History of the Iditarod – Lesson Plan

"The journey of our past has lead us to the present and will educate us for our future." - David Hutchinson

“The journey of our past has lead us to the present and will educate us for our future.” – David Hutchinson

I like to have my students learn the history of the Iditarod early on in the year so we can refer to it as we progress.  This past week my students have been completing and sharing tasks about the history of the Iditarod.  In addition to using Katie Mangelsdorf’s book Champion of Alaskan Huskies, students also used the following websites: http://iditarod.com/about/history/,




Each small group was assigned a different task.  One task, entitled Snapshots of History, had students diving into the different decades of the Iditarod.  Obviously, students needed to find out how many different decades the race has been in.  They would then determine, through research, a picture that could represent that specific decade.  For example, one group determined Susan Butcher was the clear-cut choice for their 1980’s picture.  Students created a collage using PicMonkey.

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Another task is creating a Fakebook profile for Joe Redington, Sr.  A favorite status update for students was about Joe and his dogs summiting Denali.  This task was quite appealing to my students as most are very familiar with Facebook.

Joe Redington Sr. Fakebook profile

For my artistic students I had a task to design a flag for the Iditarod.  After designing their flag, students illustrated their flag on their computer using the tool Sketchpad.  This tool allows students to save their flag to their Google Drive as an image.  They then could share the image with me.

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A fourth task was the Cartographer group.  Their task was to map out the Iditarod trail on Google My Maps.  In addition to mapping out the trail, the students had to provide a short description of each checkpoint.

Finally, for my musical students was a task to compose a song for the Iditarod.  Students chose a song and replaced the lyrics with the lyrics they wrote.  When they were ready to sing their song, they used the tool Audiotool to edit.

My students enjoyed doing this activity in class.  Each student was grouped based on interest.  All students learned a great deal about the history of the Iditarod, each group presenting their information in a manner best suited to their interest.

Check out the lesson plan below.  Included are websites to get to the tools the students used to complete their task.  There are also websites listed to aid students in their research.

History of the Iditarod Lesson Plan

History of Iditarod Tasks


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s an Average Leg?

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

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

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

What’s An Average Leg Lesson Plan

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!

Shout Out Via Skype!

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

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

Ms. Hawkins’ Classes in Kentucky

Ms. Walsh’s Class in New Jersey

Mr. Grabowski’s Class in Ontario

Ms. Tousignant’s Class in Illinois

Ms. Whitman’s Class in New York

Ms. Castonguay’s Class in Maine

Ms. Whyte’s Class in Canada

Mr. Kersey’s Class in England

Ms. Baechler’s Class in Homer, Alaska

Ms. Carroll’s Class in Massachusetts

Ms. Worthington’s Class in Florida

Ms. Louk’s Class in Montana

Ms. Mitchell’s Class in Virginia

Ms. Pavlik’s Class in Ohio

Ms. Schneider’s Class in Minnesota

Ms. Avery’s Class in Arizona

Ms. Kilroy’s Class in Washington

Ms. Reagan’s Class

Ms. Crook’s Class in North Carolina

Ms. Kilpatricks’ Class in Massachusetts

Ms. Boynton’s Class in Indiana

Ms. Kress’s Class in Ohio

Ms. Phillips’ Class in Montana

Ms. Fox’s Class in Illinois

Mr. Johnson’s Class in Wisconsin

Ms. Skrdla’s Class in Nebraska

Mr. Redmon’s Class in Iowa

Ms. Coyne’s Classin New York

Ms. Youngers’ Class

Ms. Morphew’s Class in Arkansas

Ms. Doyles’ Class in Maryland

Mr. Jesser’s Class

Ms. Schuette’s Class


Tales From the Trail: The Junior are Training Too!

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

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

Blank Chart            Completed Chart

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

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

Nicole at the Start of Her First Race!

Nicole at the Start of Her First Race!

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

Nicole’s Response

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

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

Tales from the Trail: More Monica!

“Did you hear from Monica?”

“Did you tell Monica about our plan yet?”

“Did she see our video yet?”

“Does Monica have snow yet?”

It seems like a day doesn’t go by without someone in my class asking about Monica.  (The Brady Bunch episode where the other two sisters complain about “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” goes through my head at least once a day.  “Monica, Monica, Monica.”  Only no one in my room gets it but me!)

My students have taken their task to introduce the world to Monica Zappa and keep everyone up to date on her progress very seriously!

Our first task was to come up with a list of interview questions to prepare for her.  The boys brainstormed in teams things they would like to know and then we whittled the list down to sixteen questions. The boys each wrote out a question on a card, and we create a movie trailer to send her.  You can see the trailer here:

Monica did an amazing job responding to the kids!  Her response is here:  Monica Q & A

I hope you and your students enjoy getting to know Monica a bit better!

As for her training, she reports there is no snow yet….  but with reports of a foot of snow in Denali,  it can’t be too far away.

We will check in with her again in a few weeks to see how things are going!