Why Calories are Important

"The journey has to be based on passion. Put yourself in something you love to do. If you love what you do you're able to dedicate yourself, overcome obstacles." - Rickson Gracie

“The journey has to be based on passion. Put yourself in something you love to do. If you love what you do you’re able to dedicate yourself, overcome obstacles.” – Rickson Gracie

Many people record and track the number of calories they consume daily since an increasing amount of tools and apps have become available. It seems like everyone knows the exact number of calories they should consume and burn per day.  Why are they tracking calories?  Why are calories important to your body?  Through this lesson, my students discovered how important calories really are.

I posed a number of questions for my students to ponder. What is a calorie? How many calories do you consume? How many are you supposed to consume? How many calories does an Olympic swimmer consume? How many calories does an Iditarod sled dog consume? The objective of this lesson was for students to compare their caloric intake to that of an Olympic athlete and Iditarod sled dog. The results were very interesting.

This lesson required students to reflect about what they eat and drink during a day along with any exercise achieved. We started out by discussing what a calorie is and the importance of calories. A calorie is a unit of energy.  Any physical activity requires a great deal of energy. Our body, and a sled dog’s body, needs energy to build and keep muscle. The students were to keep this in mind as they were working on the activity.

After calculating the amount of calories they think a person their age should consume during a day they went online to find out. They were fairly accurate. Next, it was time for them to really reflect on their health. We used an app called Diet Diary to record an entire day’s worth of eating and drinking. The students also recorded any exercise they completed. The idea behind this is to notice how many calories they truly consume along with how many they burn.

The task for the students was to create a Prezi, highlighting the differences in caloric intake between themselves, their Olympic athlete of choice, and an Iditarod sled dog. Additionally, they would be sharing their favorite food and how much of that item it would take to reach the amount of calories each person/dog needed.

Vern Halter's (Dream a Dream Dog Farm) dogs taking a snack and water break on a summer tour run.

Vern Halter’s (Dream a Dream Dog Farm) dogs taking a snack and water break on a summer tour run.

The dogs are ready to get back at it.

The dogs are ready to get back at it.

Reflecting afterwards we saw some interesting data.  Some kids consumed over 4,000 calories/day.  Others consumed less than 2,000.  Some Olympic athletes only needed to consume 3,000 calories/day, while others need to consume over 10,000, depending on their sport.  Iditarod sled dogs need to consume approximately 10,000 calories/day, too.  Our discussion led us to why it is necessary for some to consume so many calories.  We  reviewed what a calorie is again and how much energy is required for certain sports. It was very fascinating listening to all the conversations as they found out how much certain athletes “get” to eat while performing.

Why calories are important lesson plan

Student sheet for calories

Caloric intake chart

Caloric intake chart source:


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…


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!

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!

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

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!

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!

Hello Texas!

DSC_2031The 2013 Winter Conference for Educators is now officially underway.  Teachers and presenters are gathered here from Alaska and the Lower 48 states.  New for the conference this year is presenter Barbara Cargill who is the chair of the State Board of Education in Texas.  Barbara is committed to Science curriculum in her state, and what better way to incorporate Science but by using the Iditarod.

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 2.37.01 PM

Temperature in Alaska on Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 2:45 PM

So Texas students, let’s do a quick weather comparison.  Right now in Anchorage, Alaska the temperature is 36  degrees.  In Nome it is -10 degrees.  Let’s get some comparisons.  What is the temperature in Texas?  What is the difference?  Please let me know at emailtheteacher@iditarod.com.

How about other states?  A great activity is to track the weather in your town and a checkpoint during the race.  Make a graph to show your comparisons.  No matter where you are – I hope you are having good weather.

