Testing Your Iditarod I.Q. With STEM


Checking our Iditarod quiz answers using STEM and circuits

The 2016 Iditarod class has been learning about informational text and graphic features in my language arts class.  We used the Scholastic book Mush! Sled Dogs of the Iditarod by Joe Funk and the Iditarod.com site to help us learn all about the history and fascinating trivia and facts of the Last Great Race on Earth®.

Each student put their STEM knowledge of circuitry to good use and created an “Iditaquiz” from their research to test the Iditarod knowledge of others.  Heavy duty aluminum foil, wires, a D cell battery, and a small light bulb were used to check the answers, called a “light-right.”


Creating and sharing our Iditarod knowledge

We have learned that even store-bought foil is a conductor of energy, and it will create a simple, closed circuit.  A hole is made in the paper, with aluminum foil underneath it, which then acts as the conductor.

Regular masking tape was used to cover each piece of foil that connected the correct answer to the question, which insulated the “circuit” from other foil pieces.

My students had great fun creating what they called, “fake-out” circuits to fool the quiz taker.

I created templates for my students to use to hand write the Iditaquiz tests, and we had true/false, multiple choice, or matching as options.  My class had great fun learning new and interesting facts about the Iditarod, testing their knowledge, and then creating quizzes for others.  The science of circuitry made it more interactive and engaging.  Print the templates below and begin to create your own “light-right” quizzes.

Test Your Iditarod I.Q. With STEM

Light Right Quiz – True False – With Lines

Light Right Quiz – True False – No Lines

Light Right Quiz – Multiple Choice – Word

Light Right Quiz – Multiple Choice

Light Right – Matching – Word

Light Right – Matching


Create and test your knowledge of the Iditarod with these templates

In our study of informational text features, like many teachers, we use sticky notes to write down interesting facts we find, or trivia information we want to use in our research.  There are many great apps that can turn your paper sticky notes into “digital” sticky notes on your computer or tablet.  Why is this helpful?  A digital sticky note saves money and paper in the classroom and can easily be shared between users in a free classroom set-up by the teacher.

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Google Chrome has an add-on app called “Sticky Notes” that allows you to add “digital” sticky notes onto your desktop computer as you research a site.  The “Post-It® Plus” app scans your notes, creates a computerized version of them on your tablet or device, and allows you to save them under different group titles.  These useful tools allow your students to research and save their information for expository writing, without having to keep up with little notes of paper.

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This week is our annual Eanes Elementary School STEM Day.  My class took research of the Iditarod Trail from Iditarod.com and is creating its own fantasy version of the trail on our playground.  We will use the rolling robot Sphero, nicknamed Snowball, to travel our course.  Students program the Sphero on any device and give it directions by directly programming it through coding skills.  This will involve ingenuity, creativity, patience, and passion.  Stay tuned!


Current Events in the Iditarod Classroom:

People often ask me how I integrate the Iditarod theme into my regular classroom curriculum and still meet my state standards and district and school expectations.  Well, the answer is that it is really easy to do!  This week we integrated a little of the Iditarod theme into the Dia de Los Muertos holiday.


The 2016 Iditarod class celebrates Day of the Dead with our ofrendas, or offering

Here in Texas, this special holiday came to us by way of Mexico long ago and is a popular and beloved time of reflection for many.  The Day of the Dead replaces the gore and silliness of Halloween and instead celebrates, with love, the lives of those we have lost.  Altars are created in homes, candles are lit, and treats from the Mexican bakery are set out to encourage the souls of loved ones to visit.  Decorative sugar skulls are popular with children of all ages over the three days of events, and they are a way to show that the holiday is a joyous time for celebration.

To help celebrate this special time, I sent care packages to a few of my friends who may be familiar to many Iditarod fans.  Linda Fenton, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, and Erin Montgomery, 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ and her dog, Dixon, enjoyed their Day of the Dead gifts including sugar skulls and t-shirts.

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We usually celebrate this special day by creating dancing human sugar skulls with our names in symmetrical form in math class.  This holiday, however, we changed our creations to Day of the Dead dancing husky dogs.


