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

Checkpoint Checkup: Anvik to Grayling


“Life is a journey that gives you the liberty to draw your own map, and choose your own route.” – Dennis E Adonis

Last week Regret, Ken Anderson’s lead dog, led us to Anvik, the first checkpoint on the Yukon. This week we will have a short 18-mile journey to Grayling where we will find out what it is like to be a student at the David Louis School.

Students of GraylingWe are finally on the Yukon River, known for strong winds and bitter cold temperatures. Even though this is a short trip, those harsh winds and extremely cold temperatures can make this section seem like a long trip. The mushers and dogs will run on the Yukon for about an hour and a half to two and a half hours before arriving in Grayling.

The checkpoint is located in the community center near the school. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the teachers at the David Louis School. Rose teaches 2nd-4th grades at the K-12 building in Grayling. Since the Iditarod only comes to Grayling every other year, they are getting very excited. Rose’s class has been watching videos, reading books, following musher profiles, and preparing their classroom map for the race.

Rose and the students shared some of the activities their school has been up to this year. The kindergarten and first grade students have been out in the village collecting leaves as part of a leaf unit. They learned to identify leaves and created artwork using their leaves they collected. Second through fifth grades use iPads and computers to work on geography and math skills. The sixth grade through seniors have been very busy. Early in the year they hiked up Blueberry Hill and harvested blueberries while enjoying a beautiful view of Grayling. Next they took an adventure to Fish Camp in Holy Cross. Fish Camp is where students have an opportunity to learn the traditional methods of harvesting and preparing fish for food. At the end of their first quarter the students were involved in the Tanana Chiefs Conference. At the conference students were exposed to protocols and procedures of the Tribal Government. Wow, what an adventurous first quarter.

After talking with Rose, I realized that we take a lot of things for granted here in the lower 48. The fuel that the village uses must be delivered to Grayling by boat. If we want a pizza delivered, we typically have to wait only about 30 minutes. Imagine having your pizza delivered by bush plane.

After spending some time in Grayling the mushers will have a 62-mile journey to Eagle Island. They are getting closer and closer to Nome.

406 miles to Nome! Next stop, Eagle Island.

To read more about Anvik to Grayling read Don Bowers Trail Notes and Virtual Trail Journey.

Ideas for the classroom:

If your school was an adventure learning school that teaches the traditions of your town, what would students learn?

What is the temperature in Grayling today in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. Compare Grayling’s temperature to your temperature.

What is the state fish of Alaska? What waters can this fish be found in?

Research more about fish of Alaska.

All pictures courtesy of Miss Rose, teacher at David Louis School.

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March to Nome with TodaysMeet

“You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.” - Ally Condie

“You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.” – Ally Condie

My students are excited the race is getting so close. To get them even more excited, I decided it was time to show last year’s documentary, Iditarod 42: The March to Nome. This lesson has much more going on than just watching a video.

TodaysMeet is a backchannel that was created for classrooms. Essentially, it is a chat room the teacher creates for a specific class to keep students engaged in class by answering questions, making comments, and asking questions in live time. What I appreciate about this tool is the quiet students that don’t ever participate will now involve themselves in the class discussion.

Photo Jan 28, 11 29 34 AMMy students were paired up and given a computer while we watched the video as a whole class. Prior to the video starting, the students went to the class chat room and entered their names to get started. As we watched the video, I prompted the discussion with questions relating to the video. The only rule I had for answering questions was each response had to be different. Once students got comfortable, they started commenting and asking their own questions.

Feedback from students was positive in using this tool. It kept them engaged while watching a video. They paid close attention to smaller details since they were being asked questions. Students had the opportunity to ask and receive answers immediately during the video rather than waiting and possibly forgetting their questions.

Another useful option is teachers are able to print the transcript of the entire conversation. The video took us three class periods to watch; we had a great deal of discussion. I wanted my students to be able to reflect on the discussion as well as use it when answering the writing assignment.

Using the transcript from TodaysMeet, students had to complete a writing assignment of the video. The writing prompt: What do you feel has been the biggest change the Iditarod has seen through the years? Defend your answer with at least 3 supporting details from the movie. There were a variety of ideas in the student responses. Some examples were technology, women, equipment, dog care, other countries entering, and safety. Watching The March to Nome is a great way to give the students a taste of what the trail entails.

Browse through the transcript of our class discussion.

Purchase Iditarod 42: The March to Nome for your classroom by clicking here.

TodaysMeet Lesson Plan

Video Writing Assignment

Student response example

Checkpoint and Trivia Tuesday: Shageluk to Anvik: What does the first musher to the Yukon River win?

"The journey of life is sweeter when you are traveling with a dog." - Unknown

“The journey of life is sweeter when you are traveling with a dog.” – Unknown

Ken Anderson

Ken Anderson

As we get closer to the race start I will be doing the Checkpoint Checkups every Tuesday to get all the checkpoints referenced. I will still incorporate the Trivia Tuesdays every other Tuesday with the Checkpoint Checkup. This week I have a guest writer, Regret Anderson. Regret is the lead dog of Iditarod veteran, Ken Anderson. Regret was named after a famous racehorse named “Risk or Regret.” I hope you enjoy his input on the trail.

My name is Regret and my human’s name is Ken Anderson. This will be Ken’s 15th year running the Iditarod with his best finish in 2008 and 2010 when he finished fourth.

We have a short run from Shageluk to Anvik. My human, Ken, tells me that this part of the trail is completely flat; I like flat, we can go so much faster. We also will be running on some sloughs, rivers, and portages, and then we will drop onto the Yukon River. This flat journey is about 25 miles and will take me and the guys about 2-3 hours.

When Ken wakes us up in Shageluk, he puts those comfy booties on our feet and hooks us all up. Since I’m a lead dog, I’m up front. I have the best view of all the dogs. When we leave Shageluk we head past this building that Ken calls a school and get back on the Innoko River. We don’t stay on the river very long before we get back on the flat land.

The next 15 miles is quite enjoyable for us dogs. We run across some swamps, lakes, and tundra while every once in a while we run through some wooded areas. Sometimes we get to run through some narrow sections in the woods. My buddies and I think the narrow sections are exciting, but Ken would prefer we not run him into any trees.

Wheel dogs

Wheel dogs

As we get closer to Anvik we start to see a great deal of timber. Just before the Yukon River we have to do some weaving in the woods. This is when my boys in the back, the wheel dogs, are critical to the team. We then come upon it, the Yukon River. I think it looks enormous. Ken tells me and the boys it is about a mile wide here. We are going to bend around a bluff and enter a slough. Once we exit the slough we will head into Anvik.

While we were checking in, I heard the checker say there is water available at this checkpoint which makes Ken happy. I hear Ken say we aren’t staying long because the next checkpoint is only 18 miles ahead. That kind of news makes me and my buddies ecstatic; we love to run. Since we aren’t staying long, I decide to lie down while Ken takes care of business with the checkers and vet. I heard some interesting information that made my ears perk up. The first musher to the Yukon wins an award called the Millennium Alaskan Hotel First Musher to the Yukon Award. The musher who wins this is awarded a five-course meal prepared by the Millennium Alaskan Hotel chef. He or she will also receive $3500 on an Alaskan Gold Pan. I told my teammates what I had heard; we were all jealous. Maybe the human of the dog team that arrived here first shared his meal with his team.  I know Ken would share with us.

The moment I think I smell a hint of steak, Ken stands on the sled and shouts, “Hike!” Time to leave Anvik and make a short 18-mile run to Grayling.

468 miles to Nome.  Next stop, Grayling.

Ideas for the classroom:

1. What does the first musher to the Yukon River win?

2. Regret says he will be running on “tundra.” What is tundra? Describe what it would look like to Regret and what it would feel like to him and his teammates.

3. Before Regret leaves Shageluk, Ken puts booties on his paws. What is the purpose of putting booties on the dogs’ paws?

4. Regret is a lead dog. What are the characteristics of a good lead dog?

5. Regret mentioned that the wheel dogs are a critical part of the team. What are the responsibilities and characteristics of a wheel dog?

6. If you got to choose anything for a five-course meal, what would you choose?

7. Who won the “First to the Yukon” the last time the Iditarod went through Anvik, in 2013? What was this musher’s meal?

Click here for the answers

Jr. Insider Crew

“We are so often caught up in our destination that we forget to appreciate the journey, especially the goodness of the people we meet on the way. Appreciation is a wonderful feeling, don't overlook it.”  - Unknown

“We are so often caught up in our destination that we forget to appreciate the journey, especially the goodness of the people we meet on the way. Appreciation is a wonderful feeling, don’t overlook it.” – Unknown

If you do not have an Iditarod Insider subscription yet, now is the time for you to subscribe. You and your class will have the opportunity to view videos, follow mushers through GPS tracking, watch live broadcasts, and view the live finish in Nome. Having an Insider subscription is not required for this lesson, but it will allow students to access an extensive amount of information. During the race my class will be taking on the role of the Jr. Insider Crew. This lesson keeps students involved in the race while producing quality writing, videos, and social media posts.

The Jr. Insider lesson will be continuous throughout the race. There are seven jobs for our Jr. Insider Crew to complete. Each day the groups will rotate to a new job. Every day we will begin by watching the featured video clip of the day on the Iditarod website. Each group will then be assigned their Jr. Insider job for the day which include; Blogger, Twitter, Video, Leaderboard, and Temperature. The students will then explore the website for updates on the race. In their groups they will be able to view video clips, check out the live GPS trackers, analyze the leaderboard, and read the various blogs on different race topics.

The Bloggers will be posting a blog updating our audience on the race. They will focus on the previous day’s news updates. They have the option of writing a story about a musher, a checkpoint, the leaders, the red lantern musher, or any topic they feel is newsworthy. Kidblog is a safe and easy blog site for your students to use in class. An excellent feature of this blog is that the teacher must approve the blog before it can actually go live.

If you don’t have access to any blog sites, create a homemade blog wall outside your classroom. Students can handwrite their blogs and post them to your “wall.” You could keep Post-it notes nearby for other students or teachers to comment on their posts.

The Twitter group will be posting live race updates in the form of tweets. The group must share at least six tweets using #iditarod15. They are able to post updates on the leaders and any important race news. If you are unable to use Twitter in your district, create a Twitter “wall” in your classroom. Make a wall in your classroom replicate that of a Twitter wall. Students can post their handwritten tweets to the “wall.”

There will be three groups creating video clips. One group will create a short video clip on the leaders of the race. Another group will create a video clip on the current checkpoint the leaders are going through. The third group will create a video clip on the mushers near the back of the standings. My students will edit their videos using WeVideo. In their video clips they will need to provide race information to our audience. An enhancement for your video clips could be to shoot your video in front of a “green screen” and edit the video to make it appear the students are actually reporting from the Iditarod trail.

The Leaderboard group is in charge of updating the leaderboard. They will need to update the place each musher is in, the checkpoint they have most recently checked through, and the number of dogs each musher is running. You can have your students create a leaderboard using Google Drive and then share the link to Twitter. Another option is to create a large leaderboard poster to hang in the classroom.

The Temperature group will be finding temperatures for different places along the trail. One location students will find is temperatures for the nearest checkpoint to the leader. Students will also find the temperature for the nearest checkpoint to the Red Lantern musher. Finally, they will find the temperature for the nearest checkpoint to our class musher, Cindy Abbott. The students will provide both Fahrenheit and Celsius for their temperatures. An option is to also include your hometown’s temperature to discuss the difference in temperatures.

This lesson is another way to keep your students engaged in the race while still working on their reading, writing, speaking, and technology skills. Even if you don’t have access to some of the social media from this lesson, there are different options for you to still complete this activity. Again, I highly recommend subscribing to Iditarod Insider. It will enhance this lesson as well as provide you with quality race coverage.

Jr. Insider Lesson Plan

Jr. Insider Activity Worksheet

Checkpoint Checkup: Iditarod to Shageluk

"Everyone's journey is completely different." - Jeremy Piven

“Everyone’s journey is completely different.” – Jeremy Piven

We last left Lance Mackey with his dogs in Iditarod. This week we will be continuing our journey and meeting up with 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, Martha Dobson, in Shageluk. Before we meet up with Martha we have about 65 miles of hilly ground to cover. This journey will take mushers between 7-10 hours to complete. Much like the trail from Ophir to Iditarod, it will be very lonely and quiet; no people, no cabins, very ghost like.

When the trail leaves Iditarod, mushers will head north on the Iditarod River for a little while. This section of the trail isn’t all that difficult, only hilly. Some of the hills climb about 500-1000 feet, which can make the downhill pretty tricky. Many sections of the trail can be tight, but the closer the mushers get to Shageluk, the wider it gets. Mushers will cross several rivers along the way, two of them being the Little Yetna and the Big Yetna Rivers. As the mushers close in on Shageluk they will be climbing out of a deep slough. They will see Shageluk sitting up high overlooking the Innoko River. Once they arrive on Main Street, they will be at the checkpoint.

Martha Dobson, 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

Martha Dobson, 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

Martha Dobson volunteered as a Comms (Communications) volunteer in 2013. Martha flew into Shageluk with one other Comms volunteer and a vet just before the weather turned bad. They landed on the Innoko River and had a short walk up to the community center. Besides Martha, there are two other Comms volunteers, three vets, and a race judge that man the checkpoint in Shageluk. The Comms volunteers in Shageluk work as checkers, park dog teams, cook food, check teams out, provide weather reports, send reports to headquarters, and complete other communications responsibilities as they come up.

The first thing Martha and the other Comms volunteers do is establish communication with headquarters at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage. This is quite the interesting process. They have to connect a rural broadband modem for Internet service. They use LAN cables and power cords. They zip tie the modem to a pole and stand outside holding and rotating the pole while trying to find a connection. Once the connection is established, the pole is stuck in a snow bank next to the community center. Now they are ready to communicate through email. At one point in 2013 they lost their Internet connection for about 6 hours. When this happens there is a phone available at the community center and all check in/out times are called in the old school way.

Village kids helping out

Village kids helping out

After establishing their Internet connection they met with the villagers to begin sorting the musher drop bags. The drop bags had been delivered earlier by air. One of the village elders was in charge of the organization of the bags and two of his grandchildren helped out. Martha’s next job was to take a toboggan sled to an elder’s home where the frozen food was being stored for the volunteers. She brought some food back to the community center for a few meals. She would return as needed. The volunteers would take turns cooking the meals, sleeping on the floor, checking teams in and out, and manning the computer. According to Martha, there is not a lot of time for sleep. The checkpoint in Shageluk was open for 4 ½ days in 2013.

After the last musher goes through, the checkpoint closes down. The volunteers clean up the building, rake the used straw, and pack the remaining food. The remaining food is given to the village elders to distribute to the people of the village. In addition to the people food, the leftover dog food is given to the village. Finally, once notification has been emailed that the last volunteers’ flight is on its way, they take down their broadband modem.

Martha’s highlight of working in Shageluk was meeting Mikhail Telpin of Russia. She thought his Chukchi dog team was beautiful. Since he doesn’t speak English, they communicated with him through sign language and drawing pictures in the snow.

Martha and the last vet rode five miles behind a snowmachine to the airstrip to catch their flight. They are heading to Unalakleet to volunteer at this checkpoint. The mushers will leave Shageluk and head to Anvik. Maybe we will run into Martha in Unalakleet.

486 miles to Nome! Next stop, Anvik.

Read more about the village of Shageluk in Virtual Trail Journey.

Read more about the trail from Iditarod to Shageluk in Don Bowers Trail Notes.

