well.  There is a national park tie in with Kenai Fjords National Park as the characters visit the park in the novel.  Challenge you kids to earn their Junior Ranger Badge from there as they read the book!!

 Mystery on the Trail – unit

sled directions

Writing Workshop:  The boys will be working on writing fables, specifically pourquoi stories, or stories that explain something.  Their mentor text will be Aurora, A Tale of the Northern Lights by Mindy Dwyer.  This book explains that the Northern Lights were formed when a girl named Aurora follows a caribou into the Land of Darkness, finding her courage, and creating the Northern Lights in the process.  They will also look at Northern Lights A to Z also by Mindy Dwyer to see some explanations for the Northern Lights from other cultures.

Of course, I anticipate they will spend the majority of their time sitting by the Skype phone waiting for me to call!

More on the Weather

The weather continues to be the big story as we prepare for this year’s Iditarod.  It seems like the world has turned upside down… at least it looks that way on our weather graph!  The line tracking the temperatures in Baltimore keeps dropping down below the lines tracking the Alaska weather!

My students have been learning about Heat Energy with Mrs. Olgeirson, the science teacher, and they invited me in one day as they explored how heat energy affects our bodies.  More specifically, they were looking at how cold affects the rest of your body.  The boys were easily able to make the tie in to the Iditarod and the frigid temperatures the mushers will face (well, we HOPE they will face).

????????The first experiment they did was about how cold affects extremities.  When your toes or fingers get cold, they send a message to your brain to pump more blood to that area.  To test this, the kids wrote their name on a sheet of paper.  They then plunged their hand into a bowl of icy water (about 31 degrees Fahrenheit) for sixty seconds and then tried to rewrite their name.  Their hypothesis that their signatures would be different proved to be very true!  The boys were really surprised about just how hard it was to hold the pencil and write their name when their hand was so cold.  Imagine the mushers who have to care for their dogs’ feet and all their other chores that can’t quite work with gloves on!

The boys wondered how the mushers warm their hands up, and Mrs. Olgeirson pointed out that when your hands and fingers are cold, you should move your fingers and not rub them together.  The friction caused by rubbing your hands together could actually create heat energy that could burn your skin tissue!

How else to keep warm in on the Iditarod Trail?  Well, animals have blubber or fat to help them stay warm, and people wear clothing.  The boys were interested to hear that the clothing doesn’t actually make you warm; it insulates you from the cold.

The students then got a chance to try out the idea of “insulating” their hands from the icy water.  Mrs. Olgeirson created a “blubber mitten” by coating one plastic bag with Crisco and putting it inside a second bag.  The student could then insert their hand into the baggie and plunge it into the ice bath.  The temperature of the ice bath was 28⁰F, but the temperature inside the “blubber mitten” was 60⁰F!

The boys really got the idea about how cold weather can affect our bodies through these easy, but effective experiments!  A special thanks to Mrs. Olgeirson for hitting the trail with science and for sharing her assignment sheet with you!  BLUBBER EXPERIMENT WORKSHEET

Setting the Table

The students of 3A have a seat at the table at the Mushers’ Banquet!

Actually they have a seat ON the table….

Okay, actually, their artwork has a seat on the tables!

We have shipped our centerpieces to Alaska!

 

Every year, the Iditarod Education Department hosts a contest for school kids to design centerpieces for the Mushers’ Banquet. The banquet is held in Anchorage on the Thursday night before the race start. The main event of the banquet is the drawing that determines the starting order for the race.  The banquet is held in the convention center and upon entering, seems like a sea of round banquet tables!

Each table features several unique, original, and completely kid made centerpieces!  It’s such a treat to watch the mushers , fans, and guests carefully examine each creation and ooh and ahh over each!

For our project this year, we spent some time looking at both the science and artistry behind the Northern Lights.  Here are some great videos I found to share with your kids:  Northern Lights Videos

To create our Northern Lights backgrounds, the boys used a very wet watercolor application to a 4×6 watercolor postcard.  Before the paint dried, they quickly sprinkled Kosher salt over the paint and then let the watercolors dry.  Once everything was super dry, we brushed the salt off and were left with some really neat textures.  Then we used permanent Staz-On ink pads in black to stamp the sled dogs and in silver to stamp snowflakes on.  We mounted the artwork on a slightly larger piece of scrapbooking paper and added an easel to the back.

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I’m super excited to see all of this year’s designs!  This a great project to keep in mind for next year!  Designs are usually due in mid-November, winners are announced in December, and then the winning schools need to ship their centerpieces to Alaska around the end of January or beginning of February.  You can find the details on the Teacher Portal:  http://iditarod.com/teacher/musher-banquet-table-top-contest/

Money, Money, Money!

Rule Number 11 deals with the race purse:

Rule 11 — Purse: A purse of $650,000 will be shared among those placing in the top thirty

(30). Every effort will be made to supplement this baseline purse. In addition, beginning with 31st

 place, $1,049.00 will be paid to each remaining finisher.

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But of course the race purse isn’t the only money involved.  Before the racers can even hope to get to the finish line to collect a part of the purse they will have spent thousands of dollars in preparation which provides students with lots of opportunities to practice their money skills.

We always begin with a review of counting money, but for us, our new learning is making change. Here is a classwork assignment Starting Line Snacks and homework sheet Iditarod Shop page 1  Iditarod Shop page 2 to review those skills.