4 Forces of Flight

DSC_0768I’m looking forward to so many things with my upcoming adventure:  Talking with mushers, presenting to schools in Alaska, seeing the dogs and on and on.  Another top thing on my list is flying with the Iditarod Air Force.  In a previous blog, I shared a simple lesson on surface area.  Attached here are a few more lessons covering the 4 forces of flight – lift, weight, thrust and drag.  Students made the discovery that Dogsleds use 3 of the 4 forces while racing – see if your students can also figure it out :-).

DSC_0769Once again, you can get as complicated as you want with the lessons depending on how how deep you want to go in the classroom with your students.  Using flight in the classroom, like the Iditarod, is a great motivator.  Enjoy!

Parachutes & Drag

Wing Shape & Lift

Air Pressure & Lift

Illuminations Rescue Mission Game

Illuminations Rescue Mission Game.2

Illuminations Rescue Mission Game.3

Senses of Snow


Students from Wisconsin and the northern states that have snow, know snow.  But until we talked about the physical properties of snow, they took it for granted as simply snow.  Snow can be very different.  The snow I chose for our investigation in a recent Science lesson on matter was light, fluffy snow.  The snow on the ground right now (in this -35 degree F weather) resembles ice chunks.  It is said that Eskimos have 50 words for snow – this has been disputed as urban legend, but then came this recent article from the Washington Post titled “There Really Are 50 Eskimo Words For Snow“.  Personally, I can see how there can be 50 or more words for snow because of all the differences.

DSC_1119Senses of Snow  The lesson has to do with describing snow using the 5 senses.  Middle School and High School students could do research on the 50 words for snow.  Whether there are 50 words for snow or just one, I have three words – bring it on.

Flying With The Iditarod Air Force

When some people think of me being the Teacher on the Trail, they think of me on a dog sled racing along.  Now I have an adventurous spirit – but not that adventurous.  I will actually be flying to different checkpoints along the trail with the Iditarod Air Force, a group of pilot volunteers who help make the race happen.  According to front_page2the IAF Statistics Page on their website, “Our 31 volunteer pilots collectively bring 743 years and 420,000 hours of flying experience to the table.  Click on the picture at the left to check out their website for more stats, information and beautiful pictures.  I’m very excited about flying with this group of dedicated volunteers in remote Alaska and know I’ll be in good hands.

In my school district, part of the 3rd grade Science Curriculum is Flight.  Third Graders learn the history and science of flight in a comprehensive unit.  We are fortunate to live near Oshkosh, Wisconsin and the home of the Experimental Aircraft Association Museum and yearly fly-in.  Our unit culminates in a field trip to the museum – a highlight of our Third Grade year.  Many of the flight lessons I will be sharing originate from their Education Department.

One of our first activities is to learn about surface area.  I’ve attached a simple lesson plan that teaches the concept of gliding and dropping.  It’s time to Take Flight!  Surface Area

Aurora Borealis


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.

What’s Up With the Weather?

I was looking for results for the Top Of The World 350 – Lance Mackey won by the way – and came across an article from the Alaska Dispatch about the Knik 200 being cancelled due to weather.  http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/knik-200-becomes-latest-sled-dog-race-bite-dust

mushOur friend, Angie Taggart, has been training with a sled instead of a 4-wheeler so I thought the snow was fine.  Apparently it has still been unseasonably warm in some areas and they are trying to work around melting, mushy snow.


My class has been tracking the weather in Nome, but I guess it’s time to track in other places and make comparisons.

Last year my students compared the weather in Anchorage with the weather in Waupaca.  Attached is a lesson plan for comparing temperature, as well as a short video of some of the results from their comparisons last year.  Let it snow!!

What’s The Temperature

Dog Traits

I have this mantra about lesson plans – steal . . . ahem . . . borrow and tweak.  This lesson is an example of my mantra.  At the Winter Conference for Educators last year, Sid Lucas, a High School teacher from Kiel, Wisconsin, presented a lesson about genetics.  Seeing the value of the lesson and realizing it was too advanced for 3rd graders, I stole . . . ahem . . . borrowed Sid’s lesson and tweaked it for 8 year olds.  In class, we discussed the traits of sled dogs as we looked through the book Dogs of the Iditarod by Jeff Schultz.  The next step was creating our own sled dog.