Pictures in Shageluk courtesy of Martha Dobson

Ideas for the classroom:

1. Look at the picture above of the volunteer with the dropped dogs. What do you think the dog laying on the volunteer’s lap is thinking? Write a short paragraph from the perspective of the dog.

2. How many checkpoints are between Shageluk and Unalakleet (Martha’s next stop)? Name the checkpoints.

3. According to Don Bowers, as the mushers head into Shageluk they will be climbing out of a deep slough. “Shageluk is on the far side of the slough, perched on high ground overlooking a wide curve in the southward-flowing Innoko River climb up out of the slough.” Draw a picture of what you feel this scene looks like.

Musher Mount Rushmore

"Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome." - Arthur Ashe

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”                         – Arthur Ashe

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Those names are among the most impressive presidents our country has witnessed. They also are the four faces on Mount Rushmore. My class recently created their own Mount Rushmore dedicated to mushers, Musher Mount Rushmore.

The lesson started with a short discussion about Mount Rushmore; what it is, where it is located, and who are the famous faces of the mountain. The majority of my classes did their Musher Mount Rushmore using 2015 Iditarod mushers. I had a high group in each class create their mountain using all current and past Iditarod mushers.

The students used the Musher Profiles and the Race Archives on the Iditarod website to help them research and determine their four deserving mushers. We discussed as a class what some qualifications they feel would be necessary for a musher to make the mountain. The students decided that finishing first is not necessarily a qualification. They also looked into the amount of times a musher has finished the race, top ten finishes, and top five finishes. Some made it a requirement that the musher had to finish a certain number of years before they even qualified for their mountain. After choosing each musher for their mountain, students must defend their choice. When defending their mushers they must use factual evidence from the website.

The groups will then get to actually create their Musher Mount Rushmore. A website called Face in Hole is designed for kids to upload a picture and place it in a famous scene. The groups will upload their four mushers and place them in Mount Rushmore. Reminder: when looking for images, search for images labeled for reuse. This can be done on Google Images under Search Tools, then Usage Rights. The website gives kids four options to share their image; Twitter, Facebook, print, or save to a computer. Since my class uses Twitter, each group will share their image to Twitter.


Student sample of 2015 Iditarod mushers: Lance Mackey, Dee Dee Jonrowe, Martin Buser, Jeff King

The groups will then share their Musher Mount Rushmore with the rest of the class defending each of their choices. I mentioned above that I had a high group in each class create their mountain using all Iditarod mushers. Another option to enhance this lesson is to create their mountains using mushers from the Jr. Iditarod. A modification to using the Face in Hole website is to have your students draw Mount Rushmore and draw their mushers faces into the mountain.

Student sample

Student sample using all Iditarod mushers: Jeff King, Rick Swenson, Joe Redington, Sr., Susan Butcher

This common core aligned lesson is another opportunity for students to learn about current and past Iditarod mushers. Just prior to this lesson I had my students complete the Iditarod Trivia Tuesday Meet the Mushers. This trivia lesson made the students more familiar with the mushers and helped them when choosing their four mushers for their mountain. Soon after the Musher Mount Rushmore lesson, my students will be choosing a musher to follow during the race.

Musher Mount Rushmore Lesson Plan

Musher Mount Rushmore Worksheet

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Which 2015 Iditarod musher is a former Jr. Iditarod champion?

"Do not give up, the beginning is always the hardest." - Unknown

“Do not give up, the beginning is always the hardest.” – Unknown

The Jr. Iditarod was started in 1978 to give young mushers an opportunity to race a longer distance. The first race in 1978 had two divisions, the junior division, ages 11-4, and the senior division, ages 15-17. Today there is only one division for kids ages 14-17. The Jr. is a 150-mile race that usually starts at Knik Lake and end at Willow Lake. The turn around, or halfway point, is at Yentna Station, an Iditarod checkpoint. At Yentna the junior mushers have a mandatory 10-hour stop, or layover. The winner serves as the leader, the first sled, of the ceremonial start for the Iditarod the next weekend.  Either the Honorary Musher or a representative of the Honorary Musher rides in the Junior Champion’s sled for 11 miles from 4th & D in downtown Anchorage to Campbell Air Strip. In addition to a Lynden Scholarship, the winner of the Jr. receives a new sled and two airline tickets to Nome to attend the Iditarod Finishers Banquet.

The Jr. Iditarod is traditionally held the weekend prior to the Iditarod. Not only do kids from Alaska participate in the Jr. Iditarod, but there are many kids that come from the lower 48, Canada, and even as far away as Spain. Many of the mushers go on to participate in the Iditarod.

To help you answer the trivia questions read Building Character and visit Jr. Iditarod.

Trivia Questions:

1. Which 2015 Iditarod musher is a former Jr. Iditarod champion?

2. Who won the 2014 Jr. Iditarod?

3. Who won the junior division of the 1978 Jr. Iditarod?

4. Who won the senior division of the 1978 Jr. Iditarod?

5. Who has won the Jr. Iditarod the most times?

6. How many 2015 Iditarod mushers have run the Jr. Iditarod?

7. Scholarships are awarded to the top 5 finishers. After reading Building Character, how are mushers able to spend their scholarships?

8. How many dogs are the junior mushers able to start the race with?

9. What year had the most finishers?

10. How many mushers are signed up for the 2015 Jr. Iditarod?

Click here for the answers.

“Jamaica, We Have a Dogsled Team!”

"It all has to do with the individual journey." - Ziggy Marley

“It all has to do with the individual journey.” – Ziggy Marley

The Iditarod has an impressive historic value that it brings to the state of Alaska. Not only does it have historic value, but it also shares rich culture among all the countries that participate in the race each year. Including the United States, there are 8 countries represented in this year’s Iditarod. One country not represented this year that has been represented in the past is Jamaica. Most people probably think this is strange due to the differences in climate, but to Jamaica, they are adding to their own culture and bringing their unique culture to Alaska.

My class just finished studying the Caribbean Islands, another great opportunity to tie in the Iditarod. This common core aligned lesson gives students the opportunity to determine how culture in Jamaica and Alaska are affected by having a Jamaican dogsled team. We started the lesson by reviewing the components of culture; language, religion, music, sports, etc. The focus for our lesson on culture is sports, so we listed the sports that the students know are a part of Jamaica. Two sports were missing from our list; bobsledding and dogsledding. The kids’ response was obvious; the climate is not fit for this type of sport. After discussing this, the students read an article and watched a video clip about Jamaica’s first bobsled team. After discussing what the students read and saw on the video, they were assigned a writing assignment to defend how they feel the first bobsled team affected the culture of Jamaica.

We discussed the writings the next day and the students were put into groups for the next part of the lesson. In their groups students read about Newton Marshall, the Jamaican musher. The next task involves the students displaying the information they learned about Newton. The groups will create an interactive image using a free web tool called Thinglink. Using Thinglink students are able to choose an image to represent a specific topic, Newton Marshall. They are then able to add additional images, videos, sounds, and web links to the image in the form of an icon on the image, making the main image interactive. Remember when using images from the Internet to remind your students of copyright infringement. An easy way to make sure your students are using free images is to use Google Images. There is a tab titled Search Tools, click this, then click on Usage Rights. This will allow you to choose labeled for reuse. Now you can use images and not break any copyright infringement laws.

When the groups are finished with their Thinglink, they will share their interactive image with me and with one other group in the class.  Thinglink allows students to share their image with a variety of social media sites, but  they can also just share the link with their teacher. Each group will view another group’s Thinklink about Newton Marshall. After viewing an image, the students will complete another writing about culture. Check out the student example below.

If your class does not have access to computers to work on Thinglink, think about creating an interactive image by hand. Students can draw a picture that represents Newton Marshall. Where an icon would be on Thinglink taking the audience to an image or video, have students create a flip book. When a viewer flips up a piece of construction paper, another drawing is presented. If you have students that work faster than others, have them create an additional Thinglink on the first Jamaican bobsled team.

Since my class just finished studying the Caribbean Islands, it was a perfect fit. However, it is not necessary to study the Caribbean Islands to complete this activity with your class. The students in my class loved the connection between the Iditarod and Jamaica as well as working with a new web tool. As the Iditarod nears, consider looking into the other countries that are involved in The Last Great Race.

Jamaica Lesson Plan

Cool Runnings Reading

Jamaica Culture Writing Part 1

Newton Marshall Reading

Newton Marshall Thinglink

Jamaica Culture Writing Part 2

Checkpoint Checkup: Ophir to Iditarod

“When you have completed 95 percent of your journey, you are only halfway there.” – Japanese Proverb

Lance Mackey signing up for the 2015 Iditarod

Lance Mackey signing up for the 2015 Iditarod


We left Charley Bejna behind in Ophir, and we are picking up our journey with Lance Mackey. This 90 mile trek will take Lance between 12-18 hours to complete. In fact, in 2013 it took him 14 hours and 51 minutes. Included in this journey, Lance will most likely take a long rest somewhere along the way.

Desolate. This is the word Lance used to describe the trail between Ophir and Iditarod. He stated the hardest part of this portion of the trail is the isolation and lack of local traffic. With no local traffic the trail is quite soft and slow going, hence a 12-18 hour-long run. After running along the Innoko River, Lance and his dogs will climb up about 800 feet through the Beaver Mountain Pass. From here, he will be about 20 miles from Don’s Cabin. Don’s Cabin is a place many mushers will stop for a break. It’s not much, but it does have a stove.

After the Beaver Mountain Pass, Lance will descend back to the Beaver Flats. Lance mentioned there is no tree cover along the trail and it is usually pretty cold. After a lengthy amount of time Lance will come upon Don’s Cabin, otherwise known as a plywood shack. There are still 54 miles of lonely, rolling hills until Iditarod. (Pictures courtesy of Kim Slade, 2007 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™)

Iditarod is virtually a ghost town. Back in 1910, though, the population was approximately 10,000 people. When gold was discovered in 1908, Iditarod became a gold-mining boomtown. No longer a large, bustling mining town, Iditarod is merely a checkpoint every other year. There are a few cabins still left standing in this ghost town, but it is still very isolated and quiet. When Lance and his dogs arrive, he is able to get water via a hole in the ice or melting snow. Not as luxurious as some of the checkpoints that have the accommodations to provide mushers with hot water. If Lance is hungry, he must fend for himself. He knows this, so he will be prepared. The tremendous volunteers and veterinarians are very loyal to the Iditarod checkpoint. Many of the volunteers have been manning this checkpoint for more than 20 years. Lance mentioned a volunteer by the name of Jasper as one of those wonderful long time volunteers. (Pictures courtesy of Kim Slade, 2007 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™)

During odd-numbered years Iditarod is the official halfway point in the race. In even-numbered years, when the trail heads north, the halfway point is Cripple. There is a northern and southern route to involve more villages in Alaska. The first musher to arrive in Iditarod receives the GCI Dorothy Page Halfway Award. In 2013, Lance Mackey was the first to Iditarod and received the award of a trophy and $3000 in gold nuggets. Check out this video of Lance receiving the award.

After receiving the award in 2013, Lance decided to take his 24-hour mandatory stop in Iditarod. Iditarod is one of Lance’s favorite checkpoints on the trail. He appreciates the checkpoint because of its peaceful atmosphere, the old, dilapidated buildings, and the overall history of the town. After 26 hours and 4 minutes (including differential), Lance and his dogs were on on their way to Shageluk.

511 miles to Nome! Next stop, Shageluk.

To read more about the journey to Iditarod read Virtual Trail Journey or Don Bowers Trail Notes

Questions for the classroom

1. Define the word desolate.

2. Write a journal entry describing a place that you have been that is desolate. Be specific and make your readers feel like they are actually there, too.

3. How many years has Lance Mackey run the Iditarod? Finished the Iditarod?

4. How many years has Lance Mackey won the Iditarod? Placed in the top 10?

5. Lance has won several awards besides the GCI Dorothy Page Halfway Award. Look in his career summary and find out what other awards he has won.

6.  How many years has there been a Mackey in the Iditarod?

Exercise Across Alaska

"Every New Year allows you to start a new phase of life's journey with optimism and confidence." - Michael Josephson

“Every New Year allows you to start a new phase of life’s journey with optimism and confidence.”                      – Michael Josephson

Happy New Year! What does everyone do at the start of a new year?  Traditionally, people will establish a New Year’s Resolution. Every year I always hear people say their New Year’s Resolution is to exercise more. Now is the time to start, and why not involve your students and exercise across Alaska.

Exercise Across Alaska is a cross curricular activity as well as Common Core aligned. When your students arrive back from break, have them share their resolutions. The importance of setting fitness goals is a perfect topic for P.E. This class is where the activity will begin. Students will be challenged to exercise 1049 minutes outside of P.E. class. Each minute will equal 1-mile, with the goal of reaching Nome. It is important to remind students that mushers have to stay fit to run the Iditarod. They are not just riding on the back of a sled for 1000-plus miles. They, too, will be running, pushing, and breaking trail. It is critical for them to stay physically fit.DSC_0285

In language arts students will record their journey of exercising across Alaska. Journal entries can be written in a hand-made journal or using technology such as Google Drive. Allow students about 5-10 minutes each day to record their progress using the following prompts: 1. I exercised for ______ minutes yesterday. I did the following exercises…  2. This is important to my health because…  3. That is important because…

In social studies students are able to map their movement along the trail. There are many interactive maps online to choose from, but I like the simplicity of Google My Maps. If your students wish, they can add pictures of themselves working out to their map. Check out my example map.

DSC_8619Students will be finding the amount of calories they are burning as they exercise in science. Using the calorie burn calculator students are able to input their height, weight, age, and the minutes of their activity to calculate the amount of calories they burned. Sled dogs burn about 10,000 calories per day on the Iditarod. It will be fun for the students to see how long it will take them to burn 10,000 calories.

In math students will work with their minutes. Every couple of weeks the students will calculate the average amount of time they are working out each day.  They will also keep track of how many more miles (minutes) they have to work out until they will reach Nome.

Having an end goal in place makes working out that much easier. Participating in a challenge that many others are participating in also makes working out that much easier. The students can encourage each other to work out, encourage each other if they are down about their numbers, and they can work out with each other. Happy exercising.

Exercise Across Alaska Lesson Plan

Calories Burned Worksheet

How Long Until Nome Worksheet

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Meet the Mushers

"Every journey starts with fear." - Jake Gyllenhaal

“Every journey starts with fear.” – Jake Gyllenhaal

Can you believe there are only 67 days left until the start of the 2015 Iditarod race? The last Iditarod Trivia Tuesday led you on a scavenger hunt of the rule book. This week you will use the Iditarod website to familiarize yourself with the 2015 mushers. This is a great time for you and your students to get to know the mushers of the Iditarod.

There are 80 mushers signed up for the race from all over the world. Familiar names, unfamiliar names, new names, and big names are among the list of names to make the over 1000-mile journey across Alaska. There are sisters, brothers, fathers, sons, husbands, and wives, too, that are on this impressive list of names. I can’t think of many other sports where you have 18-year old kids competing side-by-side with 70-year old veterans, or men competing side-by-side with women. The Last Great Race is a nondiscriminatory event where the rules are the same for everyone.

Below are a list of questions and a writing prompt to help familiarize your students with this long list of names. While you are getting familiar with the names, explore the website. To locate the list of mushers, go to After you are there, click on the Race Center tab and scroll down to 2015 Musher Profiles. You can view this list in alphabetical order with pictures or by list in the order in which they’ll draw their bib numbers.  The mushers’ entrant numbers on this list determine the order in which they draw.  To find out more about the musher, click on the musher’s name. You will be able to view a small biography about the musher.  Another link that will be useful for the questions below is view full career in the archives.

Good Luck!