Our symmetrical Day of the Dead husky dogs

I created templates for our Day of the Dead sugar skull husky dogs, and we used tissue paper and decorative art with markers to create the look of icing found on a real sugar skull from a bakery.  In math class, we created the symmetrical version of our names to make the rib cages of our dogs.  We then added the bones from my templates and glued them on black paper.  The results are fun, whimsical, and in keeping with the “spirit” of the day, with a little math thrown in for good measure.

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The Day of the Dead Dancing Husky Dog Lesson Plan

Husky Dog Head

Husky Dog Ears

Husky Dog Lower Legs

Husky Dog Upper Legs

Husky Dog Hip and Tail

My class was very fortunate to have the aunt of one of my students come share all of her memories from childhood in Mexico with my students.


Miss Denise sharing all of her family traditions with us for Dia de Los Muertos

Do you want to enrich your classroom holiday celebration with Dia de Los Muertos next year?  There are many wonderful children’s books available for the classroom teacher to enrich the understanding and meaning of the holiday.  I found that one book in particular, Day of the Dead Activity Book by Karl Jones, not only teaches about Dia de Los Muertos, but it also comes with a pull-out altar in the back, complete with sugar skull stickers.  Just punch it out, set it up, and you are ready to celebrate!


The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for teachers around the country to come together and learn best teaching practices surrounding the theme of the Iditarod.  Check out the Iditarod site for more information about this unique professional development opportunity.


The Sphero and the Iditarod make a great STEM connection!

All Lit Up: Circuitry, Engineering, and The Last Great Race on Earth®


The city of Nome, Alaska, under the “northern lights” lit up by the 2016 Iditarod class

Our amazing 4th grade students at Eanes Elementary School spent several days designing and creating a “Circuit City” in each classroom for the culmination of our energy unit in science.  Of course, the 2016 Iditarod class created the city of Nome, Alaska, under the twinkling northern lights, with dedicated dog teams on their way to the finish line of The Last Great Race on Earth®.

“Circuit City” was a schoolwide event for our students to demonstrate how electricity travels in a closed path, creating an electrical circuit which then lights a simple bulb.  Making a circuit and creating light with wires, a battery, and light bulb is easy to do, but the effects are magical.

Our science standards for energy, force, and motion ask us to investigate the different forms of energy, including renewable resources such as solar power.


Let there be light!

We began our unit learning about electrical safety with a visit from Austin Energy.  Our local electric company has free community outreach programs for schools that show how energy is created and shared throughout our community.

Austin Energy brought in a toy pretend town called “Power Town” to our school and used electrical circuits to show how electricity is brought into every home in our city.  The program also highlighted electrical safety which was a wonderful and importantIMG_1371 introduction to our energy unit.  I would encourage any teacher to check their local power company for any free school programs available for this project.

At Eanes Elementary School, we are fortunate to have electrical kits from FOSS kits and Caddystack™ Electricity Kits to enrich our circuitry experiments in the safest way possible.

However, expensive science kits are not necessary to light a bulb with a simple circuit.  I gave my students batteries, wires, and a bulb and asked them to find a way to light it up.  This created many interesting “Ah-ha” moments as my students and their partners found a way to connect a simple circuit and create energy.  Then we pulled out our electrical kits which also included switches to “open” the circuit and turn off the energy. Aluminum foil or copper tape can easily be substituted for wire since they both conduct energy.  Experiment with other materials to find conductors and light the bulb.

Electric Experiments – How to Make a Circuit – PDF

Our science activity transitioned into a STEM activity with the design and creation of our fantasy village of Nome.  We decided to recreate the Iditarod at night, with the lights of our circuits, wires and bulbs, showcasing the race to the famous finish line.  A simple, donated shoebox from home was used as the basic building form for our creations.  Of course, our fantasy village of Nome had to have log cabins from popsicle sticks, miniature Arctic animals, gently falling snow, and warm and cozy wood burning fireplaces!

