A Turkey on the Trail


Turkeys in disguise while training for the 2016 Iditarod

In honor of Thanksgiving this year, my class disguised paper turkeys as husky dogs and mushers preparing for the 2016 Iditarod.  They wrote about their plans for escape from the farm in first person narratives. This time-honored school tradition involves a lot of creativity, humor, and great writing.  What a perfect way to save a turkey from a horrible fate.  The farmer would not suspect a thing!

We brainstormed other ideas for our turkey disguises as well.  How about a moose on the trail?  Some of my students created polar bears, and snowflake disguises for their turkeys.  All of these creative ideas have a great tie-in to the study of Alaska and the Iditarod race.

If you are a teacher with an Iditarod Insider subscription, now is a great time to watch the musher videos preparing for the race.  This is a great source of inspiration for the writing project.

A Turkey on the Trail Narrative


Turkey in Disguise

The Turkey on the Trail Lesson Plan


Make your turkey digital by using an app like Chatterpix for Kids to create a voice-over for an image of their finished project.  Students can record themselves reading their plans of escape in 1st person that allows the beak of the turkey to move.  This can be shared with parents or embedded on a teacher website.

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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.

I will be joined this year by a few talented teachers from my school, Eanes Elementary, here in Austin, Texas.  We will be sharing STEM and STEAM hands-on lessons based upon the Iditarod theme with conference attendees.  We hope to see you there!


Fantasy Iditarod Draft

Start your Fantasy Teams this week

Tori says, “Start your Fantasy Teams this week.”

If you enjoy following the Iditarod, you will enjoy it more by following the race with a Fantasy Iditarod Team. Just before I left my students in Iowa, we held our own draft for Iditarod mushers. With their team names created and their teams selected, my students are geared up for the race to begin.

Before draft day the students did a little research and used critical thinking skills to help them form their teams. Each group in my classroom had to choose a name for their team. Some creative team names were, The Lead Dogs, No Place Like Nome, The Mush Potatoes, Team Pawsome. Each team in the class would be drafting five total mushers; 3 main mushers, 1 female musher, and 1 rookie musher.

The main mushers on the team can be any type of musher; veteran, rookie, female, it’s their choice. The female musher obviously has to be a female musher. If one of their main mushers is a female musher, they need to choose a different female musher. It is the same concept with the rookie musher, if one of their main mushers is a rookie, they need a different rookie. In the end, each team will have five different mushers.

Along the trail teams will earn points for arriving at checkpoints. We are using three checkpoints and the finish as places to earn points. Our first checkpoint to earn points in Tanana. If one of your mushers arrives first in Tanana you earn 10 points, second will earn 9 points, third will earn 8 points, and so on. Our second checkpoint is the halfway point, Huslia. The same scoring system applies in Huslia. The third checkpoint is Unalakleet. The same scoring system will apply in Unalakleet. The point system will change when the mushers finish in Nome. View the point system below:

Main Musher

1st place – 50 points

2nd place – 44 points

3rd place – 37 points

4th place – 29 points

5th place – 21 pointsDSC_2009

6th place – 20 points

7th place – 19 points


Female Musher

1st female – 30 points

2nd female – 25 points

3rd female – 15 points

4th female – 5 points

Rookie Musher

1st rookie – 30 points

2nd rookie – 25 points

3rd rookie – 15 points

4th rookie – 5 points

Red Lantern winner will earn 70 points. The Red Lantern winner is the musher who crosses the finish line last. When discussing this winner with your students talk about the importance of just finishing such a challenging race and persevering through obstacles faced along the way.

My students took about a day and a half to research and make their lists of choices with back up choices in case their musher was already picked. On draft day to determine which team drew first we drew team names out of a hat. There are seven groups in each of my classes and we had five rounds in the draft. The first pick in first hour was Aliy Zirkle. The first pick in second hour was also Aliy Zirkle. Fifth hour picked Jeff King as their first pick.

As students were deciding on their picks I heard them strategizing. A few teams were trying to get a couple of top 10 finishers as well as someone they think would win the Red Lantern. Teams were coming up with strategies that would give them the most points, not necessarily their favorite mushers. Keep this in mind when picking your teams.

We created charts for each class to keep track of our points which we hung outside of the classroom. Each day during the race students will be tracking the mushers and when points are earned they will update the charts. I am bringing back prizes from Alaska for the winning teams.

In addition to playing Fantasy Iditarod in your class with your students, you may want to hold a draft with some friends. It is an exciting way to follow the race. The countdown is on, one week until the race. Get started with Fantasy Iditarod this week. You may want to think about holding off on your draft day until Friday of this week. Thursday, March 5, is the Musher Drawing Banquet. At the banquet the mushers will draw their starting order. If your class chooses to keep track of points at early checkpoints, starting order may make a difference.