Trivia Questions:

1. Out of the 80 mushers signed up for the 2015 Iditarod, which musher has finished the Iditarod the most years?

2. Which of the current mushers has the fastest time in finishing an Iditarod?

3. Which of the current mushers has the slowest time in finishing an Iditarod?

4. How many father/son mushers are signed up for the 2015 Iditarod?

5. How many 2015 rookies have attempted the Iditarod before?

6. Which 2015 Iditarod musher is the oldest?

7. Which 2015 Iditarod musher is the youngest?

8. Which musher has won the most amount of prize money racing the Iditarod?

9. Take a look at the Race Archives. How many mushers signed up have a relative that has won the Iditarod?

10. Look at the career summaries of the mushers. Which musher do you feel has the best chance of winning the 2015 Iditarod?

11. Writing prompt: Defend your answer to number 10 with factual evidence from the website. Include at least 2 facts cited from the website. You must also include your opinion.

Click here for the answers

Printer friendly questions

Checkpoint Checkup: Takotna to Ophir


“Your journey never ends. Life has a way of changing things in incredible ways.” – Alexander Volkov

Charley with his dog Charley

Charley with his dog Charley – courtesy of Terrie Hanke

The last leg of our journey took us from McGrath to Takotna. This week we will ride with Charley Bejna and his team 23 miles to Ophir. When Charley arrived in Takotna with 14 dogs on the line and 1 in the bag, he planned on taking his 24-hour mandatory stop there but for a variety of reasons, he changed his mind.  After leaving his dog, Bernie, in the good care of the Takotna vets and volunteers, Charley left for Ophir.

Takotna to Ophir - courtesy of Charley Bejna

Takotna to Ophir – courtesy of Charley Bejna

Immediately out of Takotna the trail is pretty steep. Charley and the dogs kept climbing and winding up the hillside. The highest elevation on this part of the trail is 1200 feet. The dogs were making excellent time, but the day began to grow darker and colder. Along the run they passed fellow musher, Anna Berington, and the dogs kept picking up speed from there.

This section of the trail that heads into Ophir is actually an old mining road that was built in the 1920’s. As he ran along the south side of the Innoko River he passed some old cabins and an old mining camp. Charley recalls some of the old and very interesting mining equipment and abandoned vehicles along the trail. At about this point on the trail you will know you are getting close to Ophir.

Ophir was a gold mining town that once had a population of 1,000 people, but today the population is zero. Only a few permanent structures remain in the ghost town. This checkpoint itself is located at Dick and Audra Forsgren’s cabin along the river. Since the checkpoint is along the river, the volunteers had water available for Charley to heat up and water his dogs.

Charley parked his team and started to care for his dogs. He gave them a snack and then put down straw for the dogs to take a rest. While the dogs were resting he prepared a big meal and checked on his dogs for any injuries. It was about -20 degrees Fahrenheit, so he put coats on all the dogs and then put blankets on the dogs. After a couple of hours of chores and vet checks for the dogs, Charley was finally able to eat and get some rest himself. He was very thankful to see that the volunteers had food available for the mushers in the cabin.

Since Charley took his 24-hour break in Ophir, he was able to get some much needed sleep. The sleeping quarters for the mushers are canvas walled structures with a stove for heat and bunks for sleeping. During the long break in Ophir, Charley fed the dogs every 4-6 hours. On the run in from Takotna, his dog Tundra wasn’t able to keep up with the speed of the rest of the team, so he decided to leave him behind in Ophir. Charley knew Tundra was in good hands with the vets and volunteers in Ophir. After lots of rest, food, and care, Charley and the dogs were anxious to get on the trail for the 73 mile journey to Cripple. For the next Checkpoint Checkup we’ll head in a different direction and continue on to another ghost town, Iditarod. Remember, in odd years the Iditarod takes the southern route.

Next stop, Iditarod. 566 miles to Nome.

Ideas for the classroom:

Charley took his 24-hour mandatory stop in Ophir. Since Charley was bib number 26, how long will he have to stay in Ophir to make up the 2-minute starting differential? There were 69 mushers who started the race.  There is no bib number 1 as it’s designated for the honorary musher. Click here for the answer.

What percentage of the trail has Charley covered?

What percentage of the trail does Charley have left?

Pretend you are Tundra the dog. Write a journal entry about your stay in Ophir.

Write a journal entry from the perspective of the dogs as they were running past the abandoned vehicles and mining equipment (picture above).

To read more about the journey to Ophir check out Don Bowers Trail Notes and Virtual Trail Journey – Ophir.

Aurora Borealis PowToon

“The beautiful journey of today can only begin when we let go of yesterday.” – Steve Maraboli


Amongst the natural beauty of Alaska, the Aurora Borealis stands out as perhaps the most breathtaking sight a musher can experience along the Iditarod trail. One can be mesmerized by the brilliance of the Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis is a very engaging topic for students to study. My students enjoyed learning about this fascinating subject and using technology to present their data.

This activity will give your students the opportunity to imagine they are scientists. They will make observations, collect data, and find evidence to prove their hypotheses. My class uses Google Classroom; therefore, all of their materials (pictures, videos, readings, worksheets) will be sent to them via the Classroom. All of the materials are attached at the bottom of this post. The activity is split into tasks for the students to complete in groups. The students start out by strictly viewing some pictures of the Aurora Borealis. As they are viewing the pictures, they will make a couple of prediction statements about where and when they think this is taking place. The groups will move on to the next task in which they will view a short video clip taken by Iditarod volunteer, Jansen Cardy. Students will make some more prediction statements as they view the video clip, such as, what makes this experience occur? Before moving on to collecting evidence, students will make a hypothesis about the Aurora Borealis (What do you think is occurring in the pictures and video and how does it occur?).

After observing and making predictions, the students will now prove or deny their predictions. Attached to their assignment is a reading article about the Aurora Borealis. The students will gather evidence supporting their predictions. This data will be recorded on the data chart. Whether the student prediction was spot on or way off, they are going to find specific evidence giving them the correct information. The class will have a discussion on their findings and results of their predictions.

The next task is for the students to share their data. Students will use the free technology tool called PowToon. PowToon allows students to create animated videos and presentations. It is free, fun, and very easy to use. My students enjoy using PowToon as an alternative for creating presentations. After presenting the PowToon to the class, the students will share the link with our class YouTube page and Twitter. This allows students to continue to view the presentations at home and share with their families. The final task is to write a statement proving or denying their original hypothesis.

Aurora Borealis Lesson Plan

Aurora PowToon Task Worksheet

Aurora Reading

Aurora Data Chart

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Scavenger Hunt

"If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all." - Dan Rather

“If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all.”          – Dan Rather

Last weekend the journey to the Iditarod became even more real for Iditarod rookies. The weekend of December 6-7 was the Iditarod Rookie Meeting. All rookies attend this mandatory meeting. A rookie is a musher who is running the race for the first time or who has never completed the race. Several topics are covered during the meeting, from dog care to self-care. Taking care of the dogs is a primary focus for the mushers. Early detection of potential issues in the dogs was a major topic of discussion among the mushers. In order to prevent issues with their dogs, the mushers listened to veterinarians and veteran mushers talk about run-rest schedules. An equal run to rest schedule is popular among many mushers. For instance, running the dogs for three hours would require a three hour rest.

In addition to caring for their dogs, self-care was emphasized to the mushers. Sleeping, staying hydrated, and eating properly were among the topics. Veteran mushers described that there are going to be highs and there are going to be lows. It is important for the rookie mushers to focus on the moment and let go of the negative moments.

This week, Iditarod Trivia Tuesday  focuses on the rules of the Iditarod. This is a great time for you and your students to get yourself familiar with the rules of the race, since it is right around the corner. I am challenging you to a scavenger hunt. Give your students a copy of the Iditarod rules or allow them to use a computer to access the Iditarod website. You can make this a competition to see which student/group can find the answers to all the questions first. If your students are “experts” at the race, challenge them to answer the questions without using the rule book. The student/group to get the most correct wins. To access the rules you will need to go to  Once there, click on the Race Center tab and scroll down to Iditarod Rules.

Iditarod Rules Scavenger Hunt

1. What is the minimum age requirement to enter the Iditarod?

2. What is the current entry fee?

3. There are 3 mandatory stops on the Iditarod trail. When and where must the musher make these stops?

4. The rule book states a musher must have certain mandatory items with them at all times. What are these mandatory items?

5. What type of dogs are allowed to race in the Iditarod?

6. A musher must qualify to run the Iditarod. What are the qualifications?

7. When will mushers draw for their starting spots?

8. When and where will the 2015 Iditarod start?

9. When and where is the 2015 Iditarod restart?

10. How many sleds can be used during the race?

11. What is the maximum/minimum number of dogs a musher can start with?

12. What is the minimum number of dogs a musher must have to be able to finish the Iditarod?

13. Can a musher substitute a driver to take their spot?

14. The teams do not start as a mass start. How many minutes apart do teams start the race?

15. What do the rules state about passing on the trail?

16. Are mushers allowed to use cell phones?

17. What is the maximum number of entries the Iditarod will accept?

18. How many pounds of food must be shipped to the checkpoints prior to the race?

19. What does rule 31 state about “Outside Assistance”?

20. Who is eligible for drug testing – mushers, dogs, or both?

Printer friendly scavenger hunt questions

Scavenger Hunt Answers

Finding Percentages with Cindy Abbott’s Budget



The 2015 Iditarod champion will win $70,000 and a brand new Dodge pickup truck. The amount of money mushers will spend on training, dogs, food, entry fees, supplies, or anything associated with sled dog racing easily surpasses that amount. It’s apparent that dog mushers don’t get into the sport for money. These athletes are in the sport for the love of the dogs and to preserve dog mushing.

Cindy Abbott shared her 2014-15 winter season budget with my class. The basic budget she shared with us is for supplies and expenses just for the races she has planned for the season and is not even half of the money she will spend on her dream of crossing under the burled arch in Nome. Cindy’s basic supply budget is over $35,000.

This budget is a perfect opportunity for students to work on figuring percentages. Students will begin the lesson by making an inference about how much money Cindy will spend this racing season. I imagine your students’ jaws will hit the floor when you give them the actual number. $35,000 is such a large number. Have your students make a list of supplies they think would be included in Cindy’s list.  Start off by giving them a few examples: dog booties, gloves for her, sled, etc. Let your students now look at her supply list, minus the dollar amount. After closely examining Cindy’s list, have your students categorize these supplies into five groups. An example of a category would be travel expenses. Next, give your students a budget of $36,000. Their task is to divide the $36,000 into the five categories. The concept is to get as close to Cindy’s numbers as possible. Using these numbers, students will create a circle graph to display their information. We use Google Drive at my school, so this is the tool we will use. Another option is to use Microsoft Word.

Now share Cindy’s exact numbers with the students. Have your students allocate the correct amount of money to each category they created earlier. The students will create another circle graph from the actual numbers. Putting the graphs next to each other, students are able to see what they predicted compared to Cindy’s actual numbers. On the worksheet assigned to the students are some additional percentage questions based on Cindy’s budget.

This Common Core aligned lesson challenges students to determine their own categories and allocate funds to those categories. This lesson also involves a real world topic and questions. An option to add to this is to compare this budget with the average salary of a member of your community. Another option is to have your students create a spreadsheet with the budget and average salary.  Create a monthly allowance for your bills at home and bills for sled dog racing.

Finding Percentages Lesson Plan

Finding Percentages Worksheet

Cindy’s Supply List

Cindy’s Budget (including money)

Checkpoint Checkup: McGrath to Takotna


“The beautiful journey of today can only begin when we learn to let go of yesterday.” – Steve Maraboli

Many of the mushers will choose to take their mandatory 24-hour stop in McGrath while others will check into McGrath and move on to Takotna for their long rest.  Still others will go further down the trail before taking their 24-hour break.  For those who spend 24 hours in McGrath, they’ll leave for Takotna with fresh and eager dogs. This trek will be a short 18-mile run that should take about 2-3 hours. Mushers will immediately head down to the Kuskokwim River, which is a half mile wide at this point. This will take them directly to the mouth of the Takotna River.  After about a mile they’ll leave the river to slowly climb west for roughly eight miles through swampy land. Five miles or so down the trail, they will cross another river, the Tatalina River; however, it might not be that noticeable. This part of the trail is heavily trafficked by snow machines which can make for some ruts. This is about the only thing that will slow a team down on this fast run.

Many will choose to do this run at night, but for those that do the run during the day, they’ll be able to view the summit of Tatalina Mountain, 3200 feet. At this point they are running along a ridge that will eventually head 500 feet down the mountain back to the Takotna River. It will be a quick couple of miles until they reach the checkpoint.

I spoke with volunteer and teacher, Tabitha Meglitsch, who lives in the village of Takotna, and learned some interesting information about the village. Takotna was founded as a supply depot for the local mines a little over 100 years ago. At that time, Takotna was a very large community. Today, there are about 50 residents. In the village there is a post office, school, water distribution building, Takotna Tribal Council, and the Takotna Community Association. The residents are a mixture of Native Alaskan, Caucasian, and Hispanic. Folks in the community get along very well with each other. They act as a large family, helping each other out whenever necessary.

The Iditarod is an important part of the culture in Takotna, especially since historically the whole village volunteers during race time. Prior to the start of the race they will cut and split 4-5 cords of firewood. A cord of wood is any dimension of stacked wood that adds up to 128 cubic feet. The firewood is used to provide mushers with hot water to use to feed their dogs. The community also cleans up the church, library, and Twitchel Building (where the Council offices are located) in preparation for all the visitors. Another job prior to the race is for the village to buy and cook all the food they will serve to mushers, volunteers, and paying visitors.

Resting dogs

Resting dogs

During the race, village residents, both young and old, volunteer to help with the many round the clock jobs. Tabitha’s job is the “Lead Dog Handler.” This means she will organize the parking crews who park the teams that decide to stay in the checkpoint. Tabitha also helps the vets set up the dropped dog area, feed and care for the dropped dogs, and take the dogs down to the airplanes. Other jobs the villagers volunteer for are checkers, cooks, water crew, clean-up and fire crew. These crews are usually split into a day shift and night shift.  Many relatives and friends of the Takotna residents come to the village to help out during the race.

Famous Takotna pies

Famous Takotna pies

The village does their best to treat every musher equally, no matter if they are the first or the last to arrive.Takotna’s hospitality is one of a kind. Each musher is offered a steak dinner and their choice of Takotna’s famous pie. About 80 pies are baked each year for the Iditarod. The pie ladies know just about every kind of pie the mushers enjoy.

Sounds like a place you don’t want to leave, but they must keep on moving. 646 miles to Nome. Next stop, Ophir.

To read more about Takotna check out Don Bowers Trail Notes and Virtual Trail Journey – Takotna.

Ideas for the classroom:

1. What percentage of the trail have mushers completed?

2. A common cord of wood is 4 ft in width, 4 feet in height, and 8 feet long. How many cubic feet is 1 cord of wood?

3. If the village of Takotna cuts down five cords of wood, how many cubic feet of wood have they cut down?

4. What is your favorite kind of pie? Look up the ingredients to your favorite pie. How much of each ingredient would you need to make 80 of your favorite pies?

5. Find the price of each ingredient in your pie.  Approximately how much would it cost you to make 80 of your favorite pies?

6. If you can fit 2 pies in your oven, how long will it take to make 80 of your favorite pies?

7. Take a poll of everyone in your class. What is everyone’s favorite kind of pie? Make a circle chart showing your classes favorite kinds of pie.