With the shake of the dice, students had a 50/50 chance of getting a male or female dog.  After that the odds changed for different traits.  Once they had their traits and shaded in the Trait Wheel, we compared dogs.  Were there any dogs exactly the same?  Exactly opposite?  It was a fun discussion.  Next their creative juices kicked in.  They had to draw their dogs with the traits they had.  It was a great activity and, without realizing it, students learned many things about the traits of sled dogs.

Dog Traits Lesson Plan

Also look for Sid Lucas’s lesson in the Science section at Iditarod.com.  It’s not posted yet, but will be there soon.

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.


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.     

Something to Do While You Follow Me!

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

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

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

 Fahrenheit to Celsius  

    Celsius to Fahrenheit  


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

Mushing on,


Iditarod is Coming! Fill Your Sled Now!

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

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

  •  Proper cold weather sleeping bag weighing a minimum of 5 lbs.
  • Ax, to weigh a minimum of 1-3/4 lbs., handle to be at least 22” long.
  • One operational pair of snowshoes with bindings, each snowshoe to be at least 252 square inches in size.
  • Any promotional material provided by the ITC.
  • Eight booties for each dog in the sled or in use.
  • One operational cooker and pot capable of boiling at least three (3) gallons of water at one time.
  • Veterinarian notebook, to be presented to the veterinarian at each checkpoint.
  • An adequate amount of fuel to bring three (3) gallons of water to a boil.
  • Cable gang line or cable tie out capable of securing dog team.
  • When leaving a checkpoint adequate emergency dog food must be on the sled. (This will be carried in addition to what you carry for routine feeding and snacking.)
  • http://iditarod.com/pdfs/2011/rules.pdf

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

Who was Gin Gin?
The Gin Gin 200 is named after a remarkable dog who dominated a dog kennel for over 10 years. She was an inspiration both on the trail and in the dog yard. She was a dog with unswerving loyalty and stubbornness. She did not know” quit”. Her ability, drive and attitude should serve as an example to dog drivers everywhere.  http://www.gingin200.com/ accessed 1.1.11

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

  • Start now visiting www.iditarod.com and  http://iditarodblogs.com/teachers/ , the For Teachers section of that site for ideas to use. There is an exciting lesson plan idea using the Blabberize website on the For Teachers section. http://iditarodblogs.com/teachers/
  • Read Zuma’s Paw Prints at the For Teachers page. Zuma and other K-9 reporters give you information about the race. http://iditarodblogs.com/teachers/
  • Adopt a musher(s) and use this form to chart his/her race progress. http://iditarod.com/pdfs/teacher/MusherDataSheets.pdf Scroll down to find the southern route chart. The southern route is run in odd-numbered years. The race data is free and is found on www.iditarod.com.
  • Create a race route map along your classroom’s walls or down your hallway and move your adopted musher(s) along the map. This link takes you to the race map and access to a list of the mileage between each checkpoint for the southern and northern race routes. http://iditarodblogs.com/teachers/2009/11/21/maps-of-the-iditarod-trail/
  •  Teach a novel or read books about the race or related topics. Find books to choose from on these lists.  http://iditarodblogs.com/teachers/iditarod-books/
  • Math problems for elementary and middle school are in December’s posting on this site.
  • Teach students to convert the 24 hour clock time, used to report race times, to 12 hour clock times. Great mental exercise!
  • Temperature charting, wind chill calculation, converting temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius and back again. (See my posting on this site titled Something to Do While You Follow Me! for details)
  • Watch the free Iditarod Insider videos or sign up for this special video view of the race. You and your class can see what’s happening in the race via these clips. http://insider.iditarod.com/

Mushing on,



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

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

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

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

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

Mushing on,


More Lessons & Ideas to Fill Your Sled!