We decorated our Nome cabins with gift wrap paper for wallpaper, felt for carpet, and used doll furniture to outfit our rustic cabins or made furniture out of legos from home.  This STEM activity quickly turned into a STEAM integrated art activity, and every child in 4th grade was engaged and excited.  We pushed all our tables together, covered them in white butcher paper, dropped white poly-fill for snow and lit up our city with our homemade circuits.

We left a hole on the roof for our lights bulbs to shine through, and with our knowledge of circuitry, we lit up our houses one by one.  When we turned out the classroom lights, the results of our efforts took our breath away.  We had used science and engineering to recreate a very special place.  Now it was time to share!

Mush to Nome, Alaska!

We turned out the classroom lights, played the classic tune Hobo Jim’s Iditarod Trail Song, and invited every student in our school to tour our city and learn about energy and circuitry.

The other 4th grade classes enjoyed their own special tours.  Unique cities captured the imaginations of all of our students with themes that were personal and meaningful to that particular class.  It was an amazing day of sharing our creativity with not only our school, but central administration and our parents as well.

New York, New York!

Mrs. Victor’s class recreated the bright lights of New York City, including a bustling Central Park, a towering Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center complete with ice skaters, and the sights and sounds of the “Great White Way” of Broadway.  Students were serenaded by Frank Sinatra as tour guides shared the design and history of their creations.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Harry Potter himself would have been proud to see how the famed school for wizards was recreated down to the last detail by Mrs. Brewer’s students.  Her room was transformed into the famed setting for J.K. Rowling’s series, complete with owls on the roof, warm, burning fires in the dorm rooms, and a little magic from the students.

The Modern Architectural Wonders of the World

Ms. Walters is passionate about history and art in her classroom, so her students focused on sharing the most amazing pieces of architecture in the world such as the Golden Gate Bridge.  The Empire State Building came complete with its own King Kong at the top.  Her students also became tour guides showcasing how the buildings and bridges were constructed as well as providing interesting facts about them.

Beware of Haunted House Lane!

Mrs. Bromlow’s class celebrated the arrival of fall and Halloween by recreating detailed, fun haunted houses.  Some houses were whimsical, some were gloriously creepy, but they all glowed with the eerie light of circuitry!  What a perfect way to celebrate the season.

Austin City Limits

Mrs. Hinkle represented our very own Austin, Texas, by allowing partners to work together and recreate their favorite places around our beloved town.  Students created “Hey Cupcake”, a favorite food truck for the delectable treats on Congress Avenue, complete with little toy food.  “Big Top Candy” was recreated in all its glory, including its famous local logo.  One group designed our very own Eanes Elementary School, the oldest running school in Texas, complete with toy desks and little plastic students ready to engage and learn.  Go Mustangs!

A digital personal invitation was sent to every class at Eanes Elementary School to come and visit our “cities” using the Emaze web-based presentation program.  Emaze.com has free professionally designed templates for teachers and students to use to create presentations to share on a site or in an email to others. Simply choose your template, drop in your photos, video, and text, and share it out.  Digital presentations created by students, are alternative formative assessments instead of a traditional paper and pencil test.

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Use the Emaze tools to create slides in your chosen template.  When completed the presentation will flow like a video with the click of the arrow keys on your keyboard.

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Circuit Symbols – PDF

Circuit City Parent Letter – PDF

All Lit Up Circuitry Lesson Plan

Iron Dog Racers


Our “iron dog” racers made it all the way to the finish line using Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion!


Erin Montgomery, 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ on her iron dog – photo courtesy Erin Montgomery

This week our Eanes Elementary School fourth graders have been continuing our research about energy, force, and motion in our science classes.  We learned about Newton’s Laws of Motion, and we decided to put our knowledge to the test.  In a wonderful STEM activity, our students created balloon racers using their science knowledge.  My class put an Iditarod twist on it and designed snow machines, “iron dogs,” using air from a balloon and a straw to move them.

Erin Montgomery, the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, had an interesting post from the trail sharing about her first experience riding an iron dog on the trail.  This was great inspiration for our lesson.


