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.

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Scaling Up the Trail Lesson Plan

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!

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:

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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!

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/

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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Cooling Down

Alaska is having super hot temperatures this summer.  Everyone keeps commenting about how hot it is and there is a big concern about possible wildfires.  As you can imagine, sled dogs would much rather have it be cold than hot…. so how do sled dogs cool off when it’s hot?  Well, in addition to their  natural adaptions, some have swimming pools!

The teachers and I were blessed to be able to visit Jon and Jona Van Zyle’s kennel, home, and art studio last evening.  In addition to being an Iditarod finisher, Jon is the official Iditarod Artist, a painter, and book illustrator.  Jona is an artist as well, specializing in amazing textile and beaded items.  We were fortunate enough to see some of the projects Jon has in progress including a new painting and a series of illustrations for a new picture book.

This is the third picture book he has done this year!  I asked him to explain that process a bit.  He says that a publisher will send him a manuscript.  He reads it over and if, while he is reading, he sees pictures in his mind, he will agree to do the project.  He prints out the manuscript and starts thinking about where the pages should be divided based on the pictures he is visualizing.  He divides the pages and then, perhaps, makes a note or two at that point.  The next step is to create a mock up of the way the book will look.  He makes rough sketches of the pictures and decides if the paintings will take up one page or two and where the text will be.  These sketches are really rough, with very little detail.  Jon explained that he does it this way because he really only wants to do each of his paintings one time, as he needs the ideas to be fresh as he paints.  The final paintings are then shipped off to the publisher.  I also tried to get a sneak peek or insight into what this year’s Iditarod poster and print will be… but I was not successful!

The Van Zyle’s home is essentially a work of art itself… Jon built it himself, and every nook and cranny is filled with keepsakes and treasures, each of which comes with its own story as you can imagine!

The kennel is essentially heaven on earth for the ten huskies living in the kennel.  They have a multilevel play area, beach umbrellas for shade, swimming pools to frolic in, and a large exercise wheel for when they feel like doing some training!  Not a bad place to try to beat the heat!

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Use Your Fingers

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DSC_1410Here is a cute, easy project for elementary students.  These dog teams were made using thumb and index fingerprints.  The sled is clip art.  Students added legs, facial features, and a gangline.  The idea for this piece of artwork was created by my friend and colleague, Missy Durrant.  Students in her class each made one and they decorated their door with the finished products.  Teachers in my school are coming up with so many clever ideas to celebrate the Iditarod.  More ideas on the way.

Triangle Poem

A Triangle Poem is a quick, easy poem students of any age can do.  The first line of the poem states the subject and an action.  Line two describes the action and the third line tellsDSC_1393 where the action takes place.  Ava’s poem in the picture is about the dogs on the Iditarod trail, while Gabe’s poem in the video is about the mushers.  Any topic can be used.  The third grade sentences are fairly simple, but older students can add more detail.  Have fun with the poem!  Triangle Poem

On another note, WBAY Channel 2 out of Green Bay, Wisconsin recently visited my classroom for an interview.  Here is the link to the piece they put together.

http://www.wbay.com/story/21078412/2013/02/07/teacher-traveling-to-alaska-for-special-honor-with-iditarod 

My students were so excited.  One of them said, “I was so nervous I was sweating the whole time.”  Students in my class were quiet and cooperative while the reporter and cameraman were in the room.  Thanks students and thanks WBAY!

Aurora Borealis

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I love it when on that rare occasion I start a project with my class, finish it, and actually get a bulletin board up on the same day.  That happened Friday with my DSC_1067lesson on the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.  Explaining the Aurora can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.  There are several websites in the Lesson Plan with explanations of how they appear in the night sky.  Students loved the art project that went with the lesson and we have chalk handprints on dark surfaces around the classroom to prove it.  I found the art project portion of the lesson on the Iditarod website years ago.  I don’t have the name of the creator, but thank you.    Aurora Borealis

In Wisconsin we have an occasional glimpse of the Aurora Borealis in the night sky.  I’m looking forward to many things during my time on the Iditarod Trail and something on the top of my list is to experience the Northern Lights in Alaska.  Hopefully the sun and sky will cooperate.

It All Starts as a Rookie

The champions of the Iditarod are true icons.  They embody the enormous accomplishment that we aspire to within our own individual passions.  We look at them and we see success.  Although these amazing examples inspire us, we often feel very small around them, as though we could never do what they do because, after all, we are only human, right?