Making Inferences with Quotes and Photos

“Memories are but a journey we take in our minds, but relive in our hearts.” - A. Grant

“Memories are but a journey we take in our minds, but relive in our hearts.” – A. Grant

This week’s Iditarod Trivia Tuesday posed questions about Jeff Schultz, official photographer of the Iditarod. Continuing with the theme of photography, this lesson will focus on interpreting quotes and inferring their meaning while using photography. To begin this Common Core aligned lesson you will have your students brainstorm quotes they remember or often quote from movies. After compiling a list of quotes, have your students make note of the quotes that they feel have a bigger meaning.

There are many famous quotes that can be interpreted many different ways. In fact, we can interpret quotes to fit our own life experiences, or even Iditarod experiences. The next step in this lesson is for your students to discover a quote that represents an Iditarod picture. Choose a picture ahead of time from Jeff Schultz’s 2014 Iditarod photo album to display on your board. Note: Due to copyright laws you cannot reproduce these images. In small groups, students will search for a quote on Brainy Quote that represents the  image. Once students find their quote they will complete the Making Inferences with Quotes and Photos Worksheet analyzing the quote they chose. The worksheet challenges students to infer the meaning of the quote by asking a series of questions. Does the quote remind you of something? How can you apply these words to your own life? How does this quote relate to the Iditarod? After sharing the quotes with the class, your class will have a list of quotes that represent Jeff Schultz’s image.

To culminate this lesson students will have the opportunity to snap their own photos. Allow your students a couple of days to find the perfect images.  Your students will be required to snap eight pictures, each picture representing a different letter of the word IDITAROD. Finally, using the web tool, Livebooklet, your students will create a flipbook of their images including a quote for each image. Your students should be able to defend their decision of each quote they chose. The final product will be shared with the teacher via email and can also be shared through social media.

If your students don’t have access to cameras, allow them to do a drawing of their picture. Encourage your students to be creative while shooting pictures. Maybe take a selfie with the item/place of the picture they are taking. Possibly have your outstanding photographers print their images out and display them in the library. Think about hosting a Photo Exhibit with all of the pictures and quotes that represent IDITAROD.

Click here to see an example IDITAROD flipbook.

Making Inferences with Quotes and Photos Lesson Plan

Making Inferences with Quotes and Photos Worksheet

IDITAROD Photography Instructions


Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Did you know Jeff Schultz is the official photographer of the Iditarod?

“That’s the beauty of art - we strive for perfection but never achieve it. The journey is everything.” - Rafe Esquith

“That’s the beauty of art – we strive for perfection but never achieve it. The journey is everything.”                    – Rafe Esquith (Iditarod musher Ed Stielstra named one of his dogs after Jeff Schultz)

1049 miles. This is the approximate distance of the Iditarod and Jeff Schultz gets to see every mile, every year. Jeff Schultz began snapping photos of the Iditarod way back in 1981. He was invited to photograph the race by none other than the “Father of the Iditarod,” Joe Redington, Sr. The first year Jeff had to pay for his own transportation along the trail. Then the next year, the Iditarod Trail Committee asked him to shoot photos again, but now they would transport him along the trail in their planes. This opportunity has changed Jeff Schultz’s life. To read about how being the official photographer of the Iditarod has changed Jeff’s life check out his fascinating book, Chasing Dogs.

Many things have changed in photography since 1981, one of the biggest being the change from the use of film to digital cameras. Around 1999, Jeff gradually started using digital cameras. By 2003, he was using digital cameras full-time. Jeff’s favorite part of the trail is between Finger Lake and Rohn. I asked Jeff what his favorite image was to shoot. He loves to take pictures that show the dog team small with a big landscape, especially with mountains. According to Jeff, “It’s the shot that says it all that people love.” To view some of Jeff’s pictures from the 2014 Iditarod click here.

Ideas for the classroom:

1. Jeff Schultz takes approximately 10,000 photos during the course of one Iditarod.  If Jeff is taking pictures for 15 days (Ceremonial Start through the Finisher’s Banquet), about how many photos does he average per day?

2. Jeff Schultz will publish approximately 200 photos to the Iditarod website.  Using 15 days, about how many pictures will Jeff upload to the website daily?

3. Roughly, about how many dogs has Jeff Schultz had the opportunity to snap shots of? Use the Iditarod website by going to the Race Center tab and then down to Race Archives to find out how many mushers started each race Jeff has been involved in. Let’s just suppose that each musher started the race with 16 dogs.

4. It costs about $13 to have a 35 mm roll of film (36 pictures size 4×6) developed. It costs about 9¢ to have one 4×6 digital picture printed. What is the price difference in getting a roll of film developed (36 pictures) compared to 36 digital prints.

5. What do you feel are the benefits of using digital versus film?

6. Challenge: Spell IDITAROD with your camera/phone. Using any device that has a camera, go around your school and take a picture that represents each letter of IDITAROD.  For example; I –  Ink Pen (take a picture of an ink pen)

7. “Caption this.” Look at the 4 pictures below. Write a caption for each picture.

8. “Zoomed in.” What do you think the picture below is?

DSC_2741Click here for the answers.

Teaching “Theme” with Hobo Jim

“Without music, life is a journey through a dessert.” - Pat Conroy

“Without music, life is a journey through a dessert.” – Pat Conroy

Hobo Jim

Hobo Jim

No matter what age, grade, or skill level, analyzing the theme of a story or book is a difficult task. It requires students to make an inference. This higher order thinking skill can be quite challenging. A fellow teacher of mine noticed her Literacy students were having trouble grasping theme. She turned to something almost all kids enjoy, music. She determined that using T.V. show theme songs could help them master this skill. As we talked about this, my mind turned to the Iditarod. Could this be done using an Iditarod themed song? Well, of course, and the song would be I Did the Iditarod Trail by Hobo Jim.

This Common Core aligned lesson can be used with any grade level. To grab her student’s attention she played the theme song to the T.V. show Friends. It was pretty easy for the students to pick up on the theme of this song, friendship. However, when you look at the beginning of the lyrics with no music, it appears quite depressing. Adding the music, the tone of the singer, and the chorus, we can easily determine this song is about friendship.

Before actually listening to Hobo Jim’s song, students complete a close reading using the lyrics of the song. This concept is for the students to analyze the lyrics and identify the words and/or phrases that support the theme of the song. Students will use the Song Lyrics Analysis Worksheet during the close read. While analyzing the lyrics they will discuss the mood of the song and how it makes them feel. This will help determine the theme. What do you think this song is saying about life? Is there something to be learned? Or, is the writer of the song trying to teach you something? After determining what they feel the theme is, the students must defend their choice by highlighting the evidence in the song. Any words or phrases that support their choice should be highlighted. After a class discussion it’s finally time to listen to the song.

The next part of the lesson is individual practice for the students. Have your students choose a book they are currently reading or have recently finished. Students will determine the theme of their book and choose a song they feel could be the “theme song” for this book. To defend their choice, students must highlight the evidence in the lyrics of the song.

If your students are really creative, they can actually write their own theme song (parody). Have your students choose a song  whose music they like and rewrite the lyrics of the song. Your students can then use GarageBand or Audiotool to put the lyrics to the music.

To extend this lesson, make it cross curricular. Have your physical education class do a square dance routine listening to the song. Diane Johnson, Iditarod Education Director and 2000 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, asked her P.E. teacher to devise square dance steps for I Did the Iditarod Trail and the students performed the dance. View the steps here. Involve the music class by having your students learn the song and perform it for an upcoming concert. Social studies students could map out the places Hobo Jim has performed. Math students might analyze the measurement of time in the song. Using the song, science students learn about the effects music has on the growth of plants.

Music is an excellent subject to incorporate into your lessons. Just chatting with my friend about the difficulty of understanding theme of a story, many lesson ideas incorporating music evolved. I love music, so incorporating it into my classroom is no problem. I hope you take the opportunity to bring the idea of song, especially Hobo Jim’s I Did the Iditarod Trail, into your classroom.

Teaching Theme with Music Lesson Plan

Song Lyrics Analysis Worksheet

Iditarod Square Dance Steps

Click here to learn more about Hobo Jim and purchase a CD.

Checkpoint Checkup: Nikolai to McGrath

"The journey is my home." - Muriel Rukeyser

“The journey is my home.” – Muriel Rukeyser

Vern Halter, Dream a Dream Dog Farm, with one of his dogs, Aspen.

Vern Halter, Dream a Dream Dog Farm, with one of his dogs, Aspen.

It’s time to pack the sled and booty the dogs, and go onward to McGrath. As often quoted by Vern Halter, former Iditarod musher, “If you make it to Nikolai, you will likely make it to Nome.” By no means does this mean it is smooth running from Nikolai, it just means, statistically speaking, the toughest part of the trail is behind the mushers.

One of Vern Halter's dogs modeling a winter coat.

One of Vern Halter’s dogs modeling a winter coat.

According to Don Bowers, this 4 ½ to 7 hour run can be quite boring. Most mushers will choose to do this run at night when it is cooler and the dogs will go faster. Bowers also mentions it is generally very cold down on the Kuskokwim River, so it would be a good idea to put coats on the dogs. After leaving Nikolai mushers will be back down on the Kuskokwim River for about a mile. Then up and out of the banks of the river, the trail will be straight, quick, and fast. It will be very easy to follow because it is the main snow machine trail between Nikolai and McGrath, a distance of 48 miles. Halfway to Big River, mushers will cross the big Guitar Lake. This lake is almost two miles wide.

Once the mushers arrive at Big River, they are halfway to McGrath, 23 more miles. The mushers will be back on the Kuskokwim again. After some time on the river the teams will exit the bank and head through the woods for about seven miles before meeting back up with the river. The rest of the way to McGrath is on the river, off the river, repeat. When the mushers arrive in McGrath it will most likely be very busy. McGrath has become a popular checkpoint for many mushers to take their 24-hour mandatory stop. Many mushers will also have a replacement sled waiting for them in McGrath. The first musher to arrive in McGrath will receive the Spirit of Alaska Award from Penn Air.


I spoke with Iditarod volunteer Stacey Cardy about what it is like in McGrath. McGrath is the next big “hub” after Anchorage. A hub is a larger town that has an actual airport where larger planes can land. McGrath has a blend of both native and white people, whereas the smaller checkpoints are predominantly native.

With two stores, a school, a library & museum, a restaurant, a regional health center and a community center, there’s plenty going on in McGrath.  Prices in the village for groceries would seem high to shoppers from the lower 48 states.  According to Stacey, an Alaska resident, it costs $13 for a ½ gallon of ice cream.  Both stores are well stocked and offer groceries, dry goods and hardware.  The Alaska Commercial Store (AC Store) is huge compared to the small pink barn shaped structure known as The Shoppe.  Walking from logistics to the checkpoint, you’ll pass the newly built health center, the library & museum, a church, The Shoppe and the school.  Sixty-one PK-12 students attend school in McGrath.  They are known as the McGrath Knights.  The Community Center is a nice, large, multipurpose building equipped with a washeteria (laundromat & showers).  The Fire Hall is part of the Community Center.

Year round, McGrath serves as a transportation hub for the surrounding area.  The community also serves as an Iditarod hub. Logistics (coordination and staging) operations for the race are based in the Cafe which is located near the airstrip.  Volunteers working checkpoints from Rohn to the Yukon River fly commercially to McGrath, then wait for IAF transportation to smaller checkpoints.  If waiting overnight, race personnel can sleep in a big bunk room upstairs over the Cafe.  The Iditarod Air Force (IAF) pilots have a bunk room of their own downstairs.  Logistics people and pilots let volunteers know when their IAF flights are departing. On the other end, when a checkpoint closes after the last musher leaves, volunteers might be flown into McGrath and then wait for a commercial flight back to Anchorage or a flight further down the trail to their next assignment.  The Cafe, a local gathering spot, serves excellent food.  During the race, the Cafe kitchen is a double duty operation.  Iditarod cooks share the kitchen with the Cafe’s chef/owner to prepare food for the logistics crew, the pilots and other volunteers awaiting transport.

Volunteer Comm's Rob Johnson works the communication desk at McGrath on Wednesday March 5 during the 2014 Iditarod. (Photo by Jeff Schultz)

Volunteer Comm’s Rob Johnson works the communication desk at McGrath on Wednesday March 5 during the 2014 Iditarod. (Photo by Jeff Schultz)

It’s an easy one-mile walk from the Cafe/logistics to the Community Center where the checkpoint is located. Stacey works at the checkpoint as a Comms (Communications) volunteer. Comms sets up shop in the Community Center in a small office like room. News crews will base themselves out of McGrath since it is a larger checkpoint. They set up shop in the laundromat in the Community Center.  While a cook is on hand 24 hours a day at the checkpoint to prepare food for the mushers and volunteers, community members also bring food in – pies, cakes, bars, soups and stews are delivered regularly.  Day and night, kids and adults come to the checkpoint to hang out, visit with neighbors and watch the mushers.

Everybody keeps an eye on the tracker for the mushers. When they are about a mile or so out, the checker and a Comms volunteer, along with dog team parkers and vets, will prepare to head outside.  When the team is on the river, everyone heads outside to welcome  them to McGrath. The checker will write down the time the musher arrived, how many dogs are with the musher, and then tell them where to park. Assisted by the parkers, the musher will guide the team to their parking spot. If the musher is a first-timer, the checker will let them know where the musher bags, hot water, and musher facilities are located.

After a long rest and great meals, the mushers will be back on the trail heading to Takotna.  669 miles to Nome.  Virtual Trail Journey and Don Bower’s Trail Notes provide more information about McGrath and the trail from Nikolai to McGrath.

Ideas for the classroom:

1. How much does a 1/2 gallon of ice cream cost in your town?  Compare your price with the price in McGrath.

2. Mushers leave Willow 2 minutes apart. This time is made up during the 24-hour mandatory stop.  The last musher to leave Willow will spend exactly 24 hours at the mandatory stop.  The second to last musher will leave 24 hours plus 2 minutes, and so on. Have your students create an easy to use formula to determine when each musher will leave their mandatory stop.

3. Using the current number of mushers signed up for the 2015 Iditarod, 73, have your students figure out when bib #32 should leave their mandatory stop.

4. Writing prompt: Why do you feel a musher would have a replacement sled waiting for them in McGrath? Defend your response with factual evidence from earlier Checkpoint Checkups. (Hint: Think about trail conditions.)

Celsius vs. Fahrenheit

"To travel is to take a journey into yourself." - Danny Kaye

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” – Danny Kaye

Ken Anderson getting hot water from the cooker in Takotna.

Ken Anderson getting hot water from the cooker in Takotna.

Tomorrow will be a scorching 35° outside! How often have you heard a meteorologist utter these words? 35° can sound scorching if you’re from Norway or Sweden, but here in the United States it is actually quite chilly. 35° Celsius is approximately 95° Fahrenheit. The United States still measures temperature in Fahrenheit while many other countries are using Celsius. If your students completed this week’s Iditarod Trivia Tuesday, they found out there are 13 mushers from countries other than the United States signed up for the 2015 Iditarod. Converting temperatures is a quick and easy lesson aligned with the Common Core.

To grab your students’ attention right off the bat, reveal tomorrow’s temperature to them in Celsius. This can easily transition into a discussion about how the U.S. uses Fahrenheit while many other countries use Celsius.  This can lead directly to students discovering which countries the 13 mushers from out of the USA call home.

In this lesson students will identify Iditarod mushers that are not from the United States while making real world temperature conversions such as, boiling water, freezing water, body temperature, etc. Students will also develop a week-long weather forecast for their hometown and a village on the Iditarod trail. The weather forecast must be accurate according to the weather app the students choose. While developing the forecast they must also convert the Fahrenheit temperature to Celsius.

Gas stove heating water for all mushers in Skwentna.

Gas stove heating water for all mushers in Skwentna.