Our big project with this skill is shopping for supplies for the race.  This project takes us at least four days to complete. It’s based off an assignment entitled Musher Mall Math that was originally published in Iditarod Activities for the Classroom.  I have edited, chunked, and streamlined the project for my third graders:  Supplied for Success and Survival

What’s Your Angle?

What do you call an angle that is adorable?

Acute angle!

This week we are all about angles in math class! This is a new skill for us… it appears in the new version of our math book, and is something we haven’t taught before.

DSC_0357So, I started by thinking of where on earth I have seen angles…. And it finally came to me – dog sleds and sled dog harnesses!

So here is two days’ worth of lessons for you about angles.  On day one, the students will classify angles as acute, obtuse, and right and then practice measuring angles they find on a dog sled using a protractor.  On day two, the students will review, and then create an original design for a sled dog harness that includes a set of required angles.  Along the way, they will gain insight into how both sleds and harnesses are designed and constructed.  There is even a homework assignment included!

What’s Your Angle Lesson PlanDSC_0356

What’s Your Angle Classwork

Harness Maker Classwork

Harness Maker Outline

sled dog angles – homework

Dog Yard Dilemma

This week we are focused on calculating area and perimeter… and what better tool to do that with then dog yards!

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This week the students are presented with a scenario where they have been sponsored by a local fencing company who offers them fencing for their dog yard.  Instead of traditional sled dog yards, the students will use the fencing material to advertise for their sponsors and create individual dog pens for their dogs.  In this three day unit, they will experiment with area and perimeter and discover how you can have many different yard shapes and still maintain the same area.  They will ultimately design their dream dog yard with spaces for all of their team dogs and possibly puppies and ill dogs as well.  The homework assignment seeks the students’ assistance in setting up the White Mountain checkpoint while testing their understanding of area and perimeter.

Dog Yard Dilemma Lesson Plan

How Big is That Yard Classwork

Dog Yard Dilemma Classwork

White Mountain Checkpoint Design Homework

Just How Cold is it in Maryland?

Well – at one point yesterday it was colder in Oakland, Maryland than the South2014-01-07 06.21.02 Pole!   At one point it was – 15⁰ in Western Maryland and -7⁰ at the South Pole!

In Baltimore, we didn’t get quite as cold as the South Pole, but we did beat Alaska! For the first time, on our weather graph, the Baltimore line dropped below the lines for Anchorage, Galena, and Nome!

Yesterday’s Temperatures: 

Baltimore:  18⁰ F / 10⁰ F

Anchorage:  27⁰ F/ 18⁰F

Galena:  25⁰ F / 18⁰ F

Nome:  34⁰ F/ 27⁰ F

So, with this historic Polar Vortex hovering overhead, we put our regularly planned lessons on hold and did some “Just How Cold IS Baltimore?” activities and then related them to travel on the Iditarod Trail.

2014-01-07 09.43.58We started off by putting thermometers outside our back door, so we could see just what kind of temperatures we were dealing with.  The thermometer we put on the playground in the shade showed -8⁰ F and the thermometer in the sun showed about 6⁰ F.  The boys were surprised that being in the sun would make that much difference!  We put cups full of water in the same two locations and then checked on them periodically during the day.  The boys originally predicted that the water in the cups would freeze in less than fifteen minutes.  They were surprised when it took the cup in the shade about an hour and a half to freeze solid!  The cup in the sun looked like it was finally frozen at the end of the day, but when we popped the ice out, it turned out that it was only frozen around the edges!  The whole center was still liquid!  We talked about how one thing the Iditarod mushers have to be careful of is making sure they have enough water to drink on the trail.  It’s one of those things you don’t really think about, because usually you think about needing to drink water when you are hot… not when you are cold.  Mushers have to get creative in finding a solution to keeping unfrozen water accessible for their journey.

We also set up an experiment about wind chill.  We set up a tray of water and measured the temperature of the water to be 50⁰ F.  We set up a fan to blow across the top of the water and watched to see what would happen. We were shocked when the temperature dropped 10 degrees in just 2 minutes!  It kept dropping and dropping, until it got down to 32⁰ F about fifteen minutes into the experiment.  The most surprising part?  We let the fan run for the entire rest of the day and the water temperature never got lower than 32⁰ F!  It was a great chance to talk about other factors that came into play and why the water wasn’t freezing even though the temperature said it should be!  We were able to relate this to the Iditarod by talking about the gear the mushers wear and they need to dress for not only warmth, but to be wind proof as well!

But, but far, the biggest hit of the day was the soaking wet sweatshirt!  We took a2014-01-07 09.43.47 sweatshirt and got it soaking wet and then hung it on a hangar in a tree outside our window.  The immediate result was that steam rose off the shirt like crazy!  Then the icicles started to form on the bottom of hem.  We brought it in every five minutes at first to see how hard it was getting and after we decided it was officially “stiff as a board” we just let it sit outside until the end of the day.  The boys were dying to drop it onto the floor.  Half of them thought it was going to shatter and ruin the shirt, the other half thought nothing would happen at all.  So, just before dismissal, we brought it in and climbed up on the table to drop it to the floor.  I wish I had gotten a video!  We dropped it and it landed on the floor standing up on the bottom hem perfectly upright!  It didn’t fall over, it didn’t shatter, it just stood there like a frozen soldier!   It was so funny and their expressions were priceless!  Now they are anxious to see if it the sweatshirt will return to its’ natural soft and cozy state by tomorrow morning.  We tied this into the idea that mushers do NOT want to wear cotton!  They were able to see quite obviously the trouble a musher would get into if they were to run into overflow or water while wearing cotton clothing!