 Fantasy Iditarod Lesson Plan

 Fantasy Iditarod Form

The Coat

“The journey of success can be a lonely long walk, blurry and stormy on every side but learn to enjoy the journey anyway.” ~ Bernard Kelvin Clive

“The journey of success can be a lonely long walk, blurry and stormy on every side but learn to enjoy the journey anyway.” ~ Bernard Kelvin Clive

One of the most asked questions I hear from people is, “What are you going to wear to stay warm?” I have to laugh a little bit, because it has been colder here in Iowa than it has been in Alaska. Yesterday morning, February 19, my school had a 2-hour late start due to cold weather. The temperature was approximately 25 degrees below zero Fahrenheit with the wind chill. The temperature yesterday in Fairbanks got up to 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Iowa also had a big snowstorm a couple weeks ago blanketing us with close to a foot of snow. Many parts of the original Iditarod trail are feeling the absence of snow, and now the absence of the Iditarod. Due to lack of snow and poor trail conditions race officials have moved the race restart up north to Fairbanks.

Regardless of the recent warmer temperatures, I am prepared for bitter temperatures.

1. Feet: It is critical that your feet stay warm. While out on the trail I will be wearing a pair of well insulated Baffin boots. These boots are perfect for arctic temperatures as they are rated to 148 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Along with my warm boots, I will be wearing comfy, cozy, wool socks. There is nothing like a pair of wool socks to keep your feet warm and dry.

2. Legs: My main pair of pants are The North Face waterproof, insulated ski pants. I will have to beef up my pants with some baselayers and possibly some fleece pants.

3. Upper body: Just like my legs, I’m going to be using baselayers to start off. I am bringing along some Dri-Fit  tops and a couple fleeces. My “undercoat” will be a Patagonia down jacket. Last, but certainly not least, is “The Coat.” A goose-down parka with several pockets and a fur-ruff hood. Terrie Hanke, 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, sewed several patches and reflectors on the coat. After the coat arrived at my house, I had my 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ patched sewed on.

4. Head, neck, hands: On my hands I will start with a pair of liner gloves followed by the biggest mittens I have ever seen. I’m sure my hands will stay warm. My neck will stay warm with a gator which I can pull up over my face, too. I will not likely be stepping outside without my stocking hat.

5. Sleepy time: The infamous traveling sleeping bag will be my bed while out on the trail. Each year the Teacher on the Trail creates a patch to be sewed on to the official teacher sleeping bag. I’ve already zipped myself up in it a few times, seems warm and comfortable. There are countless stories the sleeping bag could tell us all. The amount of history and people this sleeping bag has met is remarkable. I look forward to adding to the rich history.

Photo Feb 19, 9 02 30 PM6. The Patch: When deciding on my patch I knew I wanted it to incorporate both the Iditarod and my school. I came up with an idea, but I am the farthest thing from an artist. I have a friend that works with me at school that just so happens to be an artist/designer. I showed her what I wanted and she ran with the idea. Everything I wanted she included, and then some. Staring at each other are my middle school’s logo and a husky. Our middle school logo is an Indian head, we are the Camanche Indians, with CMSPRIDE and two pencils in the place of feathers. If you concentrate on the black part of the husky you can see blended in his hair is the word Iditarod. Also included is a musher with his dogs and a mountainous background. I love it. After Liesl finished the final design, I went to my friend Colin at Adcraft Printwear. They turned Liesl’s unique design into an incredible patch.

Classroom Ideas:

1. You are going to the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage on March, 7. Make a list of everything you will wear. Plan on being outside for about 4 hours or more. Check the extended forecast for Anchorage.

2. You are heading up to Fairbanks for the Restart on March 9. Make a list of everything you will wear. Plan on being outside for about 4 hours or more. Check the extended forecast for Fairbanks.

3. Your teacher has been selected as the next Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. Design him/her a patch that can be added to the sleeping bag.

Checkpoint Checkup: On to Kaltag




We have had to make a change in our journey. Due to lack of snow and poor trail conditions on several sections of the Southern route, the Iditarod Trail Committee has decided to move the restart to Fairbanks. This was a tough decision, but it is what is best for the mushers and dogs. A map of the new route can be found at the bottom of this page. A new list of materials to use for the new route can be found here. Additional information can be found here.

According to the new trail, mushers will leave Nulato and travel approximately 47 miles to Kaltag. Mushers can plan on a 3-5 hour journey. We will be following rookie musher Cindy Abbott to Kaltag.

