And So It Begins…

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Google Earth cameras

Google Earth cameras

At 10:00 a.m., Rob Cooke pulled his hook at the starting the line and the 2015 Iditarod was officially underway. Every 2-minutes mushers and their dogs began their long journey to Nome. The last team to leave Fairbanks was an unofficial team. Dean Osmar, 1984 Iditarod champion, is escorting a Google Earth representative along part of the trail. The Google Earth rep will drive a tag sled behind Dean along the trail.

Bright and early this morning mushers began pulling their dog trucks and filling the dog lot. Mushers began prepping their teams for the long journey across Alaska. Checking and double checking sleds to make sure everything is in place. Every musher and every dog does their own thing while they are waiting for their starting time. Some mushers just relax, sit and wait. Others spend time loving on their dogs. I even saw one musher, Matthew Failor, brushing his teeth. There are dogs that spend time relaxing in the truck or relaxing outside. Some dogs are taking last-minute naps before heading down the trail. Most dogs are energetically screaming, howling, and jumping up and down trying to pull the sled from the truck.

Alan Stevens leaving Fairbanks

Alan Stevens leaving Fairbanks

As their starting time neared, teams started hooking up and were directed to the chute. The announcer was introducing the mushers and giving a countdown; 1-minute, 30-seconds, 10 seconds, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go! Off they went to Nenana. Nenana is the first checkpoint on the trail, a 60-mile run, and about a 5-7 hour run. Nenana is an unusual checkpoint for the Iditarod. There are no checkpoints on the road system on the original trail. Due to lack of snow and poor trail conditions, the trail was moved to start in Fairbanks for the second time in 43 years. Since Nenana is on the road system, drop bags weren’t sent here. Instead, handlers were able to drive out and deliver supplies to the mushers. Another effect of being on the road system was more family and friends of the mushers made the trip to cheer them on.

Martin Buser was the first musher to arrive in Nenana at 3:03 p.m. He parked for about 20 minutes. Teams continued to arrive through the late evening. Some teams went through the checkpoint because they camped out or took long breaks along the way. Other teams took their break at the checkpoint. When teams started arriving in Nenana they reported to the checker and recorded their time in. Teams were then led to a spot to park their teams. Now began the process of doing their chores. Straw was put down for the dogs, booties were taken off, food was cooked for the dogs, and the vets made their rounds.

Dee Dee Jonrowe's dogs sleeping

Dee Dee Jonrowe’s dogs sleeping

Inside the checkpoint mushers found spots to dry their clothes and boots next to a warm and toasty fire. They also worked their way to the food table. A delicious spread of spaghetti, soup, hot dogs, fresh salads, chips, and drinks were available to mushers and volunteers. Along the walls of the community center were benches covered with a carpet material. After doing their chores and eating a warm meal, most mushers took advantage of a the benches and took a nap. About an hour or so before they plan to leave they will wake and head back outside to do more chores before they leave. They will need to put their cold weather gear back on, put booties on the dogs, and hook their dogs up. Oh yeah, most will be doing this in the dark with their headlamps.

Next checkpoint for the mushers is Manly Hot Springs.

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

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/