We just did a simple scientific method form for the experiments.  They recorded the question, hypothesis, observations, and then made a conclusion.  It was just a spur of the moment type of day, but it was a whole lot of fun!

Skyping Stone Fox

Last year, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail ™, Linda Fenton issued a challenge to see how many students she could get to read Stone Fox (http://itcteacheronthetrail.com/2012/12/28/stone-fox/).  The timing was perfect for me.  The fourth grade had recently dropped the novel from their repertoire, so I was able to pick it up and tie it into my curriculum!  I had never read the book before, and was soon just as hooked as Linda is!  It’s a great novel which is a great choice to teach students about point of view.   It also lends itself to discussion on an authors’ craft as you can discuss why the author made the story telling choices he did.

To begin our novel unit, we did a prediction activity by looking at the various illustrations that have graced covers of various editions of the book.  The boys quickly decided that I chose the book because of the obvious dog sledding connection to the Iditarod!  We discussed what it takes to be a responsible pet owner, as the boys predicted that the boy on the cover must own a dog.  (Here are some ideas if your students need some help:  http://www.loveyourdog.com/whatdogsneed.html).   We also talked about whether or not those responsibilities would be different if we lived in a cold environment and/or if that dog was a working dog instead of a household pet.

 As we had recently finished our unit on the fifty states, we spent a day looking at the setting of the novel.  The students each had a map of Wyoming and we created symbols and a key to identify key locations from the novel:  Jackson (the setting) and the Two Wind Indian Reservation (to represent Stone Fox’s tribe).

The students had predicted that there was a dog sled race involved from looking at the covers of the novels.  I introduced the kids to the International Pedigree Stage Stop Race (http://www.wyomingstagestop.org/) which is a modern day race held in Wyoming each winter. This year’s race begins January 31st.  The race is quite different from the Iditarod in that the mushers stop in towns after each leg.  We added the race route to our Wyoming Map and realized that this contemporary race is held in the same area of the state that the novel is based.  So by looking at photos of the race, we had some aids to help in our visualization of race scenes in the novel.

One of the covers we previewed also had a picture of a person whom my students identified as Native American. So I introduced them to the fact that this character is Shoshone, and that the Shoshone National Forest in also in the same area as the rest of the novel setting, so we added that to the map also!  We also located and identified Yellowstone National Park, because it is also a key location in the northwest corner of Wyoming.  If Yellowstone is new to your students, the Yellowstone Park Rangers do a distance learning program for students through Skype in the Classroom:  https://education.skype.com/projects/2237-yellowstone-national-park-rangers-can-skype-with-classrooms

Since we had already participated in that program, I needed a new Junior Ranger program for my students to complete related to this novel, and I found a great one through Shoshone National Forest.  The Forest Service offers a Junior Forest Ranger Badge program here:  http://na.fs.fed.us/ceredirect/jfr/.   The students complete the packet and send in the back page with an adult’s signature to demonstrate that they have completed the program.  They are awarded a patch and pin and get a membership card that allows them access to a special kid’s only online clubhouse.  The Forest Service also offers a Junior Snow Ranger Program that I am going to use with my guys to talk about winter safety in January:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/conservationeducation/smokey-woodsy/junior-rangers

Once we were finally ready to start reading the novel, we Skyped with Linda Fenton’s class.  I have never tried to simultaneously read and discuss a novel with another class, let alone another class in another state in another time zone… but it was really an amazing experience.  We did a mini-mystery activity by coming up with a list of ten questions to ask the other class, and then using the answers to determine what state we were virtually visiting.  Timing wise, it worked for us to Skype at the start of our Reading class which was at the end of Linda’s Reading class.  So during our first Skype, after determining their location, her students introduce the novel to us and helped pique our interest in reading.  In other Skype sessions throughout the next couple of weeks we discussed character traits for the main characters, shared our surprise at was happening, our feelings on the book vs. movie debate, and then finally shared our end of unit projects.  It was so cool to discuss the book with Linda and her class.  They had a different perspective on the novel and it was also neat for my kids to hear how different some things are between Wisconsin and Maryland!

Our Skype-Shared Brainstorming Chart

Our Skype-Shared Brainstorming Chart

Our final project, to tie together the race in the book, the Iditarod, the Wyoming Stage Stop Race, etc. was that each class designed a sled dog race for their state.  Linda had her kids begin their race in their hometown of Waupaca and then decide where to go to make a one hundred mile race.  They worked in partners to create a race course.  My kids worked as a whole class to create a race across the state of Maryland.  (We actually decided on a Northern Route and a Southern Route so we could visit Baltimore City and Washington, DC on alternating years!)  We decided to start on the Eastern Shore and end in the mountains of Western Maryland.  As a group we chose a series of towns to get us across the state and then they worked in partners to plan the checkpoints.  The partners used online travel sources to determine a great location for their checkpoint, decided what assistance they would be able to provide the teams, and explained all of their thinking.  We put the whole thing together in a Narrated Google Earth Tour, where we were able to fly over our race route and zoom into each checkpoint location and see the details that the boys had planned for each stop.  We quickly discovered there are A LOT of golf courses in Maryland and determined they would make great checkpoints because of the amenities available and the amount of open space for parking teams.

 

Socks for Monica!