It is for that reason that I find the rookies so very interesting.  Iditarod rookies are mushers that have not yet completed the Iditarod and crossed under the arch in Nome.  I find I can relate to them more easily.  I watch carefully each step they take toward their successes and think to myself – that’s doable, not easy, but doable.

There are 12 rookies signed up so far this year and as the school term progresses you will be able to learn about them and their hopes and dreams by going to http://iditarodblogs.com/teachers/category/news-for-classrooms/rookie-mushers/

I have a new inspirational partner of my own this year.  His name, oddly enough, is Rookie and he is a sled dog that appears on my easel every morning.  My job is to work with him until I can draw him quickly and easily (under a minute) to introduce him to the students I meet along my trail.  Rookie helps me see things with an accurate and positive perspective. He reminds me every morning that there isn’t much I can’t do if I put my mind to it.  So far he has gotten me back out on the pre-dawn running road four out of five mornings this week.

We are all really rookies at something.  This month I offer you the beginning of Rookie’s development, (please feel free to offer suggestions).  I also offer three lessons you may wish to include this year.  They all involve imagining a goal and planning for it, which is where all rookies start on the road to success.

The first lesson is “Safety First” and can be adjusted to any grade level.  We begin with a reading of Rivers, Diary of a Blind Alaska Sled Dog by Mike Dillingham showing us how his musher prepares a place and life for him that helps to keep him safe and on the trail. safety first

The second lesson is “Tracking the Musher.”  This activity may seem a little premature in the heat of late summer, but some video of the race itself may inform the students about the enormous complexity and overall scope of information generated by the race and is a slightly less overwhelming planning exercise than the planning of volunteer placement and supply drops that we will look at later.  It is never too soon to start planning how we will keep track of the grand movement that is the Iditarod.Tracking the musher

The third lesson I call “Imagine the Possibilities.”  Norman Vaughn, explorer and WWII hero was an Iditarod rookie at 83 years of age.  His story is in Iditarod Classics by Lew Freedman (available on line from Iditarod.com).  Many of the stories would be great jumping off places for a discussion of dreaming big and making the choices necessary to achieve a goal but Norman’s is my favorite. Imagine the possibilities – lesson plan

I hope you find one of my lessons this month that works for you and as always feel free to email me with reactions, suggestions and new ideas.

Staying on the trail with Rookie,

Blynne

Finding What Works in the Classroom 2.24.11

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

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

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

http://www.tltguide.ccsd.k12.co.us/instructional_tools/Strategies/Strategies.html

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

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

Iditarod Inspired Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

September Ideas for Your Sled

 It’s after Labor Day and we’re all back in school. I hope you’ve found ways to use the clipart and bookmarks in your classrooms or you have plans to use them during the year.

I‘ve had another remarkable Iditarod experience since school began that I’ll share with you. About two weeks ago, my classroom phone rang, and the caller was a parent of a student at another school in my school system. She had read an article about me in my position as the Target® 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ in a school system publication and was excited to contact me about her family’s history of racing Siberian huskies when they lived in Iowa. The most wonderful part of the call, though, was finding out they were selling a dog sled, only 20 minutes away from me! Last Saturday I picked up my “new” old sled, harnesses, and a gangline as well as some great stories of their dogs and running dog days. And, I got a super lead on the sled’s  history which I’m working to confirm.

Iditarod has provided unexpected opportunities for me over the years; where I least expect a connection, there is one. Who would have thought that in Cabarrus (say kuh bear us) County, North Carolina I’d have a chance to buy a dog sled with some really remarkable history connected to Alaska? It’s like going on a treasure hunt. I bet that you will have remarkable experiences in your classrooms when you use Iditarod as a teaching tool, too.

Here are some lesson ideas my sled generated. I can’t wait to hear about the activities and results you get when you try these.

  1. Use the photo of the sled next to the Toyota Prius as a writing prompt.  Compare and contrast the two types of transportation, their size, their purpose, their use, where they are used; create an analogy between the dogpowered transportation and the mechanical energy saving transportation; write a dialogue between the sled and the car; choose either the sled or the car and write about why it is a superior form of transportation; write about what you can do with the sled that you can’t do with the car.
  2. Write a story from the sled’s point of view.
  3. Write about a race the sled was in.
  4. Persuade someone to buy this sled with an illustrated advertisement.
  5. Build your own small scale sled using popsicle sticks.
  6. Use a computer program to design your sled.
  7. Create an illustration of the sled and team using an art technique such as mosaic, pencil, or collage.
  8. Write a fable about the sled and the car. (This reminds me of The Tortoise and the Hare fable.)

Mushing on,

Martha