The sixth grade students at Camanche Middle School, where I teach, report the weather daily at the beginning of the day. I am going to challenge them to start reporting the temperature in Celsius. This will require reporters to convert the temperatures and encourage the listeners to convert the temperatures. Good luck converting temperatures.

Temperature Conversion Lesson Plan

Temperature Conversion Worksheet

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: How many mushers have signed up for the 2015 Iditarod?

“Everyone’s journey is completely different.” - Jeremy Piven

“Everyone’s journey is completely different.” – Jeremy Piven

June 29, 2014 was the first day mushers could sign up for the 2015 race. Each year on the last Saturday of June the annual Musher Sign Up/Volunteer Picnic takes place in Wasilla, Alaska. A majority of mushers will join in the festivities and sign up for the race. Signing up at the picnic gives mushers the chance to earn their $3000 entry fee back. It’s safe to say that is a great reason to sign up on site. If mushers are unable to attend they are able to mail their entry in. Mushers have until December 1 to enter the 2015 race.

Use the Iditarod website to locate mushers who have signed up for the 2015 race. When you arrive at the site you will have some more searching to complete. Hover over the Race Center tab and then click on 2015 Musher Profiles.  There are two options to view this page; 1. Alphabetical order with a head-shot, or 2. Click View Musher Roster as a list. Viewing as a list displays more information about the musher; name, sex, city, state, country, and status (rookie or veteran).

Questions for the classroom:

1. How many mushers are signed up for the 2015 Iditarod?
2. How many mushers are from the state of Alaska?
3. What is the percentage someone from Alaska will win?
4. How many mushers are from the Lower 48?
5. What is the percentage someone from the Lower 48 will win?
6. How many mushers are from a country other than the U.S.?
7. What is the percentage that someone from out of the U.S. will win?
8. How many mushers are previous champions?  Use the website to help you. Hover over the Race Center tab then click on Race Archives.
9. How many rookies are signed up for the race?
10. Rookie of the Year is awarded to the first rookie to cross the finish line.  What is the percentage the Rookie of the Year will be male/female?
11. How many females versus males are signed up for the race?
12. What is the percentage a female will win?


1. Who do you think will be the 2015 Iditarod Champion?
2. Choose your top ten finishers.
3. Who will be the first female finisher?
4. Who will be Rookie of the Year?

Click here for the answers.

Read more about this summer’s Musher Sign-up/Volunteer Picnic in The First Step and Eye on the Trail.

Skype With Me

"Enlightenment is the journey from the head back to the heart, from words back to silence." - Jock Brocas

“Enlightenment is the journey from the head back to the heart, from words back to silence.” – Jock Brocas

Would you and your students like the opportunity to Skype with the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ before the race? Would you like to Skype or receive a video message live from the Iditarod Trail?  Sign up for the Skype in the Classroom lesson by simply clicking here.  If you have difficulties accessing Skype in your district, I am willing to communicate with you using another mode, such as Google Hangout. However, Skype will be the only mode for me to stay in touch with you when I’m on the trail. You can email me by clicking here.

Once we lock down a date and time I will direct you back to this posting. To prepare for your Skype in the Classroom lesson, have your students keep a journal entry with answers to the questions below. In your Skype session with me I will be covering the topics that I have your students preparing for. Try to have the pictures posted during the Skype session and have your students have their answers to the questions with them.

Some teachers and students have a deeper knowledge and understanding of the Iditarod.  With advance notice, I am willing to focus the Skype session on a more specific topic of your choice.

Skype Lesson Preparation

Part 1: Puppies

View the video below titled Puppy Cam. After viewing the video have your students answer the following questions:

When do you think mushers begin training puppies?
What do you think is happening in this video?

View the pictures below.  These are the same puppies you watched in the video.

What do you notice about the names of all the puppies?

Part 2: Types of dogs

Do you know what kinds of dogs are used in the Iditarod?

View the pictures below. Label each picture with the type of dog you think it is.

Part 3: Team

View the picture below. Each dog has a position on this dog team. Can you name the positions on this dog team?


Part 4: The “Lead Dog”

View the picture below.  Write a short paragraph from the perspective of this dog. Take a look at his surroundings and notice what is going on. What is he thinking? Why do you think he is just sitting there, as still as possible?


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:

Checkpoint Checkup: Rohn to Nikolai

"Never stop just because you feel defeated. The journey to the other side is attainable only after great suffering." - Santosh Kalwar

“Never stop just because you feel defeated. The journey to the other side is attainable only after great suffering.” – Santosh Kalwar

We took a break in Rohn in our last Checkpoint Checkup. It’s time for our mushers to get moving again.  This section of our journey is approximately 75-80 miles and will take about 10-15 hours. This part of the trail can be broken down into three sections; Rohn to the Farewell Burn, across the Burn to Sullivan Creek, and then Sullivan Creek to Nikolai. Since this is such a long run, some teams will give their dogs a long break along the way and others will take several shorter breaks.

Mushers can look forward to some beautiful scenery along the way, but some challenges will arise also. First, teams must contend with some harsh winds. As mushers are traveling along the Kuskokwim River, they will meet winds in excess of 40 mph, usually head on. This part of the trail also includes sections of glare ice. Glare ice is ice that has a very smooth, glass-like surface.

Egypt Mountain from the sky.

Egypt Mountain from the sky.

Eventually, the dogs and mushers will  run through the Buffalo Chutes. Since being moved from Canada in 1965, hundreds of bison roam this area. It is on this part of the trail mushers will see Egypt Mountain which is approximately 3000 feet high. Once past Egypt Mountain, mushers will run into a difficult section of overflow. Overflow occurs when the ice gets so thick that the water has nowhere to go and pushes up over the ice. Overflow can be very challenging to cross. Mushers will soon be at Farewell Lake. After about five miles they will head past the Old Pioneer Roadhouse. According to Don Bower’s trail notes, this is an original stop on the old Iditarod. He also notes that you can still see ruins of a couple of cabins there.

View of Denali.

View of Denali.

Mushers are now in the second major section of their journey to Nikolai, the Farewell Burn. The Farewell Burn is the location of one of the largest forest fires in Alaska history. In 1978, a forest fire  destroyed about one million and a half acres of forest. Mushers will be traveling through this land for about 40 miles. Initially, after the fire, this part of the trail was very difficult due to all the burned trees and limbs blocking the trail. The Bureau of Land Management has since cleaned this area up. With the absence of trees, mushers can see what seems like forever. During the day mushers have the hope of seeing a magnificent view of Denali.

After a very long straightaway, the trail will go in and out of the treeline until arriving at Sullivan Creek. There is a bridge here for mushers to use to cross the creek. Good thing, because usually the creek is open water and pretty deep.

Section three of this part of the trail is Sullivan Creek to Nikolai, about 21 miles. The last 12 miles of this section is marked and maintained by the Nikolai villagers. This will be a quick run, flat and fast through the woods, swamps, and lakes. The mushers have made it to Nikolai. Most of the tough part of the trail is behind them, but they better not let their guard down, because anything can happen.

Nikolai is the first Native Alaskan Village along the trail. Nikolai is an Athabascan village that was settled during the Gold Rush. Originally, it was the site of a trading post and roadhouse that connected the Ophir Mining District to the Cook Inlet. Present day Nikolai has approximately 100 people living in the village.

Traditionally Athabascan people have lived in the Interior along the Yukon, Tanana, Susitna, Copper, and Kuskokwim (Nikolai) rivers. Today they live throughout Alaska.  Children in Nikolai are taught the many Athabascan Cultural Values. Athabascans are taught respect for all living things as well as village cooperation, respect for land, sharing, and respect for Elders.

The school in Nikolai.

The school in Nikolai.

The first time I spoke with the students and teacher/principal at Nikolai it was their lunch time. Immediately I noticed cultural values being practiced. Sitting in the midst of the 12 students of the Top of the Kuskokwim school (Nikolai) were several Elders. The Elders frequently lunch with the students, a wonderful opportunity to share stories with young children at the school.

The Top of the Kuskokwim school is part of the Iditarod School District. There are about 200 students served in seven different communities. None of these schools are accessible by road. My students were amazed when they found out there were only 12 students in the entire school, kindergarten through 12th grade. Even though this is a small school, they have many opportunities. We met a student who was using his lunch time to engage in a virtual flight simulator. My students thought that was awesome. Students in grades 7-12 have the opportunity to take aviation classes. With limited access to roads, air travel is important. Studying for a future career at this young age is a perfect opportunity for students.

Timothy's (from Nikolai) writing about working during the Iditarod.

Timothy’s (from Nikolai) writing about working during the Iditarod.

This school district also integrates its culture into their curriculum. The first two weeks of school are spent at Fish Camp. Fishing is crucial to their lifestyle, and it is imperative children learn this lifestyle. Students also learn the health benefits of cross-country skiing. Another opportunity the students have is Culture Camp. Here, students learn leadership and communication skills by blending Western Science with Native knowledge. The Nikolai students also complete a large unit on the Iditarod, very fitting since they are located on the trail and for a couple of weeks each year it’s a huge and exciting part of village life. Besides studying the Iditarod, the students help during race time. According to young student, Timothy, “There are four jobs when the Iditarod happens. I’ll tell you one job. It’s taking shifts. There is a morning, afternoon, and all night shift. Morning shift is cooking brunch for the mushers. Afternoon shift is cooking lunch for the mushers. All night shift is cooking dinner for the mushers and cleaning up the school.”

Ideas for the Classroom:

1. Read through the list of Athabascan Values.  My school has a list of values that we expect all students and staff to abide by: PRIDE (Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Discipline, and Excellence).  Examples of these values are holding doors open for others, walking down the correct side of the hall, acting appropriately at assemblies, turning in work, respecting all students and adults, getting to classes/practices on time, etc. Is there a set of values that your school follows? Choose one Athabascan Value and one of your school’s values. Compare and contrast the two values.

2. How do you think a student in Nikolai could display your value? How do you think you could display an Athabascan Value at your school?

3. How can your value be displayed by a musher running the Iditarod?

4. How can an Athabascan value be displayed by a musher running the Iditarod?

5. Draw a picture of portraying your value and a picture portraying the Athabascan value.

To read more about the trail from Rohn to Nikolai read Sanka’s Virtual Trail Journey or Don Bower’s trail notes.

Mystery Skype

“When we embrace uncertainty, honor it, and welcome it, the mystery of our journey unfolds with grace.” - Unknown

“When we embrace uncertainty, honor it, and welcome it, the mystery of our journey unfolds with grace.” – Unknown

Skype is an incredible tool teachers have at their fingertips allowing them to communicate with other classes and speakers around the world. Skype in the Classroom provides teachers with opportunities to share lessons, join lessons, and find guest speakers for their classrooms. A very popular Skype in the Classroom lesson is Mystery Skype. My class recently held a Mystery Skype with the village of Nikolai. Nikolai is a small village along the Iditarod Trail. Tuesday (11/11/14) I will post a Checkpoint Checkup sharing information about Nikolai.

The objective in a Mystery Skype is to ask yes or no questions about location to determine where the other class is located. The questions should be centered around geography (directions, latitude/longitude, equator, bodies of water, mountain ranges, etc). The classes take turns asking each other questions while trying to locate each other.

A Mystery Skype does not necessarily have to be with another class. The reason we chose to do a Mystery Skype with Nikolai was to start a relationship with that class. My class will  communicate and work with the Nikolai class over the next couple of weeks. This is a great way to start a relationship with another class as well as analyze the geography of their location. Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, held a Mystery Skype with a friend and Iditarod volunteer in New York, live from Central Park in front of the Balto statue.  Maybe you have a friend or family member living or vacationing in Alaska. Have this person work with your class on a Mystery Skype. Another idea is to contact the museum in Cleveland, Ohio, home of stuffed (preserved and mounted) Balto. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History offers a distance learning program called Balto: A History of Humans, Huskies, and Health in Alaska. This program teaches students about the disease diptheria and how instrumental Balto was in the famous Serum Run. Balto reminds us how important sled dogs were in the history of Alaska.  Preserving the use of these great athletes is why Joe Redington started this amazing race, the Iditarod. Participating in the distance learning program also provides students the opportunity to try on authentic Iditarod gear. Any Mystery Skype can turn into an unlimited amount of future assignments and projects to do with the other class.

One of my students working with Google Earth trying to locate the other class

One of my students working with Google Earth trying to locate the other class.

When my class participates in a Mystery Skype, students are assigned specific jobs to complete during the Skype session.

Jobs: These can be modified to better fit your classroom. The following jobs are used in my classroom:

Greeters: The greeter introduces the class to the other class. Make sure the greeter doesn’t tell them the location of your class. Do identify the grade and subject of your class.

Q&A: This job is to ask the questions your class has for the other class. Q&A students will also answer any questions from the other class. Remember, questions must be yes or no. The Q&A person (or group) should be receiving new questions from the New Questions group as you are working.

Recorder: The recorder  keeps track of all the questions your class asks the other class and records the answers on the board. This helps the other students work and determine their next question.

Videographer: This person takes video clips of your Skype session.

Photographer: The photographer takes pictures of your class working during the Skype session.

Google Earth: This job requires students to use Google Earth to narrow down the other class’  location. This group works with the New Questions group.

Mappers: The mappers use the class Atlas to narrow down the other class’  location. They also work with the New Questions group, as well as with the Google Earth group.

New Questions: This job requires students to work with the Google Earth and Mapper groups to create yes/no questions to ask the other class.

Runners: The runner runs (walk fast) the next question to the Q&A group.

Bloggers: The bloggers create a blog about the Mystery Skype with the other class. Our class’ blog will be posted to our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Twitter: This group is in charge of creating live tweets during the session. They will use #mysteryskype in each tweet.

When on Skype- look for Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ to Skype with me and/or my class and/or contact me by email for additional information.

Mystery Skype Lesson Plan

Mystery Skype Jobs

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Did you know Matthew Failor gets a pizza delivered to him when he arrives in Unalakleet?

“It’s the friends we meet along life’s road who help us appreciate the journey” – Unknown

“It’s the friends we meet along life’s road who help us appreciate the journey” – Unknown

In 2013, a fan from Florida placed an order with a restaurant in Unalakleet to have a pizza waiting for Matthew Failor when he arrived with his dogs.  Would this be the start of a tradition?  In 2014, there were five pizzas waiting for Matthew in Unalakleet, which he didn’t get to eat since he checked in and out of the checkpoint in a matter of minutes.  Sadly, the pizzas weren’t from the same Florida fan who had them delivered in 2013.  That fan had passed away earlier in the year due to complications with diabetes.  Her friends didn’t let her down and decided to keep the tradition alive. Other mushers enjoyed the pizza, along with other food prepared by village volunteers for all the mushers.

Questions to use in the classroom:

What is the name of the restaurant in Unalakleet the pizza was delivered from?

What is your favorite pizza and from what restaurant?  Find out how much it would cost you to buy your pizza.

Find out how much a pizza costs in Unalakleet at the restaurant Matthew’s pizza comes from.

Why do you think it costs so much more for a pizza in Unalakleet?

Read the story below from Matthew Failor.  Make a musical playlist if you were making the run from Rainy Pass to Rohn (you only get 10 songs).

Since our Checkpoint Checkup last week was Rainy Pass to Rohn, I asked Matthew to share a little bit about his most recent journey.  As he and his dogs were jamming to Ted Nugent, the sky was full of stars and the moon was as bright as the sun.  It was a very fast and technical run, with barely any snow.