Terrie Hanke, 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail ™, shared this tale with me:

I have a nice picture of Mitch Seavey changing into fresh Smart Wools at Elim in 2006.  There I was inside the fire house with Jasper Bond, Mark Nordman, Danny Davidson and Jeff Schultz.  Mitch came in with a fresh, still in the wrapper pair of those heavy duty red/gray ones.  After he ate the ham sandwich offered by Jasper, Mitch changed socks – you could see the pleasure on his face.

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Keeping your feet warm on the trail is an absolutely necessity and is one of the things that most concerns our adopted rookie musher, Monica Zappa.  We decided this was something we could help her out with!

We learned from Monica that the best types of socks to keep your feet warm on the Iditarod Trail are wool socks.  Here is a2013-11-12 08.39.58 little information for your kids about choosing the best socks:  http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/socks.html .  We did some research, did some math, and decided that we needed about $340 to be able to buy her a pair of socks for each checkpoint along the trail.  So our next task was to decide how we were going to earn the money. They boys brainstormed several ideas, and ultimately settled on creating Rainbow Loom bracelets and necklaces to sell.  After a pair of class representatives went to the Headmaster to gain approval, we spent about a month making product to sell and then one day before school in early November we had our sale.

We were a little hesitant about how the sale was going to turn out… lots of kids in school were making the bracelets for themselves.  We had done the math and pretty much decided we needed to sell every item we had to make our goal.  We just weren’t sure what to expect.

2013-11-12 08.45.02Well… we were blown away!  We sold every single item we had!  And then, we had younger students in the hallway crying because they didn’t get to buy one!  So the boys created an order sheet and started taking orders!  We ended up spending the entire rest of the day making and delivering the “to order” bracelets.  When all was said and done, we almost doubled our goal!  They kids were so excited!

We wrote to Monica with the amazing news and she picked out the socks she wanted – some Merino wool, some alpaca, some hand knit… and left the rest up to us!

Just before we left school on Winter Break, we packed up mini- drop bags for her for each checkpoint.  We filled a ziplock bagDSC_0472 for each checkpoint with a pair of socks, some hand and feet warmers, and a little note of encouragement!  We even sent her a check and she was able to purchase 250 booties for the four legged members of Team Zappa with the extra money!

We are so excited that a small part of us will be travelling down the trail with Monica this year!  Go Team Zappa!

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Tales from the Trail: Neither Rain, Sleet, Nor Snow The Mail Must Go

“Always striving to find ways to get the trail recognized, another idea was hatched at one of the many meetings.  The Iditarod Trail was a mail trail, so why not have each musher carry mail?  An arrangement was made with the U.S. Postal Service to carry cachets, packets of letters, over the Iditarod to Nome.  Joe [Redington, Sr.] asked his artist friend, Bill Divine, if he would design an Iditarod Trail Logo for the envelopes.  These would be postmarked in Anchorage and Nome and used as a fund-raising project.

At a prerace meeting this idea was presented to the mushers.  Surprisingly, it was met with some resistance.  There was already enough to do.  Carrying mail was too much to ask.  Joe did not react, he responded in a good way, and came up with a solution – ‘I’ll carry yours,’ was all he said.

‘He was one of a kind,’ said Norman.  ‘Joe had such a unique, easy way of looking at things.’

His positive attitude turned the whole negative thought around.  To have the U.S. Postal Service support the Iditarod Race added credibility, recognition, and needed funds.  And Devine’s logo became the official Iditarod logo.”

From:  Champion of Alaskan Huskies by: Katie Mangelsdorf

 

This summer I had the opportunity to be a member of the Teach it Forward Program with the Smithsonian American History Museum.  During the program, we learned strategies for teaching with objects as a way to get kids to relate to history.  Our challenge was to choose an object in the museum’s collection and develop a lesson around it.  I was really excited to join this program – and I had visions of getting to see and work with the Libby Riddles sled, and DeeDee Jonrowe’s humanitarian award and coat. I know that these objects are a part of the Smithsonian’s collection, as I had a chance to meet Jane Rogers, the curator of sports, last winter when she came to the Iditarod Conference for Educators to learn about the race and gather objects for an upcoming display.   You can read more about Jane and the upcoming exhibit here:    http://finalistsforteacheronthetrail.wordpress.com/jennifers-journal/monday-evening/

This second link includes an activity that challenges the students to decide what objects they would place in the Smithsonian’s exhibit.  http://finalistsforteacheronthetrail.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/libbys-sled/

But, it turns out the Iditarod objects are still in storage and not ready for display yet. I was disappointed, but in a way, it turned out to be a really cool disappointment because it forced me to get more creative and I discovered something really cool!

It turns out that the Smithsonian has a second sled it its collection, an Alaskan mail sled, which is housed in the National Postal Museum.

My next challenge was to tie that sled in to the Iditarod, which I was able to do.  The Iditarod Trail was originally a mail trail and the modern mushers honor that history by carrying mail cachets down the trail every year.

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So I was able to use several objects in the Smithsonian’s collection: a sled, some photographs, and stamps and pair them with some Iditarod Trail Race mail cachets as the basis for an inquiry based lesson.  The lesson allows students to discover the connection between the Iditarod Race and the Iditarod Trail as a historic trail.  They also discover the reason why mail cachets are one of the mandatory items carried down the trail by the racers. It was a fascinating process. I learned a lot!  Special thanks to authors Katie Mangelsdorf and Helen Hegener who graciously allowed me to use portions of their books with this lesson.