Jeff Schultz on the Iditarod trail – photo credit: Bob Jones

I learned about the term “iron dog” while in Alaska, and my class had an interesting conversation about the term and why it would be used in the state where dog mushing is the official sport!  I saw many snow machines, or snowmobiles, in Alaska at the start of the Iditarod, and I found out that they are used throughout the race to carry people from place to place.

I remember distinctly seeing Jeff Schultz, the official Iditarod photographer, heading out on an iron dog ahead of the mushers at the 2014 Iditarod start in Willow.  It looked like great fun.


The Happy River Steps – photo credit: Loren Holmes, Alaska Dispatch News

Newton’s Third Law of Motion says that, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  So what does this mean?  When we let go of our balloon racers, the air was released, and the iron dog moved in the opposite direction.  StudyJams online has a wonderful video about the laws of motion for your students to watch.

First, we spent a little time learning about potential and kinetic energy.  Basically, potential energy is stored energy such as pulling back on a bow and arrow, or sitting at the top of a roller coaster.  Kinetic energy is the release of that potential energy; energy on the move.  When I thought of these forces, I immediately thought about the infamous Happy River Steps of the Iditarod at Rainy Pass.

The steps start at the top of a steep incline, where potential energy is stored as the musher leads his/her team to the top.  As they descend the notorious Steps, the potential energy changes to kinetic energy, and they are quickly on the move.  I created some simple classroom posters highlighting the differences between the two for teachers to share:

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Potential Energy Poster

Kinetic Energy Poster

We spent time in class in our morning meetings sharing tips and ideas about our iron dog designs; more than one balloon, extra straws, an inclined plane in the front, big wheels, small wheels.  There are many, many strategies and variables for these innovations.  It is fantastic to see children designing, creating, and adapting for better results.

My STEM planning sheet is a great way for students to plan their designs.  This project was created at home, but can easily be made at school using recycled materials and art supplies.  We gave our students a rubric to follow for the designs, and a written paragraph was required as well.

STEM Design Sheet

Iron Dog Snowmobile Racers – Word

Iron Dog Racers Lesson Plan

We brought our iron dog racers to the cafeteria and set up our finish line.  There, we used Newton’s Third Law of Motion and raced our inventions.  When we blew up our balloons through the straw, we covered the straw and held it on the ground (potential energy) and then we released them (kinetic energy) and watched our STEM designs in action.  Smaller wheels and lighter loads seemed to go farther than others.

This is STEM, or STEAM, at its finest!  When students use their critical thinking skills to engage in the world in a creative way, it makes our classroom lessons so much more meaningful and memorable.  This is a perfect activity to achieve that goal.

hannah's example

A student drawn prototype of the iron dog!

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The Van Zyle Style

Coming soon we will celebrate the legendary Iditarod artist, Jon Van Zyle.  In 2016 Jon will create his 40th official Iditarod poster.  I was thrilled to get a glimpse of the painting at his home in June at the Summer Camp for Educators in Alaska.  My class had the honor of interviewing Jon, and we will highlight him in a future post!


The 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ with the future 2016 Iditarod poster- photo courtesy of Jon Van Zyle

Join us!

The Iditarod Winter Teacher Conference is March 1st – 4th!

Are you interested in taking on the challenge of being the next Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™?  The deadline for applications is December 1st!  See the links above for information, or click here for the application to download.

Follow me!  Click the “follow” button on the right to receive the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ posts all year.

The Northern Lights in a Bowl


Bringing the northern lights to Texas!

The 2016 Iditarod class has been learning about mixtures and solutions in our science class, and I wanted to try combining our demonstrations and experiments with our amazing connection to Alaska this year.

I decided to bring my fascination with the aurora borealis to class and combine it with some science magic, a good book, and a special art project.

Before we jumped into science, we realized we had some research to do, so we could fully appreciate and understand one of the great natural phenomenons on our planet.

Northern Lights A to Z cover

Photo courtesy of Sasquatch Books

First, we took a little time to learn about the lights and their different cultural legends and myths in our Reader’s Workshop class.  I went to my Sasquatch Books library, and I grabbed the lovely book Northern Lights: A to Z by Mindy Dwyer.