The 2015 Iditarod will be Cindy’s third attempt to cross under the Burled Arch in Nome. Her first attempt came in 2013 when she was forced to scratch due to a broken pelvis. Her second attempt was last year when she scratched in Rohn due to poor trail conditions and the safety of her dogs. As an avid fan and friend of Cindy’s, I feel this is the year we will see her in Nome.

Cindy is a true inspiration to anyone with a dream. She was diagnosed with a very rare disease, Wegener’s Granulomatosis, but this has not stopped her from achieving her dreams. In 2010, while fighting this disease, Cindy made it to the top of the world as she summited Mt. Everest. My class has spoken to Cindy about this climb and she stated running the Iditarod is more challenging than climbing Mt. Everest. She has to take care of 16 dogs and herself out on the treacherous trail.

652 miles into the 2013 Iditarod, Cindy and her dogs depart Eagle Island for a long and painful run to Kaltag. Since day one, Cindy has felt an agonizing pain in her pelvis. Determined to make it to Nome, she continued on. For the first 30-35 miles the trail was flat, but had solid, crusty drifts. This was tough running for her dogs and even worse for Cindy. Every single bump along the way sent a wave of excruciating pain through her body.

As she gets closer and closer to Kaltag, she will see it up high on the bank on the west side of the river. Before she arrives she will continue to bounce down the trail before she must make a short climb up the riverbank.

When Cindy and the dogs arrived in Kaltag, her pelvis had collapsed to the point that she could not stand anymore. Before taking care of herself, Cindy’s number one priority was the dogs. She did all of her chores of taking care of the dogs on her hands and knees, she could not walk. At this point, she knew she would be scratching in Kaltag, it was what would be best for both her and the dogs.

Cindy did not see much of Kaltag. She was taken to their new medical clinic where she was examined. The next morning she was flown out of Kaltag to a hospital. Cindy was heartbroken to leave her dogs. The relationship between humans and dogs is beyond words. The result of her injuries was a broken pelvis. Cindy had been running close to 700 miles on a broken pelvis.

Cindy and her dogs will be back in Kaltag this year. The Fairbanks trail hooks back up with the original Iditarod trail in Nulato, just north of Kaltag. Determination, perseverance, hard-work, and a positive attitude will guide Cindy along the trail this year. Her journey to Nome began over three years ago. No matter how long it takes, she will cross under the Burled Arch.

2015-iditarod-route1Read more about the village of Kaltag in Virtual Trail Journey.

Read more about the trail between Nulato and Kaltag in Don Bowers Trail Notes.

Writing Prompt

Think of a time when you quit something because it was too hard. Rewrite the ending to that story so you did not quit and finished.

Alaska Culture Virtual Museum

"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home." - Matsuo Basho

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” – Matsuo Basho

After studying the history of Alaska, my students focused on the culture of Alaska. Alaska is full of unique and interesting cultures. There are many native Alaskans that have participated and still participate in the Iditarod each year. The Iditarod and sled dogs are a big part of Alaska’s culture.

The students in my class recently created a virtual museum showcasing the different cultures of Alaska. Their project began with researching the different cultures and choosing four they would like to learn additional information about. After gathering information, the students had to choose which items they would like to display as exhibits in their museum.

Each group received a template of the virtual museum in their Google Drive folder. They immediately shared the museum with each member of the group. Now, students were able to work on the museum at the exact same time while anywhere. Students were also able to message each other while working on the museum, an excellent Google Drive feature.

Essentially, the virtual museum is a Google Slides presentation, an enhanced presentation. The first page of the slideshow makes you feel like you are looking into the lobby of a museum. There are arrows directing visitors to certain rooms in the museum. When the viewer clicks on one of the arrows or rooms, it changes the screen to the specific room. When the viewer is in the room, they will see the inside of a room in a museum. While in this room the viewer will have the option to click on an exhibit. After clicking on the exhibit, the presentation will direct the viewer farther in the room to read about the exhibit and view an image or video. In each room viewers will have the option to return to the Museum Lobby or the room they came from.

I required each group to include four rooms in their museum. Within each museum they had to include two or three exhibits. Farther in the exhibit room is where the students included a detailed description and an image or video showcasing their featured item. The template provided to the students is very easy to work with. All students have to do is replace their information in the boxes.

If you would like to use the student sample presentation template, click File and scroll down to Make a Copy. It is now yours to do with what you want. Click here to view the student sample Virtual Museum. To begin your tour of the museum click Present in the top right of the screen. Once you are in the lobby, click a room to get started. Enjoy your tour.