Here are all the materials needed for the lesson… Enjoy!

Smithsonian Sled Lesson

Mail Sled Lesson Materials

Warming Up the Pups!

We learned from our Skype with Denali National Park (Denali Skype) that one of the adaptations that sled dogs have that allow them to survive in the arctic is their fur. Sled dogs actually have two coats of fur. The under layer is thick and dense and helps to keep the dogs warm. The outer layer, or guard hairs, are longer and coarser and help to repel water.

But sometimes, even sled dogs like to curl up with a nice cozy blanket!

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For the past two years, school kids across the country have participated in a project to craft blankets to be used by dogs that are dropped at various checkpoints along the trail.  The project is a pretty easy one.  Basically, the kids just need to cut fleece into 3×3 foot squares and write a note or message on each one. The blankets get shipped to Iditarod Headquarters and then are sent out along the trail to be used during the race.

Last year I used the project as a Math Journal assignment.  The boys had to calculate how many feet of material we would need if we were going to make a certain number of blankets and then calculate how much money it would cost to purchase the fleece.  In the process, we learned that fabric is sold in yards, not feet, and how to covert inches to feet to yards.

This year, we decided to get our pre-first students involved with the project. They were so excited to get to help the dogs in a way that they could relate to.  Who doesn’t love to curl up with a warm fuzzy blanket on a cold, snowy night?

Denali Size Feet = too small!

Denali Size Feet = too small!

The third graders and I went down to the spacious pre-first room. We showed the boys some pictures of dogs curled up with students’ blankets from last year and presented them with the challenge…. the Iditarod Trail Committee asked for blankets measuring three feet by three feet. We told the little guys we weren’t sure what that meant, so we used our stuffed dog Denali, measured his feet and cut a blanket that was three Denali feet by three Denali feet. When we put the blanket on Denali, the pre-firsters were insistent it wasn’t big enough. So then we tried a third graders foot and made a blanket third grader foot by third grader foot… still not big enough. So we tried a Mrs. Reiter’s foot by Mrs. Reiter’s foot.  With all of this trial and error, I decided to turn things over to the kids.  Third graders led their little buddies in discussion to realize the need for standardized measurement.2013-12-18 16.12.30

After that, they were off and running… or should I say off measuring and cutting!  Because we had patterned fleece to work with, the boys made labels to be affixed to each blanket which they decorated and signed.

If you are interested in participating in this project, they are still looking for more donations.  You can email iditaroddogblankets@gmail.com  for more information.

Here are some sled dog with blanket pictures you can share with your students:

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Sled Dogs of Denali

One of the big parts of our Social Studies curriculum in third grade is the study of our National Parks as a subtopic of our study of Fifty States.   Alaska is the home to 15 national parks, preserves, monuments and historic parks.  The Park Service in Alaska also oversees 49 National Historic Landmarks and 16 National Natural Landmarks.  The Park Service is rich in resources that you can use in your classroom to help you and your students as you explore the vast, amazing state of Alaska.

In the past couple of weeks we have been lucky enough to Skype with park rangers from two national parks, Yellowstone and Denali. The Yellowstone Skype is a fantastic way to introduce the concept of National Parks and their importance in our world.  Skypes with a Yellowstone Ranger can be arranged through Skype in the Classroom:  Yellowstone Ranger

One tie into the Iditarod Race is Denali National Park which is home to the nation’s only team of sled dogs who actively patrol a national park.  Sled dogs have been crucial to Denali’s operations since its founding in 1917 to assist rangers in patrolling the backcountry of the park. After World War II, airplanes began to replace the dogs and due to budget cuts, the dogs completed their service in 1949.  But, by the 1970’s they were again being used.  Today they are crucial to the park as much of the park has been declared wilderness and therefore cannot be patrolled by motorized vehicle.

Today the dogs are a cultural resource that helps to preserve the historic and natural resources in Denali.  The teams average 3,000 miles a year on patrol and greet and interact with about 50,000 visitors to their kennels each summer.

denali sign

Denali offers an amazing Distance Learning program via Skype called The Science of Sled Dogs.  The rangers will teach the students about five adaptations sled dogs have that allow them to survive in the subarctic:  tongue, fur, foot pads, circulation, and tails.  The kids quickly discover that these characteristics are ones that mushers also look for in their sled dogs.  The rangers lead the kids through two mini science experiments so that the kids can get a strong grasp of the concepts.  They also teach them about the positions in the dog team and the qualities each team member needs to have to help the team succeed.  The program materials include lessons to use with the kids before and after the Skype session.

You can find more information about Denali’s Distance Learning Program here:  Denali Distance Learning

A great way to get your students involved in the National Parks is by challenging them to collect Junior Ranger Badges from various parks as they tie into your curriculum.  The Junior Ranger program is a program offered by the National Parks that awards students special badges or patches for learning about and protecting National Parks.  Many of the parks require students to be on site to complete the program, but some will allow students to complete the program through the mail or over the internet and will send badges to the school for the students.  During the course of a year, my class usually collects ten to twelve badges as class projects that tie directly into our curriculum, another nine or so as extra credit monthly at home challenges, and two in person on field trips!  We keep track of our accomplishments on a bulletin board and the boys are always anxious when a new badge arrives!