Mindy does a really creative job of teaching about the science and folklore of the lights in a beautifully illustrated alphabet book format.

We learned quite a bit about how native people around the Arctic Circle have incorporated this amazing natural phenomenon into their cultural folklore.


Reading about the northern lights in the northern lights nook!

My students were surprised to learn that the lights occur at both the North Pole and the South Pole!  In my earlier post I mentioned that they occur on other planets as well.  We talked about why the northern lights are so popular to see and photograph…more people live in the north on our planet to see them!  Next, we turned our attention to bringing the lights to our classroom, since Texas is very far away from the Arctic, indeed.

I am always looking for ways to make my lessons easy to share with my students and fellow teachers, but also a way to save them digitally, conserving paper.  Snapguide.com is a free web-based app that many home cooks and hobbyists use to share their creations with others in a global way.  I created my Snapguide below for our “northern lights in a bowl” project, and now it is available for anyone to use at home or in the classroom either in a whole group format or an independent learning station.

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I gathered our materials and simply used my phone to snap photos of each step in the process.  I then added text, and with very little effort, created my snapguide.  The image below shows what the guide looks like as it’s created, its steps rearranged, and prepared for publishing it live in the Snapguide library.

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We used milk with different types of fat content, with water as a control, to see the effect of food coloring and dish soap in the bowl.  The results were stunning!  How does it work?  The fat molecules and the food coloring create a surface tension that is broken by the addition of soap.  The currents of color create a visual masterpiece for just a few seconds.  Steve Spangler Science online does a fantastic job of explaining the process and the science behind it.  Click on the video below to watch my class investigate the magic:

We created a permanent northern lights display by recreating the experiment using glue instead of milk. When we broke the surface tension with the soap we had the same magical effect!

We let the glue and food coloring concoctions dry for a week, pulled off the bowls, and we had our very own northern lights suncatchers.


Pour the mixture in a thin layer so the water will evaporate quickly and dry your art.

Poke a hole at the top, pull a ribbon through, and hang them up in a window to see the colors catch the sun’s light.  This weeklong scientific demonstration was not for the faint of heart, but it was great fun, and we learned a lot in the process.

Want to give it a try?  Find my Snapguide online and follow my steps to create your own visual science masterpieces.

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The Northern Lights in a Bowl Lesson Plan

KWL Chart

Scientific Method Form

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Our Parrot mini-drones have arrived!  In November we will celebrate STEM day at Eanes Elementary school and use our engineering skills to test drive drones for our pretend Iditarod trail.  We will create different Iditarod courses, complete with blizzards, mountains, and the northern lights.  Finally, our students will use coding skills on a tablet to fly them safely to Nome.

Stay tuned!

Join us!

The Iditarod Winter Teacher Conference is March 1st – 4th!

Are you interested in taking on the challenge of being the next Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™?  The deadline for applications is December 1st!  See the links above for information.

Follow me!  Click the “follow” button on the right to receive the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ posts all year.

Making Connections in Nature – Bats, Moose, and Prickly Pear…Oh My!

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” John Burroughs

How could one teacher be so lucky?  This summer I was fortunate enough to come face to face with two special animals in the wild that have been on my “bucket list” of nature connections for, really, most of my life.

It was well past midnight as we drove through the Palmer Hay Flats in Alaska in late June, and with summer solstice in full swing, my eyes were having a hard time adjusting to the changes in light.  I was very sleepy as my friend, Sara Lamont, longtime Iditarod coordinator, drove me into the backwoods she knows so well.  We were on the hunt to spot moose in the wild, a lifelong dream.  I remember the feeling of elation when we spotted our first mother and calf.  I felt adrenaline all over my body as we pulled up slowly to see them grazing.  The mother was protective right away and turned and glided through the tall grass with her calf beside her and disappeared into the woods almost without a sound.  It was the most remarkable moment.  There is nothing like witnessing an animal in its own natural world.  As a human being, you feel oddly out of place in those moments, and as John Burroughs once said, I had “my senses put in order.”  It was all the more magical because of the falling darkness that felt like a strange, eerie twilight.