August is upon us, and we teachers know the clock is ticking towards that first day of school. In July, I posted clip art to help you with bulletin boards, room decorations, and more. You got a great start with reading Big-Enough Anna by Pam Flowers, too. The lessons this month will show you how to apply an article in almost any subject and how to take a seemingly unrelated lesson and use it in your subject area. The first lesson, Using The Story of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, takes an article from The Learning Works, Inc. and shows you how to use it not only for reading and language arts, but for subjects such as science and history, and that it can be used with all ages, including adults. I use the article to introduce the race and its history to my classes each year, and I share it with adults and staff as a quick way to familiarize them with the race. Here are two sets of questions to use with the article, too. One focuses on reading for detail, and the other set is multiple choice informational text questions.

The second lesson is a physical education lesson plan by Terrie Hanke, the Wells Fargo 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, and shows how I adapted it for my English/language arts classes several years ago. This scavenger hunt got us running around outdoors, but it also taught cooperation and problem solving. We put the checkpoint names on the cards under the cones for student teams to find. When we finished the physical education part of the lesson, students wrote a summary of the activity’s procedures and an evaluation of the successes and challenges of the activity. The writing portion of the activity was completed over several days. One modification I made to Terrie’s lesson was to only have one team running the hunt at a time. We played our scavenger, or checkpoint, hunt outdoors on the softball field’s outfield to avoid conflict with PE classes in the gym or on other fields. This hunt is also a good way for students to become familiar with the names of the race’s checkpoints. Younger students can focus on writing directions for playing the activity. Secondary students should write clear, varied sentences with correct mechanics and show insight regarding the activity in their writings.

The photo of Togo was taken at the Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla, Alaska. He is “stuffed”, having been preserved by a taxidermist. The statue of Balto is also at headquarters. It is identical to the one in New York’s Central Park. Read the article The Story of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to find out more about these dogs.

Fill your sled this year with your variations on my plans. Let us know what you do and how you do it!

Mushing on,


Lessons From Herb Brambley

(Under construction.  Links to be added soon.)

Lesson 1: Introduction to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race; Grades 2-8; Geography, Social Studies, and Science; This lesson introduces how climate relates to lifestyle and culture.

Lesson 2: The Alaskan Husky; Grades 4-8; Technology, Science; This lesson uses computer skills such as cutting, pasting, and saving a Word document as a vehicle to learn the unique characteristics of the Alaskan Husky. 

Lesson 3: Making Electricity from the Sun; Grades 4-12; Science, Technology, Geography, Environmental Education; In this hands on lesson students see how the angle of a solar panel in relationship to the sun’s rays directly effects voltage output.  The Internet is used to research the average hours of sunlight per day for locations across the globe.    

Lesson 4: Wilderness Survival; Grades 4-8; Social Studies, Environmental Education; Students actually build a debris shelter(or model) as they study the hierarchy of survival priorities.  Read Iditarod stories of survival from the book More Iditarod Classics.

Lesson 5:The Reason for the Seasons; Grades 2 -6;  Science, Environmental Education; Students learn about the tilt of the earth and the angle of incidents of the sun’s rays and explain the causes of seasonal change.

Lesson 6: Are We There Yet; Grades 5-12; Technology, Geography; Find out how far it is from your house to Alaska and how long it will take to get there driving, walking, or using public transportation.

Lesson 7: Why is Iditarod a Ghost Town ; Grades 4-12; Environmental Education, Social Studies; Students determine the best place to locate a village by evaluating several locations for available water resources, type of soil, signs of wildlife, and ease of travel.

Lesson 8: The Cold Hard Facts; Grades 4 and above; Technology, Science, Math;In this lesson students use an Excel spreadsheet to record temperature data from their local area and a location in Alaska.  They also use the graphing capability of Excel to create a graph that compares the 2 locations.