Here is a lesson plan that includes lots more information about Alaska’s National Parks and the programs they offer (including Junior Ranger Badges):  Alaska’s National Parks

Tracking the Weather

“How cold is it going to be in Alaska when you are there?” is the question I seem to be asked most often these days. I decidedthemometer to get my students started on the task of tracking the weather in Alaska and comparing it to what is going on here in Baltimore.  We are creating a line graph of the daily temperatures at the start, around the middle, and at the end of the trail and here in Baltimore.  Each morning two students use a weather app to check the daily high in Anchorage, Galena, Nome, and Baltimore and then add the data to our ongoing graph.  We also decided to add a snowflake stamp to the graph to show the days it snowed!  Unfortunately, we have no snowflakes on the Baltimore data line yet!

It’s a great way to introduce or review line graphs and has led to some super discussions about what the freezing point is, what it means to freeze, and what conditions have to be in play for it to snow.

Another of my favorite things to do with graphing is to have students create a story to go with a graph.  It’s a great twist to present students with a graph that shows data, but no labels or explanations and then to challenge them to tell a story to explain the data.  Here is a lesson plan you can use to have students create Iditarod themed stories to explain a line graph or a pictograph:  The Story Behind the Graph

As always, I’d love to include some student stories in the Student Tales section of the site!  So be sure to send me your awesome Iditarod graph stories!

Going North – The Rush Is On!

In September of 1898, the “Three Lucky Swedes” discovered gold on Anvil Creek, founded the Nome Mining District, and started a new rush to the North.  By 1898, Nome had a population of 10,000, many of whom had arrived for the Klondike Gold Rush.  When gold was discovered on the beaches of Nome, the rush was on and thousands more people poured into Nome.  By 1900 a tent city on the beaches reached for thirty miles from Cape Rodney to Cape Nome.

The Nome Gold Rush was different from other rushes due to the ease with which the gold could be obtained.  It was literally lying on the beaches!  Initially, the gold was gathered by panning.  Later in 1899 human powered slucies and rockers were employed.  By 1900 small machines with hoses and pumps were in place, and around 1902 big companies took over.  The mining season was short, claims could only be worked from June to October.

Nome City obviously still exists, and among other things, marks the end of the Iditarod Trail and the end of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.  The estimated total amount of gold recovered from the area is thought to be around 112 metric tons.

We have been having our own gold rush in 3A.  We have been learning about the Alaskan Gold Rush and even did our own gold panning simulation!  I picked a chilly day and filled our buckets with freezing cold water just to make it a little more authentic!  It was great dirty fun!  In fact, one of the parents shared with me that his son has decided to move to Alaska and search for enough gold to start a kennel to train for the Iditarod!

Lesson Plan:  Going for the Gold

Tales From the Trail: The Junior are Training Too!

The story goes that a group of five to seven kids started the Junior Iditarod because they were less then eighteen years old and therefore couldn’t compete in the main race.  The first race was held in 1978 and there were actually two divisions that year; a junior division for ages 11-14 and a senior division for ages 15-18.  Ever since that first race, there has been only one division for ages 14-17.  The first year the juniors ran a total of 36 miles while the seniors ran forty miles.  My students were especially interested to hear that the person with the most wins – three consecutive – is Tim Osmar!  They refer to him as Monica’s Tim (we have been following her training all year).  And that the red lantern that first year was won by a young woman named Barbara Ryan, whose married name is now Barbara Redington (daughter in law of the founder of the Iditarod Joe Redington, Sr.)! Their jaws just about dropped.

JR LogoWe wanted to get a little background information about the Junior Iditarod, so we used the Junior Iditarod official rules [2013 Rules] to compare the race to what we already know about the Iditarod.  In partners, they read the Junior Iditarod rules carefully and hightlighted everything they thought made the Junior race different than the main race.  We discussed their findings and summarized them on a chart.  They knew most of the answers to the questions about the Iditarod, but it was a good chance to clear up a few questions they still had.  I also had to fill in some of the missing blanks from other sources.

Blank Chart            Completed Chart

There were a few things that were still unclear about after reading the rules, so we consulted with two people in the know, Barbara Redington, who ran the first race, and Lacey Hart, who has completed the race and will be serving as Race Marshall this year.

From Redington and Hart we discovered that there really are two checkpoints in the race.  The kids will leave the starting line and in about fifty-five miles will reach Eagle Song Lodge.  This is a checkpoint where you can stop and drop dogs or speak to a veterinarian or race judge, if needed.  Most of the mushers won’t stop there for an extended period of time.  From there it’s about 20 miles to Yentna Station Roadhouse and the extended, mandatory rest stop.  They will also pass through Eagle Song again on the return trip.

Nicole at the Start of Her First Race!

Nicole at the Start of Her First Race!

We got the chance to interview Nicole Forto, the very first musher to sign up for the Junior Iditarod this year!  I tried to encourage the boys to find a new way to interview her… but our standard movie interview won out!  She sent us a great reply you can read below the video.

Nicole’s Response

You can learn more about Nicole and her family at Team Ineka here:  Team Ineka

We will be bringing you lots more news from the Junior Iditarod!  We have an interview set up with Lacey Hart to learn all about the job of a Race Marshall, and we’ll be checking in with Nicole monthly to see how things are going with her training!  Stay tuned!

MMM Starting Up!

When the weather turns colder and my kids start complaining about having to go outside for morning recess (yes, we need to have a talk about recess in Alaska in the winter), I know it’s time to start our MMM Challenges!  We are starting ours a bit early this year so they are completed by the time I leave for Alaska.  I figured this was above and beyond the call of duty for my sub!