Alaska Culture Lesson Plan

Alaska Culture Rubric

Checkpoint and Trivia Tuesday: Grayling to Eagle Island – Why do mushers put coats on their dogs?

"We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey." - Kenji Miyazawa

“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” – Kenji Miyazawa

It is time to say good-bye to our young students of Grayling and head up the Yukon river to Eagle Island. This leg of our journey will be approximately 62 miles and will take mushers between 6-9 hours to complete. This section of the trail can be pretty wretched with the blustery wind and bitter temperatures. With the wind, temperatures can drop as low as 40 below zero.

This section of the trail is virtually nothing but river, wide open frozen river.  It will be very peaceful and quiet, to the point of being almost boring, except for the sound of the talkative trees and the beauty of the night sky. It is very critical for the mushers to stay on the marked trail as there are big sections of open water and thin ice. Another danger mushers may encounter is overflow from the side streams and possibly the river itself.

Eagle Island is a very remote checkpoint. The checkpoint is below Ken Chase’s summer fishing cabin. Ken is an Iditarod veteran who has volunteered the use of his land as a checkpoint. The checkpoint itself is actually a weatherport tent and facilities are minimal.

Eagle Island was settled in 1975 when the family of Ralph Conaster arrived at this spot on the Yukon River. Their way of life was commercial fishing and trapping. The checkpoint at Eagle Island used to be Ralph’s large cabin until it burned down. That’s when the checkpoint started using the large tent on Ken Chase’s land. Try to think of a luxurious tent, if you would like to call it that. The tent is heated and there is straw for the mushers and volunteers to sleep on.

Earlier I mentioned this section of the trail can be very windy. With this in mind it will be important for mushers to dress properly for this section to stay protected from the elements, especially their face. The dogs will need to be dressed properly as well. Coats, t-shirts, and fleeces are among the gear the dogs will need. Watch this video clip of Aliy Zirkle explaining how she gears up her dogs.

When the mushers leave Eagle Island they will journey north about 60 miles to Kaltag.

346 miles to Nome! Next stop, Kaltag.

Ideas for the classroom:

Why do mushers put coats on their dogs?

Why do mushers put t-shirts on their dogs?

Why do some dogs wear coats and others do not?

List all the gear you would wear if the temperature was -45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Several Iditarod mushers are currently running the Yukon Quest (another 1000 mile race) this week. Compare and contrast the rules of each race.

Which 2015 Iditarod mushers are racing the Yukon Quest?

Alaska HSTRY Timeline

"Who owns history? Everyone and no one - which is why the study of the past is a constant evolving, never-ending journey of discovery." - Eric Foner

“Who owns history? Everyone and no one – which is why the study of the past is a constant evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner

Alaska has a rich history, starting when it was settled by the Russians to the beginning of the Iditarod sled dog race. My students just finished studying the history of Alaska. After class discussion and additional research the students were assigned to create an interactive timeline. We used a new, free learning tool called HSTRY. It is a free tool for teachers and students to use to create timelines. The timeline is set up very similar to a Facebook profile. When entering an event to the timeline students are able to choose to enter the event as an image, a “Did You Know” fact, a quiz question, a YouTube link, an audio clip, or just text.

The activity started with a class discussion about what the students already know about the history of Alaska. We listed on the board several events; when Alaska became a state, the capital, when the Iditarod started, and the gold rush. The students then turned their attention with their small groups on researching the many events in Alaska’s history. When researching, the groups had required information for their timeline as well as finding events in history which were interesting to them. This ensured all groups not having the exact same timeline when finished.

In order to begin creating their timeline, students had to join the class I created on the HSTRY website. This was very easy to do; students came up with a username and password, and entered a code to enter the classroom. They were now in the classroom and free to begin creating their timeline. When the timeline is finished, they will publish their timeline and I will be able to access it very easily through my account.

When all the timelines were finished the students had the opportunity to view another group’s timeline. While they viewed the other timelines, they were to focus on the writing assignment they received; What event in history do you feel has impacted Alaska the most. Defend your response with factual evidence.

After viewing other timelines and completing the writing assignment we came back as a whole class. We discussed the events the students felt had the biggest impact on Alaska. We also discussed the many events of Alaska’s history. This technology tool is a new and interesting way to create and share timelines. Teachers are able to create their own timelines to share with class as well.

To view a finished Alaska HSTRY timeline, click here. You will need to register to view the timeline. It is free.

Alaska HSTRY Lesson Plan

Alaska HSTRY Timeline Sheet

Alaska History Writing Assignment