Matthew Failor (Photo by Jeff Schultz)

Matthew Failor (Photo by Jeff Schultz)

Here is what Matthew had to say about arriving in Rohn in 2014: “It was an unsettling, eerie feeling. Felt like I had just walked into a funeral home during calling hours. Dumbfounded mushers were standing by their sleds, not moving, not talking. I had been so focused on what I was doing that it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t the only musher who’d had a difficult time controlling my team in the gorge. Mushers with broken sleds, bones, and wills were log-jammed here in Rohn. My plan was to stay there only long enough to pack my sled, all in all maybe 15 minutes. I squeezed in snacks for dog and man, Heet and straw. After packing my sled for the long run to Nikolai, I dashed into the log cabin for a drink of water. I was full of sweat and showing signs of dehydration. By accident, I found the jug of Tang. It was tasty enough, so I slammed down 4 cups of that sugary stuff as fast as I could. As I was heading out the door I noticed my friend DeeDee (Jonrowe) by the wood stove. I stopped to give her a big hug, told her she was the ‘Queen of the Dalzell Gorge’ and that the worst was behind us…I was wrong. The worst was not behind us…  When the smoke cleared a dozen or so mushers pulled the plug in Rohn.”

Trail crews had worked hard to prepare the trail through the Dalzell Gorge in 2014.  With their hard word and a little cooperation from Mother Nature, the trail would be decent.  Mother Nature dropped the snow everyone was hoping for, not much, but a couple of inches can make a big difference.  Things looked reasonable; however, under a bright, radiant sun, temperatures warmed well above freezing as the race began in Willow and the precious little snow that had fallen began to melt.  Conditions in the Gorge during 2014 were not at all typical of what mushers usually see or don’t see.  If he were talking about his runs in 2012 or 2013, Matthew would tell a story about triumph and satisfaction in Rohn rather than shock and disbelief.  While the red line on the map is the same, the condition of the trail makes each year of the race unique.

This page will help in researching the restaurant and prices.

Click here for trivia answers.

Get Ready for Veterans Day with Heroes Among Us

"The journey of the hero is about the courage to seek the depths." - Phil Cousineau

“The journey of the hero is about the courage to seek the depths.” – Phil Cousineau

With Veterans Day just around the corner, November 11th, you may want to think about doing a lesson comparing dog heroes to our human heroes. This lesson, aligned with the Common Core, is broken into three parts. I will be starting this lesson with my class on Monday with the hopes of holding our culminating activity on November 11.

Part 1: Alaska’s Dog Heroes

One might not think of a dog in terms of a hero. After you read Alaska’s Dog Heroes by Shelley Gill your mind may be changed. To introduce this lesson have your students brainstorm the definition of a hero. Then discuss the actual definition of a hero and have your students create a list of qualities or traits a hero might display. As I discuss these traits with my class, we will reflect on the traits included on our Iditarod quilt squares that we created earlier this year. Are the traits they thought of for their mushers similar to the traits they came up with for heroes in general?

In small groups, the students will read a couple of short stories from Alaska’s Dog Heroes. I am going to assign each group two different stories so that all groups have different dog heroes to read about. After reading, I will ask students to make a list of qualities their dog hero displayed in the story. We will then make an electronic trading card. Click here to get to the e-trading card creator website. This website is very easy to use and you are able to finish any unfinished work and continue at a different time, in case students need more a separate session to finish. Students are also able to accumulate a collection of trading cards that can be traded with other classmates or the teacher. My class plans to print and laminate our trading cards to display.

Part 2: Heroes Among Us

My grandpa, Lyle Lockard, served in World War II

My grandpa, Lyle Lockard, served in World War II

I feel strongly about young people honoring and giving respect to our nation’s veterans. My students will now be asked to glimpse into the life of a local veteran. If you contact your local VFW you can access a list of veterans in your community. In their small groups, the students will  choose one veteran from our town to focus on. As a whole class, we will discuss traits one must demonstrate in wartime. We will look back at our dog hero traits and compare those qualities.

Returning to their small groups, students will start forming questions to ask their veteran. Example questions could be: when did you enlist, why did you enlist, length of enlistment, branch of armed forces, etc. Depending on your local VFW, you may be able to also get contact information for the vets. If so, have your students contact their vet during class. This fits perfectly with the speaking and listening standards in the Common Core. Remind the students to introduce themselves and explain the class project. You should also have the kids ask their vet if they mind answering a few questions. I am going to have my students put the phone on speaker so everyone in the group can hear and they can all work on recording answers. Following the interview, the students will go back to their e-trading card collection.  They will now create a trading card on their veteran. Again, the students will print their trading cards. To conclude part two, the class will share their dog hero and “Hero Among Us” with the class.

Part 3: Heroes Among Us Assembly

Our culminating activity for this lesson is organizing and holding an assembly honoring our “Heroes Among Us.” If possible, hold your assembly on or close to Veterans Day. Put the students in charge of all the planning, including the order of events. They must invite their veterans and anyone else they feel should be there. It would be a good idea to contact your local newspaper or television news channel.

To prepare for the assembly students need to create a certificate for their veteran. Our certificate will say something similar to, “Camanche Middle School Honors (Name of Veteran) as a Hero Among Us.”  We will also present each veteran with a mini flag, along with the e-trading card the students made in class.  The students also need to choose a main speaker who welcomes everyone, explains the class project, and introduces each group. When each group is called to the stage at the assembly, they will introduce their veteran to our guests. They will then share with the guests the information they learned about their vet. Finally, they will present their vet with the trading card, flag, and certificate telling them they are a “hero among us.” A possible closing for the assembly is to have a couple of band students play Taps.

I am very excited to start this lesson on Monday. I think it will be a great opportunity for students to learn more about the diversity of heroes among us.

If you don’t have Alaska’s Dog Heroes, you still have time to order it to be able to do this lesson coinciding with Veterans Day.  Go to Shelley Gill’s website and order your copy today.

Heroes Among Us Lesson Plan

Checkpoint Checkup: Rainy Pass to Rohn

"To get through the hardest journey we need only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping."  - Chinese Proverb  (Photo by Jeff Schultz)

“To get through the hardest journey we need only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.” – Chinese Proverb
(Photo by Jeff Schultz)

On our last checkpoint journey, we left Karin Hendrickson in Rainy Pass. The next part of the trek will take us about 35 miles to Rohn. This section of the trail can be quite challenging. Mushers will summit the highest point on the trail and travel through the infamous Dalzell Gorge before finally arriving in Rohn.

Due to the challenge and technical difficulty of this run, some will do this 3 ½ to 5 hour leg during the day while others prefer night. It’s a matter of personal preference based on experience or advice they’ve been given.  Mushers depart the Rainy Pass Lodge, 1800 feet above sea level, and work their way up the Alaskan Range until reaching the summit at 3160 feet above sea level. From the summit, the mushers begin their descent into one of the Alaskan regions called the Interior as they work their way down to the valley of Dalzell Creek. Mushers will get a little break from the descent with a nice, easy run for a couple of miles in this valley. It’s a good time to mentally prepare for the Dalzell Gorge.

Just before reaching the Gorge, mushers will see a large, explicit warning sign nailed to a tree.  Over the next two miles, the trail will drop about 200 feet.  Depending on trail conditions, the descent can be extremely difficult or just technically challenging.  Some rookies have said they didn’t even realize they were in the Gorge until it was behind them. The trail weaves back and forth in the Gorge, crossing the creek that typically has running water. With the fast speed they are traveling and the sharpness of the curves, you can imagine that a few sleds have gone into the creek.  Don’t worry, it’s barely a foot deep. The Dalzell Gorge is only about two miles, but as it snakes along the creek, crosses over the creek on ice bridges and curves around big trees and ice ledges, it seems much farther. Reaching the bottom of the Gorge, mushers have about five miles of flat trail down the frozen Tatina River to Rohn.

Tina Scheer models a native made parkaTo get an idea of what Rohn is like, I spoke with volunteer, Tina (Timber) Scheer. Timber, along with many others, feel Rohn is the best checkpoint on the entire Iditarod trail. The reason people love this checkpoint so much is because of the remote location and the astounding beauty. Rohn Checkpoint is between two beautiful rivers, the Kuskokwim and the Tatina, and it’s surrounded by two gorgeous mountain ranges.  A roadhouse once stood near the site of the safety cabin that houses the Rohn Checkpoint today.  The old Iditarod Trail Roadhouse served the mushers and dog teams delivering mail and supplies to the area back in the days of the gold rush.  The population of Rohn is zero, except during Iditarod when it’s a hustling, bustling place for a few days and dogs far outnumber the humans.

Timber has been volunteering for four years at Rohn.  The volunteers arrive at Rohn about a week before the first musher is expected to arrive. Timber and the crew come in by plane, usually flying into McGrath on a larger plane then jumping on with the Iditarod Air Force to Rohn. The “Core Team” has been doing this for over 20 years. They set up, tear down, and fix anything that needs fixing. Jasper Bond, the Sheriff of Rohn, is the checkpoint’s amazing cook. Terry Boyle, the Mayor of Rohn, is in charge of the outside. The Sheriff and Mayor of Rohn have acquired these titles, perhaps self-appointed, over time for their roles in coordinating and directing activities at the remote, unpopulated checkpoint. There’s no cell phone service and no high speed internet connections at the Rohn Checkpoint.  Race data and communications are sent and received via emails through dial-up satellite phone connections.  The computer and sat-phone used by the communications team at Rohn is powered by a small generator.

The first few days Timber is at Rohn, she helps get the checkpoint ready. During the days leading up to the first musher arriving, volunteers get to sleep in the safety cabin. Once the race arrives they head outdoors and set up tents, or Arctic Oven Tents.  These tents have a wood stove inside and are really very cozy for housing the veterinarians, volunteers, press, and race administrators.

One of Timber’s favorite chores is working maintenance on the Dalzell Gorge. She and others travel up the Tatina River and into the Gorge by snowmachine. Their job consists of light maintenance on and around the trail, cleaning up large branches and small trees.  Heavier work and significant trail preparation are done during the summer and fall.

Entering Rohn under the small burled arch.

Entering Rohn under the small burled arch.

The mushers are here!  Once the first musher arrives, it is 48 hours of crazy, non-stop action. Mushers, dogs, airplanes, vets, press, volunteers, spectators and snowmachines are in and out of Rohn at all hours of the day and night.

Mushers enter Rohn under a small burled arch. They are immediately asked “short-term or long-term,” referring to where they will be parked. Rohn used to be a popular place for taking the required 24-hour rest along the trail.  Not so much anymore.

While in Rohn, mushers are in charge of getting their own water. They are provided with a sled with water buckets and a ladle.  It’s a good 10-minute hike down to the river to fetch water. Often mushers forgo the hike and melt snow for water.  Mushers can use any of the four bunk beds in the cabin to catch a little shut-eye. Remember, it’s important to get a little rest on the trail.

Just like that, the race is gone, moved up the trail. Time for cleanup. All the gear and supplies that were flown in are flown out. Tents, stoves, communications equipment, musher return bags*, straw, leftover HEET**, garbage and the volunteers; everything goes. Their job is finished and they will be back next year to do it all again. Timber’s job is finished, but our mushers still have 735 more miles to travel before reaching Nome.

The Virtual Trail Journey and Don Bower’s Trail Notes provides more information about the trail from Rainy Pass to Rohn and the Rohn checkpoint.  Next stop, Nikolai.

*Musher return bags are bags for the mushers to put any items in that are left from their drop bags. If mushers want these leftover items flown out of a checkpoint and ultimately returned to them, they put them in these bags labeled RETURN, along with the musher’s name on them.

**HEET is an alcohol-based fuel mushers use to quickly warm water. Cases of HEET are delivered to the checkpoints, but mushers must also carry HEET or another fuel with them in their sled to heat 3 gallons of water. See the Race Rules, p. 81, for mandatory items.

Ideas for the Classroom:

From Rainy to Rohn, mushers will summit the highest point on the trail.  In this posting you read the elevation of the Rainy Pass checkpoint.  What is the difference in elevation of Rainy Pass and the highest point on the trail?

Find the elevation of the start in Anchorage.  What is the difference in elevation of Anchorage and the highest point of the trail?

Find the elevation of the finish line in Nome.  What is the difference in elevation of Nome and the highest point of the trail?

Find the elevation of your hometown.  What is the difference in elevation of your hometown and the highest point of the trail?

What is the highest point in the United States (or your country)?  What is the difference of this elevation and the highest point on the trail?

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: What reality T.V. show did Hulu produce in Rainy Pass?

Photo by Terrie Hanke

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

What number checkpoint is Rainy Pass?

How many miles is Rainy Pass from the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage?

What percentage of the trail have the mushers covered when they get to Rainy Pass?

How many miles does a musher have to go until they arrive in Nome?

What percentage of the trail do they have left until Nome?

What is the average temperature in Rainy Pass during the Iditarod?

What is the average temperature in your town during the Iditarod?

A musher left Willow with 16 dogs.  At each checkpoint they changed each dog’s booties.  When they leave Rainy Pass how many dog booties have they gone through?

Watch the episode below titled, Let the Winter Games Begin.  This episode is about the Iditarod traveling through Rainy Pass.  View the section starting at 24:25 until 34:00.  Have your students complete the following journal prompt:  Take on the role of Stevie or Jeff Schultz when they were on the snow machine.  Describe the scenery as you traveled from Rainy Pass to Rohn by snow machine.

Click here for the trivia answers.

Quilt Qualities

The teachers with their quilt squares

“Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey.” – Vera Nazarian

What qualities do you feel an Iditarod musher displays? My students recently came up with a lengthy list of qualities that they felt described an Iditarod musher.  There are plenty of them and they’re unique.

Iditarod Traveling Quilt created by Summer Camp Teachers

Iditarod Traveling Quilt created by Summer Camp Teachers

My school currently has the most recently created Iditarod Traveling Quilt, which was designed this summer by teachers at the Iditarod Summer Teacher’s Camp. I wrote a post about our squares earlier this summer, The Incredible Quilt. Terrie Hanke, 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, took the squares which were drawn on white handkerchiefs and sewed them onto a piece of fleece making a colorful quilt.  Having the Traveling Quilt in your classroom is the perfect opportunity to do several lessons with your students.

One lesson I did with my class was on character qualities, or character traits. To start the lesson I shared the quilt with the students. Since I was at summer camp, this quilt is personal to me.  I designed a square and heard ideas from the other campers as they created their squares.  I shared the meaning behind each square with my classes. We discussed the qualities shown on the quilt squares and how each symbolized Iditarod mushers. Teachers at summer camp chose Inspiring, Determined, Incredible, Teamwork, Achievement, Respect, Overcome and Dream  as the character traits for the squares they created.

We read a story from Lew Freedman’s Iditarod Classics. I chose a different story for each group to read. Students took their time and read the thrilling Iditarod accounts. When the students finished reading, they stayed in their groups and brainstormed qualities they felt the musher in their story displayed. We then came back as a whole class and discussed those words and the significance they had in the story.

The next step was to assign each group a different letter from the word IDITAROD. The students had to come up with a quality or trait describing the musher from their story using the letter they were assigned. This was a great opportunity to work with students on using a thesaurus. Some students had many words to describe their musher, but no words that started with their letter.  Using the thesaurus was very helpful.

We are now to the point of designing the quilt square. When we made our quilt squares this summer, we just used white hankies. While I was looking for hankies I found some pre-cut felt squares at Wal-Mart for just 23 cents. The students using their chosen quality designed and decorated the square depicting the story their group read.

Much the same as we did at summer camp, when the squares were finished it was time to share with the class. After they shared their story, they shared the quality they chose and why. Finally, they shared their quilt square with the class and the meaning behind the design.  Our goal is to have our squares turned into a quilt.