MMM stands for Mathematical Morning Meal.  Each Monday the students are presented with a challenging math problem for them to work on for extra credit.  They take them home and have a week to try to come up with a solution.  On Friday morning during morning recess before school they are invited in to share their thinking and a doughnut while we go over the problem.

The problems are intentionally tough… I love to hear the kids talk about how their whole family discussed the problems at dinner or how a father thought one thing but the student had his own ideas.

My rule is that if they have given the problem an honest try, they can come to the breakfast.

This year the problems have an Iditarod twist!  I know… shocking right?

Even if you don’t want the students to do the problems at home, maybe they would make good problems of the day or week to hang in your room and discuss.

We had our first MMM this morning and half of my class joined in the discussion.  They all came up with essentially the same result with a few minor twists!

Enjoy!

MMM Iditarod Challenges

Skyping with Squid Acres

Just a quick comparison:

Baltimore time:  1:30pm    Squid Acre time:  9:30am

Baltimore temperature:  51⁰F    Squid Acre temperature:  0⁰

It’s a distance of 4, 152 miles away from us and would take us 2 days and 23 hours to drive there.

But with Skype, we could connect in a matter of minutes! 

Cody on Skype

Using Skype in the Classroom is an amazing way to bring the world to your doorstep and to take your class on field trips that would otherwise be impossible.

Last week we were lucky to Skype with Paige Drobny and Cody Strathe from Squid Acres Kennel.  Cody will be running the Yukon Quest this year and Paige will be running her second Iditarod.  It was 0⁰ at their kennel outside of Fairbanks, they were expecting a storm and hoping to get some snow, while we were sitting in our short sleeved shorts and watching the orange leaves blanket the playground.  It’s hard to believe how two places in the same country can be so very different!

Paige and Cody introduced to us to lead dog Scout, who very patiently allowed himself to be dressed in a harness, booties, and coat while my boys watched.  We looked carefully at his coat and paws to see how he has special adaptations that allow him to thrive in the Arctic environment.  We also got to see Paige get all dressed up in her gear.  We were so surprised how much bigger she looked once she was dressed to go mush!  We could barely recognize her!  She needs a lot of gear to stay warm on the trail. Cody showed us what was in his sled and some of the supplies he carries on the trail during his races.  We even got to see our buddy Scout join his team and lead them off out of the dog yard and out on a run!

It was a fantastic experience!  The boys were excited to see many of the things we talked about happen live and in person.

Squid Acres offers Skype lessons on several topics including Sled Dog Diets, Sled building,  Adaptations, and the Yukon Quest and Iditarod.  They are booked for this year, but be sure to check back with them next fall. You can see their Skype in Classroom lessons here:  Squid Acre Skypes

Check out their AMAZING website here:  Squid Acres Kennel. They have some great dog biographies and videos that you can share with your students.

We will be cheering them both on in their races this year!  We’ll especially be looking to see if Scout is in lead!

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The Great States Parade

“Fifty Nifty United States,

From thirteen original colonies,

Fifty nifty stars in the flag,

That billow so beautifully in the breeze,

Each individual state contributes a quality that is great….”

This song has been stuck in my head for nearly a month now as we have been working on our Fifty States unit.  If you don’t know it, here’s a link to a Youtube video.  LINK   The third graders at our school have to memorize the fifty states and be able to locate them on the map and most of my students also challenged themselves to learn the state capitals!

The final culminating activity was that after doing a research project on a state, each student created a float for their state for our Second Annual Parade of States on Friday.  We have 48 students in our third grade, so we missed two states, but the parade was still pretty impressive and we challenged the observers to identify the two missing states!  The floats had several requirements, they had to: fit on the student’s desk top, roll down the hall pulled by a string, and be carried up the stairs.  On the float the students had a list of information that had to be displayed:  flag, capital, national parks, geographic features, and more.

No one in my class was allowed to choose Alaska, much to their chagrin, but since we spend so much time learning about Alaska, it wouldn’t really be fair. The Alaska challenge instead was left to Brenner who did an AMAZING job with his float. So amazing, that I absolutely promised him I’d share it with you all…

So with no further ado….here’s Brenner’s Alaskan Husky shaped state float!

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Balto Lives WHERE?

Did you know that Balto currently resides in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History?

After the famous Serum Run, Balto quickly achieved hero status and traveled all over North America.  Eventually Balto and his teammates were sold to a vaudeville show owner in California where they were mistreated.  George Kimble, a businessman from Cleveland discovered the dogs living in squalor and organized his hometown to save the dogs.  They were moved to the Cleveland Zoo where they were well loved for the rest of their days.  Today, Balto’s preserved body is on permanent display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History… and in fact… a new display is being planned around Balto as we speak!

While there isn’t an Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race tie to Balto directly, there is definitely an Iditarod Historic Trail tie in… and it’s a wonderful story to boot!  Contrary to popular belief, the Iditarod race was never meant to commemorate the Serum Run of 1925 where the lifesaving diphtheria serum was carried to Nome by dog sled.  Joe Redington, Sr.  founded the race to both commemorate the Iditarod Historic Trail and to save the sled dogs who were being systematically replaced by snowmachines.

Still, the Serum Run is a part of Iditarod Trail History and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has a wonderful distance learning program developed around Balto!  I introduced the story of the Serum Run to my boys with the book The Great Serum Race:  Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie S. Miller.  This book has amazingly beautiful pictures by Official Iditarod artist, Jon Van Zyle.  We also talked about the idea that many people believe the Iditarod race is based on this historic event, but we reviewed Joe Redington, Sr.’s real motivation for starting the race – preserving the huskies and the historic trail.