Coming home to Texas, I had my second animal encounter with a visit to Bracken Cave, outside of Austin.  “Keep Austin Weird” is the theme for our city, and with no wonder!  We love our Mexican-free Tailed Bats that live under the Congress Avenue Bridge during the warm months of the year.  Each summer night, over a million bats emerge from their safe, cozy roosts and fill up our city sky.  Each bat can eat 100 insects a night, so they are a welcomed site for “Austinites”.  Bat Conservation International was founded here in Austin, and on this special night in July, I was fortunate to be given permission as a BCI member to see one of the greatest bat emergences on Earth.

It was well over 100 degrees in the Texas heat as we walked past prickly pear cactus to the entrance of Bracken Cave. I gasped as I first noticed the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pups flying wildly outside the cave entrance, while their mothers had patience until sundown to join them, roosting on the cave walls.  They flew with wild abandon, like impatient children, but as the mother bats  joined them, the most remarkable change happened.  The wild, chaotic flying started to form a giant mass of one counter-clockwise formation, getting bigger and faster as night fell.  The mass of 20 million bats began to pull away from the circle and spiral into formations in the sky.  Joining the bats were their predators.  Hawks flew in and out of the spiraling mass, clutching bats with their sharp talons, a snake slithered along the cave ridge, hoping for an easy meal, and a mother skunk brought her babies to the cave floor, searching for unfortunate pups who had fallen to the ground.  This was strangely not a disturbing sight; it was the cycle of nature right before our eyes, and all seemed right.


The 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ in a bat selfie!

“Cup your hands to your ears!” my sister nudged me.  I noticed others doing the same, and even though I felt a little silly, I went along.   When I put my hands to my ears they turned into a natural headphone.  I squealed with delight.  The gentle, beautiful sound of 40 million fluttering bat wings was like nothing I had ever heard before.  There are no words to describe it.  It affected my soul, and I know we all felt connected to these animals in a special way.

This special gathering at Bracken Cave is the largest concentration of mammals on Earth.  Think about that!  I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity, and I wish to return each summer to experience it with my family and friends.

Did you know?  There are bats in Alaska!  The Little Brown Bat, the Long-legged Myotis, the California Myotis, the Silver-haired Bat, and the Keen’s Myotis all make their elusive way into the southern parts of Alaska, and they are all important, as insect eaters, to the ecosystem there.

As a teacher I am always looking for ways to make connections with my students and the world.  Returning from my moose and bat encounters, I wondered if there was a way to do that.  It turns out, there is!

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 12.18.28 PMiNaturalist is an incredible web-based site and app that allows anyone, child, adult, serious scientist or teacher, to make connections with the flora and fauna of their local habitat, then share them with the world.

The iNaturalist site describes its objective like this:

“From hikers to hunters, birders to beach-combers, the world is filled with naturalists, and many of us record what we find. What if all those observations could be shared online? You might discover someone who finds beautiful wildflowers at your favorite birding spot, or learn about the birds you see on the way to work. If enough people recorded their observations, it would be like a living record of life on Earth that scientists and land managers could use to monitor changes in biodiversity, and that anyone could use to learn more about nature.”

I set up my free account, recorded my photos of the moose in Alaska and the Mexican-free Tailed pup in Texas, and the site added the google map and scientific information for me!  Now my observations are there for anyone in the world to see.  There is also a space to journal about your experiences, much like an old-fashioned science paper notebook.  This digital application has remarkable opportunities for the classroom.  My class will be comparing and contrasting the animals and plants of Alaska and Texas, and since my students are under 13 years of age, I will set up a teacher account.   We can then use our class account to begin documenting our local wildlife.  Perhaps we can connect with a school in Alaska and share observations?  The opportunities are endless.

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Now, these rare and special moments with nature can be shared with others, bringing us all closer, and inspire others to care about the world a little more.

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!