This year there are 18 quilts traveling the United States.  When an Iditarod Traveling Quilt reaches a participating school, a binder full of ideas for teachers to use in the classroom is included. There is an instruction page on how to actually sew your quilt if your class designs quilt squares. As the quilt travels from school to school around the country, teachers continue to add lesson ideas on how they used the quilt in their classroom.  If you are interested in having a quilt visit your school click here.

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As a post lesson activity we watched Cindy Abbott’s recent TEDx talk. TED talks are conferences that are centered around technology, entertainment, and design.  Their slogan is “Ideas worth spreading.”  Cindy gave a local talk in California earlier this year.  It has recently been posted online.  Our class viewed the lesson and discussed the qualities she displays.  We then compared these qualities with the qualities chosen for their squares.  Check out the video below.

Click here for Quilt Qualities Lesson Plan

Checkpoint Checkup: Finger Lake to Rainy Pass

"The journey of life is with many twists and turns. But with faith and courage, no obstacle can stop you from reaching your goals."  - Unknown

“The journey of life is with many twists and turns. But with faith and courage, no obstacle can stop you from reaching your goals.”
– Unknown

Photo by Jeff Schultz

Photo by Jeff Schultz

As a reminder, I’ll be posting Trivia on the first and third Tuesdays of the month.  Checkpoint Checkups will be posted on the second and fourth Tuesdays.

The Last Checkpoint Checkup left us in Finger Lake.  The journey to the next checkpoint, Rainy Pass will cover 30 beautiful and exciting miles.  I spoke with Karin (Car-in) Hendrickson about the trail between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass Checkpoint.  Karin enjoys this portion of the Iditarod Trail and hasn’t had any major difficulties on this run.  On the flip side, mushers can and do have difficulties, especially coming down the Steps.  If icy, the Steps can be extremely challenging.  We will follow Karin’s journey as she begins climbing into the Alaska Range.

The scenery from Finger Lake to Rainy Pass is breathtaking.  Karin likes to run this part of the trail early in the morning to view the stunning sites.  Leaving Finger Lake, the trail heads down onto frozen lakes and swamps.  Karin considers this to be an easy part of the trail to navigate, even though it’s full of twists and turns.  For now, it sounds beautiful and peaceful.

Iditarod 2014 03 Monday

Photo by Jeff Schultz

An hour into her journey, she starts to feel a little antsy because she knows the infamous Happy River Steps will be sneaking up on her soon. Before she even gets to the steps, there are some shorter steep drops.  Arriving at the Steps, she’s on top of a ridge overlooking the Happy River. From this point, the trail takes her on a roller coaster ride.  Karin will have three steep drops that will test her ability to control her sled.  Sometimes the trail can be hard and icy, which can get her going a little faster than she’d like.  Not only that, but she also has to compete with centrifugal forces that can flip her sled on a sharp turn.  The final turn is so steep and sharp that the sled often goes airborne.  As the law of gravity says, what goes up must come down, but landing isn’t always pretty.  Karin shared with me that one year, there was a tree right where the sleds usually land.

If she feels like avoiding the activity at the checkpoint, Karin will camp shortly after the Steps on the short flat part of the trail that runs on the Happy River.  While camped, she can’t help but hear team after team making their way to the bottom of the Steps.  From her camp on the river, she has about 20 more miles to Rainy Pass.  Can you believe that all this excitement was packed into only 10 miles?

After camping on the Happy River, she’s off again continuing the run to Puntilla Lake and the Rainy Pass Checkpoint.  There’s an extremely steep climb off the river that heads through some narrow ravines. At the top of that climb, she sees a frozen expanse of lake and then for another few miles Karin and team continue climbing through wooded ridges.  I hope she’s ready because this next part is going to test her athleticism.  The trail is now going to be twisty and narrow with a lot of sidehills and steep edges.  She will really have to balance and use all her muscle to keep herself and her sled upright.  Finally, she sees rolling hills and meadows.  This means Rainy Pass Checkpoint, a welcome sight, is just ahead.

Rainy Pass Checkpoint on Puntilla Lake

Rainy Pass Checkpoint on Puntilla Lake

Rainy Pass Checkpoint is located on scenic Puntilla Lake in front of the Perrin’s Rainy Pass Lodge.  The Lodge, a premier wilderness destination where guests can hunt, fish, hike, ski, ride horseback, sight see and view the Iditarod, is owned and operated by the Perrins Family – Steve & Denise and their five sons Steve II, Shane, Clayton, Chase and Colton.

The Virtual Trail Journey can provide you with more information about this segment of the trail.  Next, our journey will take us up and over the Alaska Range to Rohn.  From Rainy Pass it’s 845 miles to Nome!

Journey of Fall Training

"You must remain focused on your journey to greatness." - Les Brown

“You must remain focused on your journey to greatness.” – Les Brown

Training for the Iditarod definitely is a journey.  It is quite the time commitment on the part of the musher.  For the dog…it is pure fun!  They’re doing what they love to do.

I spoke with a couple different mushers on what their fall training looks like.  Some mushers do different things and start at different times, but one thing remained similar; fall training builds muscle, strength, and endurance in the dogs.

The first musher I spoke to was rookie musher, Philip Walters.  Philip trains with Justin Savidis at Snowhook Kennel.  Philip and the dogs started training in late July.  His comment about fall training sums it up, “Imagine yourself being covered in water, fur, and mud.”  While fall training is pure fun for the dogs, it’s not always fun for the less adaptable humans.  Needless to say, Phil prefers being on snow training his dogs with a sled over fall training, but fall training is the basis of a successful Iditarod and has to be done.  When fall training begins and it is still a little warm, the dogs are just taken on super short runs a few miles at a time.  During these runs there are lots of water breaks for the dogs.  As the weather gets colder the miles start going up; 20 miles, 30 miles, 40 miles, etc.

Photo by Philip Walters

Photo by Philip Walters

Fall training is also a time to start developing habits and routines for the dogs as well as the mushers.  During the race mushers will be sleep deprived, chilly, hungry, you name it so it’s crucial that routines become second nature for them.  Dogs need routine too.  One could say fall training is as important for the mushers as it is for the dogs.

Iditarod veteran, Jodi Bailey, operates out of Dew Claw Kennel along with her husband, Dan Kaduce.  She started fall training September 1.  During the summer months she does a lot of free running with the dogs.  Free running is letting the dogs run off-line and just having fun being dogs.  In addition to letting the dogs by dogs, Bailey uses the summer months to focus on lead dog training.  Once September hits, it’s back on the lines to develop muscle, endurance, and strength.

While there’s been a little snowfall here and there in Alaska, there’s not enough to run a sled on.  So, how do dogs pull a sled in the fall with no snow?  Philip and Jodi, and most mushers, use a quad (4-wheeler).  A quad is about 3-4 times as heavy as the sled the dog will pull, so this is a great muscle builder.  Some mushers will leave the quad on and in gear to make it a little easier on the dogs but others will leave the quad off, and put the machine in neutral.

Wow, these two stay busy in the fall.  Imagine what winter training will look like.

Below is a video of fall training at S&P Kennel.  Permission to use video granted by Aliy Zirkle.

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:,,,

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

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Did you know Aliy Zirkle runs half marathons?

“We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lost sight of the reason for the journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way.” - Anonymous

“We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lose sight of the reason for the journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way.”
– Anonymous

Iditarod trivia facts will be posted on the first and third Tuesday of each month.  If you haven’t started using them in your classroom, now is the time to start.  After talking to some teachers at the Midwest Sled Dog Symposium and Iditarod Teacher Conference, I found out how some teachers are using this in the classroom.  Some teachers are putting the trivia right up on the Smart board for kids to work on in class.  Other teachers are printing the page off for their students to work on.  The trivia will always be posted with suggestions and questions to use in the classroom.  There will be a link for you to get to the answer.  A great idea would be to post all the trivia in your classroom throughout the year.

In the off-season, Aliy Zirkle competes in half marathons.  What a great way to stay in shape.  As a long distance musher, it is very important to be physically in shape.  Aliy Zirkle is a great role model for physical fitness.

Have your students work out some of these problems that relate to Aliy, half marathons, and the Iditarod.

How long is a half-marathon?

It took Aliy 3 hours 12 minutes and 18 seconds to finish the Skinny Raven Half Marathon back in the summer of 2013.  What was Aliy’s average pace (average minutes per mile)?

How many half marathons would Aliy have to run across the entire Iditarod trail?

If Aliy ran the Iditarod using her average pace you figured out earlier, how long would it take her to run the Iditarod trail?

I chose this trivia fact for this week because I am running the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 12.  My goal is to finish in 4 hours and 59 minutes.  What pace do I need to run in order to accomplish my goal?

How many marathons would someone need to run to cover the entire Iditarod trail?

Click here for the answer.

Midwest Sled Dog Symposium and Iditarod Teacher Conference

Every single journey that "I've embarked on, I've learned something new."  - Shailene Woodley

Every single journey that “I’ve embarked on, I’ve learned something new.”
– Shailene Woodley

This past weekend teachers, mushers, and even kids attended the Midwest Sled Dog Symposium and Iditarod Teacher Conference in Curtis, Michigan.  The symposium, hosted by Nature’s Kennel, had breakout sessions for both mushers and teachers.  The teacher presenters came from around the country; Nancy Wendt and Linda Fenton from Wisconsin, Jen Reiter from Maryland, and me, from Iowa.  Musher presenters included Nathan Schroeder, Hank Debruin, and Jeff King.  There were a number of other presentations on topics such as skijoring, puppy care, and ATV/snowmobile repair.presenters

Nancy Wendt is a recently retired teacher from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  Nancy shared many admirable Iditarod themed lessons.  Nancy’s main focus was demonstrating to the teachers how Iditarod activities align with the common core.  An exceptional idea Nancy shared with us was her Iditarod Open House.  After working for quite sometime in the classroom on Iditarod projects, the students hold an open house inviting parents and community members to enjoy.  Students practice their speaking skills while sharing information with the guests.  Nancy said she has had over 250 people attend the open house.

edJen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, shared some of her favorite Iditarod stories.  In addition she shared a few of her favorite lessons.  This session was not only for teachers, but eager to learn children.  One story Jen share was when Karin Hendrickson was riding her sled along the trail when all of a sudden, “Splat!” she was hit square in the face with dog poo.  That story made both adults and children laugh.  It was fun and useful for the teachers to be able to add more lessons to their collection while also seeing these lessons in action.  A favorite lesson among the teachers and kids was creating their own Aurora Borealis using water paints, kosher salt, and dog stamps.  It was very sweet to see parents working alongside their children.

Linda Fenton was another presenter in our afternoon sessions.  Linda was 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  Linda also shared hands-on lessons with our tiny people conference attendees.  A highlight in Linda’s presentation was her lesson on the genetics of dogs.  This lesson came full circle Sunday morning at Nature’s Kennel.  As Linda was walking around she heard some of the kids say, “look, a floppy-eared dog,” or, “look, a blue-eyed dog.”  By the way, there was only one blue-eyed dog in the kennel.

I presented in the morning.  I shared with the teachers my theme, Journey through the Iditarod.  I also shared some of my favorite lessons, which can be found on this website.  We discussed more lessons and posts that will be coming.  In addition, it was nice to hear what the teachers would like to see on the website.

The attendees were also treated to some great speakers.  Friday evening Hank and Tanya DeBruin spoke about their many adventures of their sled dog lifestyle.  Saturday morning many had the pleasure to listen to 2014 Iditarod Rookie of the Year, Nathan Schroeder.  Saturday evening, a favorite to many, we were entertained by Jeff King.  To read more about these speakers, check out Terrie Hanke’s articles.

Sunday was a dog lover’s dream.  Included as part of the conference is a tour of Nature’s Kennel, operated by Ed and Tasha Stielstra.  On fifty acres of land the Stielstra’s have around 150 dogs.  I know I could have spent an entire day wandering around playing with all the puppies and dogs.

If you have not been to this conference you should consider making the trip to Curtis next year.  It is a great opportunity to listen to teachers share great Iditarod themed lessons as well as hear and meet Iditarod mushers.

Just a reminder, there will be a workshop for teachers November 14 and 15 –  In Baltimore.  Find out more and B’there!

Checkpoint Checkup – Skwentna to Finger Lake

 . 68 68 "We're on a journey here, and we don't have a road map." — Ralph Brennan

“We’re on a journey here, and we don’t have a road map.” — Ralph Brennan


If you are following our journey of checkpoints, you know we were just at Yentna Station.  Our journey will take us up the trail 30 miles to Skwentna.

Welcome to Skwentna Checkpoint.  Most of the trail to Skwentna is on the Yentna River.  The population in 2010, the latest census, was 37.  Skwentna is another checkpoint at which the teams are coming in very close to each other. All volunteers involved at this checkpoint have their job down to a science. This checkpoint is so organized, some volunteers compare it to a factory. There are four major jobs at the Skwentna checkpoint: veterinarians, comms (communications), the Darlings, and the Sweeties.

The Comms team is always progressing with technology. The volunteers on the Comms team do a fantastic job of getting information back to headquarters. The veterinarians must check each team that comes through Swkentna. The teams come and leave Skwentna very fast. To keep things running smoothly the vets need to be on top of their game when checking the dogs. The mushers, of course, are going to be in a hurry, but the vets need to do their jobs in checking the health of the dogs.

The Darlings run the river part of the checkpoint. This group takes care of setting up the area of the checkpoint where the teams come in, parking the teams, and they act as the checkers. Many of the Darlings have worked this checkpoint for years. Several of them worked directly along side of Joe Delia who hosted the checkpoint for many years.

The Sweeties, as they are affectionately known, are the cabin crew. Their job is all about food. The Sweeties take care of all the cooking. They cook for all the volunteers as well as the mushers. There is always food and a hot, damp cloth for mushers as soon as they enter Skwentna. In addition to cooking, the Sweeties take care of the dropped dogs. Who else would you want taking care of your dog than someone with the nickname “Sweetie?”

After a quick stop in Skwentna we continue our journey up the trail 40 more miles to Finger Lake, population 2.

This checkpoint is also operated by Carl and Kristen Dixon.  Kristen makes free meals for all the mushers passing through.  Finger Lake Checkpoint is actually on Winter Lake. Old timers call it Finger Lake because the lake is shaped like a finger.

The next part of our journey will take us through the infamous Happy River steps.  I hope you are excited. 852 miles to Nome.

Next checkpoint checkup: Rainy Pass to Rohn.

Alaska vs. The World

"Sometimes a [life] journey can take you to a place that is not on any map."  - Cold Fever (movie)

“Sometimes a [life] journey can take you to a place that is not on any map.”
– Cold Fever (movie)

Alaska is our largest state.  In fact, it is ten times larger than Iowa (my state).  Since my class learns a lot about Alaska, I think it is important for them to see just how large of a state Alaska is.

We study many different countries in my classroom.  Each time we get to a new country we will compare the size to Alaska.  We just finished studying the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations.  We decided to compare Alaska to Mexico, Peru, and Guatemala.  These are a few of the countries where these civilizations were located.

Photo Sep 16, 9 18 33 AMThe task for the students was to find out how much larger or smaller Alaska is than the three countries.  The students used the website  Using this website students are able to compare any city, state, country, or continent.  It is very easy to navigate.  All you need to do is type the two places you are comparing.  The site gives you the comparison. For example, Alaska is 15% larger than Peru.  It also has an outline of each state/country that you are able to move around and over top of each other.  In addition, off to the side there are facts about the places listed.

The students took their information and wrote it on a blank outline map, which we posted in the classroom (actually it was a competition and the best one was hung up).

Students that finished early were excited to compare Alaska to cities in our state as well as other countries around the world.