On our assigned day and time, we connected with the museum where our guest teacher Lee Gambol led us through the program.  We learned so much more than just the story of the Serum Run and how Balto ended up in Cleveland.  We learned about the difficulties the mushers faced, we learned about the art of taxidermy (Did you realize they take the animal’s skin off and put it over a sculpture of the animal?  I’m not sure what I thought happened, but that wasn’t it!), we learned about Balto’s life after the event, and some history of the time period.  It was fascinating for the students AND the teachers!

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When you make arrangements for your “trip” to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History they send you a big blue kit full of hands on materials to share with the kids.  The kit includes modern day attire (snowsuit, boots, gloves, hat) so that they can compare them to historic photos of the Serum Run mushers, a husky skull so that the students can look at the teeth to learn what kind of eaters the dogs are, booties and harnesses.  One of the harnesses is even people sized so that the kids can try it on and see what it feels like to pull!  It was great for showing the boys where the dogs feel the pull of the weight of the sled in their bodies.

We followed up the program just with a class discussion about Balto, but you could easily follow it up with a more in depth study or a writing assignment.  My kids are still convinced that Togo got the raw end of the fame deal! Togo by Roger J. Blake is a great book to share for Togo’s story.   We also had a fascinating discussion of the Disney movie Balto and why so much was changed for the movie.  Just look at the pictures The Real Balto (picture link) and the Disney Balto (picture link).  The biggest change as far as the boys were concerned was that Balto actually never had any offspring. He was “fixed” early on because he wasn’t viewed to be a great enough dog to breed!

You can find more information or book your Distance Learning Trip here:  http://www.cmnh.org/site/ClassesandPrograms/SchoolPrograms/AtYourSchool/DistanceLearning/CMNH.aspx

Tales from the Trail: Ghosts of the Trail

“… make sure you leave something (such as food) for the Old Woman when you leave.  You don’t want her ghost chasing you to Nome and throwing bad luck your way.”  From Don Bower’s Trail Notes  http://iditarod.com/about/the-iditarod-trail/

2013-06-26 11.42.03So much of the Iditarod Trail is the history.  With that history come the stories of the people of the trail and of the people who have perhaps never left the trail.  Mushers tell stories of seeing other mushers and teams dressed in old clothing and hearing cheers along the trail.  In addition to the actual ghost towns the trail passes through like Ophir and Iditarod, are the stories of the ghost of the Old Woman on the trail between Kaltag and Unalakleet.

There are versions of the Old Woman legend according to an article published in the Alaska Dispatch (http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/ghosts-alaskas-iditarod-trail).   One version tells of a woman who died in an avalanche as a result of a curse for doing men’s work on a mountain used by men as a hunting lookout.  Another version says that the woman and her husband were trappers who lived in the area long ago and were caught in an avalanche. The woman was buried and her husband, refusing to leave her, eventually died on the mountain as well.

One of my favorite things to do at this time of year when I taught fifth grade was to challenge the boys to write ghost stories that were set along the trail.  They could set them in one of the Gold Rush turned Ghost Towns found on the trail or along a lonely section of the trail like where the Old Woman cabin is found between Kaltag and Unalakleet.

I would love to share some of your students’ stories in the Student Tales section of the website!

Ghosts of the Trail

Mini – Mushers

Denali Ready to Greet the Kids

Denali Ready to Greet the Kids

Today my son and I introduced a whole new generation of Baltimore kids to mushing and the Iditarod at a toddler play date that our school was involved in.  The kids had great fun standing on the runners of the sled, trying on the headlamp, playing with all the stuffed dogs, and yelling command to Denali – the one and only dog on the team!

Pattern Making

Pattern Making

They did a bit of math as well.  Kids of all ages had a lot of fun stamping patterns with colored paw print stampers.  Alternating color patterns were by far the favorite (as was skipping the whole pattern idea all together in favor of just having fun stamping!) but a few kids did more complicated patterns.  One little girl even patterned the directions the paw prints were facing which was really clever.

The older kids did a great job with ordering numbers of dogs in front of a model sled.  It was super easy to set up, I just cut out sixteen sled dogs from the Jan Brett site and wrote the numbers from one to sixteen on them so that the kids could lay out a whole team.  It has been a long time since I’ve worked with little, little kids – so it was fascinating to watch.

Sequencing Numbers

Sequencing Numbers

My son, who is now in second grade, did it by counting backwards from sixteen so that he could put the last ones right in the wheel dog position.  The younger kids started with one and counted forward, so they had to keep moving the sled backwards.  It struck me that you could even use the same activity to count odd and even numbers forwards or backwards so that you’d end up with one line of odd numbered dogs and one in of even number dogs.  It was neat to see the kids process the numbers. Some could put them right in order and some had to go back and count from one every time to determine what number came next.  They were both really great activities to get an idea of where the kids are with their number sense.

It was a fun day… and maybe those of you who teach younger kids can use some of the ideas in your classes!

I got the Jan Brett dogs here:  http://janbrett.com/mural_tsb/mural_tsb_sled_dog_facing.htm

And the paw print stampers here:  http://www.orientaltrading.com/paw-stampers-a2-12_3660-12-1.fltr?Ntt=paw%20print%20stampers