Our results:

Photo Sep 17, 2 24 35 PMAlaska is 10 times larger than Iowa

Alaska is 15% larger than Peru

Alaska is 14 times larger than Guatemala

Mexico is 33% larger than Alaska

View the lesson here – Alaska vs. the World Lesson Plan

Here are three great websites you can use to compare Alaska to another country or state.

Trivia Question: What are checkpoints?


Have your class research the number of checkpoints that are on the Iditarod Trail.  There are two routes on the Iditarod Trail, the Northern Route and the Southern Route.  On even years, the trail takes the Northern Route and on odd years the trail goes the Southern Route.  

Click here for the answer.

Checkpoint Checkup – Willow to Yentna Station

"Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

The “Restart,” the official start of the Iditarod.  The Iditarod officially begins on Willow Lake in Willow, Alaska.  At 2:00 p.m. on the first Sunday after the first Saturday in March, dogs and mushers begin their journey to Nome.  It is hard to fathom that just 8 months earlier this lake was a peaceful lake with ducks swimming quietly and now is a sports arena filled with trucks, dogs, people, snow machines, and much more.

Willow, Alaska was settled when miners discovered gold back in 1897.  By the 1950’s it was the largest mining district in all of Alaska.  In the 1970’s, there was talk of even moving the capital to Willow. However, due to funding this was unable to happen.

Every two minutes mushers and dogs depart the starting line in Willow.  Destination: Yentna Station, 42 miles down the trail.

Yentna Station is a “roadhouse” only accessible by boat, plane, or of course, dog sled.  Yentna Station is a family owned roadhouse that is open 24-hours a day, 365-days a year.  During the winter months it serves as a checkpoint for many winter sports.  In the summer, they offer a variety of salmon fish excursion packages.  Yentna Station Roadhouse, the official name, is only accessible by boat, plane, snowmachine, or of course, dog sled. Yentna is the only checkpoint that hosts both the Jr. Iditarod and the Iditarod. This checkpoint is hosted by the Gabryszak family. The Gabryszak’s arrived in Alaska in 1981 with the dream of building a lodge on the Yentna River.

The Yentna Station Roadhouse is a very organized and intense checkpoint. It is hard to describe in words what this checkpoint is like. According to Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, “There is no place like Yentna.” To really capture what it feels like one must go there themselves. Inside the roadhouse is like a museum of Iditarod memorabilia. Outside, the checkpoint is operated like a well oiled machine. There are five lanes set up for mushers and dogs to check through. Being the first checkpoint, teams are coming in very close together.

The Gabryszak’s are a very gracious family. On top of the six children they have of their own, they have fostered at least 30 children throughout the years. During the Iditarod, the Gabryszak’s are very hospitable to both the mushers and the volunteers. You can always get something to eat no matter what time of the day. The Iditarod depends on hosts like the Gabryszak family to help run checkpoints.

922 miles left to Nome.

Next checkpoint checkup – Skwentna to Finger Lake

Glogster – The Iditarod, Machu Picchu, and Denali

"To travel is to take a journey into yourself."     - Danny Kaye

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.”
– Danny Kaye

Many teachers always comment that they want to incorporate the Iditarod all year, but they don’t know how.  As a result, the Iditarod makes it into their classroom for a small amount of time.  It is very possible to teach the Iditarod year round while still teaching your other curriculum.

My students are currently studying the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations.  During this unit we take a look at the history of Machu Picchu in Peru.  Many hike the 26 mile Inca Trail to the highest point, 4200 meters, Machu Picchu.  My class did some comparing and contrasting of Machu Picchu and the Iditarod.  We also added a third adventure, climbing Denali.

This lesson was done using the online tool, Glogster.  Glogster is a type of social networking site in which you create and share Glogs.  A Glog is an interactive poster that includes text, images, audio, video, etc.  Glogster can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom.  A couple different ways to use Glogs are having students create an interactive poster as a unit project or a teacher generated lesson.  For this topic, I created a lesson for the students to complete in groups.

Photo Sep 08, 8 31 38 AMAt the top of the Glog the assignment is posted clearly for the students.  The assignment is to view the Glog, making sure to click on all the links, images, and view all video clips.  When they are finished they are to individually answer two writing questions; 1. What do you feel all three adventures have in common?  Defend your answer with facts from the Glog.  2. Which adventure do you feel is the most challenging?  Defend your answer with facts from the Glog.

Check out the Glog here.

Photo Sep 08, 8 31 54 AM

With some glitches here and there with Internet connections, this lesson took three days.  We will then have a class discussion over the three adventures.  Our final task will be to get the perspective of someone who has climbed a mountain and has done the Iditarod.  Our class rookie musher, Cindy Abbott has summited Mt. Everest and has attempted the Iditarod twice.  We will ask her which was more challenging for her and why.

Glogster is a great way to incorporate technology into your lessons.  You are able to add so much more to your lessons.  My students are looking forward to creating their own Glogs.

Trivia Question: Who is the “Father of the Iditarod”?


Joe Redington, Sr.

Have your students research the “Father of the Iditarod.”  Who is he?  When did he start the race?  Why did he start the race?  Did he ever race in the Iditarod himself?  Does he have family members still racing?  

Click here for the answer.

Visit the Online Iditarod Museum for additional information on the Father of the Iditarod.

The Journey of a Volunteer

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.”  - William J. Bennett

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.” – William J. Bennett

The definition of volunteer is a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.  There are thousands of people who volunteer each year for the Iditarod.  Without these many volunteers, there is absolutely no way this race could happen.  The journey of a volunteer does not just take place during the few weeks of the race.  An Iditarod volunteer can be a year long journey.

GailI spoke with Gail Somerville about her role as an Iditarod volunteer.  Gail has been volunteering for the Iditarod since 1978!  Gail’s journey as an Iditarod volunteer is not just during March; she does many things throughout the year.

Gail retired from teaching at the end of last school year.  She had been a teacher for 46 years!  Gail has always volunteered her time with many different organizations and events.  Now that she is retired, she is looking forward to volunteer even more of her time.

Even though most people only see “Iditarod” in March, it is a year long event.  One job Gail helps with is selling raffle tickets at the Alaska State Fair in August.  The raffle tickets are another way the Iditarod raises money to put this event on.  Another job Gail helps with in the summer is providing transportation for the teachers during the summer camp for educators.DSC_0799

Gail’s primary volunteer job is to write homework questions for elementary students.  She then emails these questions to all the elementary school teachers in Anchorage.  With this project she also gets middle school students scheduled to volunteer at headquarters in the phone room each school day to help answer the questions from the elementary students that they phone in.  Just writing about this task makes me tired.  That is a lot of time and effort Gail puts into that project.  Shout out to Gail for helping the Iditarod and incorporating it into education.

Let’s get our students to understand the importance of volunteering and helping others.  If it were not for volunteers like Gail, this race could not happen.
What can you do in your classroom?

Discuss what a volunteer is.
Discuss the importance of helping others.
Discuss the different volunteer jobs there are for the Iditarod.
Is there something your class can do to help the Iditarod?

Movie Preview – Musher Profile

"The main thing that you have to remember on this journey is, just be nice to everyone and always smile." - Ed Sheeran

“The main thing that you have to remember on this journey is, just be nice to everyone and always smile.” – Ed Sheeran

As part of the Iditarod Summer Camp for Educators, we are given the opportunity to hook up with a rookie musher and follow them throughout the year.  My class is working with Cindy Abbott.  The students are very excited to have the opportunity to follow and communicate with her this year.

Our first task was to get to know Cindy.  Our final goal was to create a movie preview for each class period.   With students working in small groups, they used a question sheet to find out information about Cindy.  Their task was to use Cindy’s website, and the Iditarod website,  During this portion of the lesson the students learned a lot of interesting information about Cindy.

cindyAfter we discussed their information and checked out a few pictures and video clips, each class chose a theme they would focus on for their preview.  Each class had a different focus; the Iditarod, Cindy’s accomplishments while having a disease, and the disease she has.  The groups then chose what their written statement in the preview would be, which would help them design their video clip.  For example, “A story about a woman and her dogs.”

Now the fun part.  It’s time to design and film our small clips of video.  Students had great ideas on how to represent their specific part of the preview.  Time to edit.  After learning and discussing how to import video into the program we were using, we began creating our preview.  Video clips, pictures, titles, text, and credits were all edited and turned into a final movie preview.

The movie previews turned out fantastic, in my opinion.  The students had a great time designing, creating, and editing them.  Our final step was to upload the movie previews to our YouTube page and share them to Twitter and our class website.  We tagged Cindy so she could watch them, she loved them.  View all three previews below.

Movie previews are a great way to give information in a quick way.  Think about having your students research a musher and design a movie preview.  Use the lesson plan and worksheet below as a guide to researching and creating a movie about a musher of your choice. Another great idea would be after reading a book, create a preview about the book being made into a movie.

Worksheet used to discover:  Who is Cindy Abbott

Lesson Plan:  Making a Classroom Movie 

All video in trailers filmed at Camanche Middle School by students.  Any pictures used provided by Erin Montgomery and Cindy Abbott (with permission).

Trivia Question: What is the name of the intersection in Anchorage where the Ceremonial Start begins?

Corner of Cordova

Have your students estimate how much snow must be brought into Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start?  Where does this snow come from?  How many streets are used in Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start?

Click here for the answer to the trivia question.

Checkpoint Checkup – Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip


Trivia Question:  What is the name of the intersection in Anchorage where the Ceremonial Start begins?

Periodically I will post trivia questions for you to use in the classroom.  You can use the trivia in a variety of ways.  Challenge your students to find the answer to the questions before I post the answer, which will be within two days.  Use the trivia as a discussion starter in class.  Post the different trivia throughout your room.


This week’s checkpoint focus will be Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip.  The Iditarod starts on the first Saturday in March.  This year it will be March 7.  March 7 will be a day filled filled with excitement, spectators, mushers, reindeer sausage, and of course, dogs.  Dogs lining the streets of downtown Anchorage.  Friday night, workers will bring large amounts of snow to fill the city streets.  March 7, the ceremonial start, is like a parade of mushers and dogs.  This day does not get recorded on the musher’s time.  That will start in Willow on restart day.  Each musher will have 12 dogs, a whip sled, and an Iditarider.

10170774_10152046993652405_8989262751585810982_nOn restart day mushers can start with 16 dogs.  They are only able to use 12 on Saturday because 16 would be very powerful and we don’t want anyone to get hurt, dog or musher.  Some mushers will save their best dogs for restart day and not even use them during the ceremonial start.  The whip sled will also help control and slow down the team through the city.  The Iditarider is a person who has bid to ride with a specific musher.  Mushers are auctioned off prior to the race to raise money for the Iditarod.  What an exciting way to experience the Iditarod; actually riding the first part of the trail with your favorite musher.  The ceremonial start is an 11-mile adventure ending at the Campbell Airstrip.


Anchorage Fast Facts:

-Anchorage has the largest population in Alaska

-They have attempted to move the capital from Juneau to Anchorage several times

-Average temperature in the summer 55-78 degrees

-Averages temperature in the winter 5-30 degrees

-Home of the Fur Rendezvous (World Championship Sled Dog Races)

-Average gas price in Anchorage (as of today) $3.92

-Average gas price in Iowa $3.37

Compare these Anchorage fast facts with the same facts from your city/town.

If you have read the post about the Iditarod trail map my students are making on my classroom wall, we are posting fast facts next to each checkpoint.

Next checkpoint checkup – Willow (Restart) and Yentna Station

The Camanche Middle School Trail

Life is a journey, not a destination; there are no mistakes, just chances we've taken. -India Arie

Life is a journey, not a destination; there are no mistakes, just chances we’ve taken. -India Arie

I teach at the Camanche Middle School in Camanche, Iowa.  Our class is on a journey, thus, the Camanche Middle School Trail.  This article will provide you with ideas on how to create your own trail.

I have wanted a trail map on my wall for a while now.  This year it is happening.  My last class of the day is MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support).  This class is designed to enhance student learning.  The project we are currently working on in this class is creating a map of the Iditarod trail on one of the walls in my classroom while documenting our journey via social media.

Photo Aug 19, 2 58 29 PMWe started measuring the distance in miles of the trail.  We used this year’s route, the southern route.  After we determined the mileage, 1093 miles, we measured the wall we would be using, 29 feet.  Our next step was to figure out how many miles would represent an inch on the wall.  The class agreed that 1 inch would represent 3 miles.  I took their word for it.  That would work if the trail was just east to west, but the trail goes north at some points.  The kids didn’t realize our mistake until about Rainy Pass and the ceiling got in the way.  We used this as a great opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  We talked about what we did wrong and what we should have done.  We decided to keep going from where we were and just modify the trail a little and make it unique to our classroom.

The students have been put in groups with specific jobs to work on each day.  Below are the jobs and their descriptions.

Photo Aug 19, 2 54 49 PMMeasurer – this group finds out the distance between checkpoints.  They figure how many inches to measure on the wall and then mark a dot on the wall.

Wall writer – this group writes the checkpoint name on the wall and connects each checkpoint.

Designers – this group comes up with ideas on how to decorate our wall map when finished.

Photo Aug 19, 3 00 57 PMBlog – this group writes journal entries on our blog about what we are working on that specific day.  Follow our blog.

Twitter – this group keeps a live feed going about how the map is coming along on our Twitter page.  Follow us.

Instagram – this group takes pictures of all the groups working and posts them to our Instagram page.  Follow us.

Facts – this group looks up facts about each checkpoint and keeps a notebook.

The groups are rotated each day so the students have an opportunity to work on each job.  We are currently still working on our map.  Follow our journey of creating this map on our different sites.  I will post a final picture when the map is completed.

Here is the completed lesson plan. Use this as a guideline for your own Trail.  Camanche Middle School Trail Lesson

The Journey to Your Starting Line

The hardest part of starting a new journey is the leap of faith at the beginning.  -Unknown

The hardest part of starting a new journey is the leap of faith at the beginning. -Unknown

Don’t let your journey to the starting line begin in late February/early March. Start as soon as you can. Yesterday was my first day with students here at Camanche Middle School. I love the beginning of the year. It is always exciting to decorate my classroom and start a new year with fresh ideas. Of course, my classroom is going to have an Iditarod theme throughout. As you start preparing to start your year, think about what you can do to begin your journey to the starting line.

Photo Aug 08, 12 50 52 PM In my room I have designated a specific area to Iditarod books and treasures. Last school year the wood shop class made my classroom a sled. Our goal this year is to have the art class decorate the sled. Currently the sled is our bookshelf for books and other Iditarod items. Would you love your own sled in your classroom? Take a look at the plans our shop class used. It is a very simple model.  Dog Sled plans

Get your hands on as many posters as you can. Hang the posters in your room, spark interest with your students. Would you like lots of posters for free? Come to the winter conference or the summer camp for educators.

Photo Aug 08, 12 46 52 PMThis year I am going to assign jobs to my students. The idea for my classroom jobs came from Jen Reiter, last years Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. I tweeked it a little to fit more to middle school students. “Jobs on the trail” is a great way to introduce your students to some of the volunteer jobs along the trail.

Jobs on the trail

Dog Handler – Take Dixon outside (Dixon is our therapy dog)

Volunteer pilot – Water any plants and keep Dixon’s water dish full

Chief Veterinarian – Help new students get the information they need for class

Checker – Check the extra copy folder and make sure class agenda is filled out

Race Comms – In charge of Twitter (student will create a tweet at the end of class)

Race Stats – Update board (date, homework, Today in history, Iditarod trivia)

Musher (mail carrier) – Pass out newspapers at the beginning of class

Start your journey immediately.  You do not have to do something every day, but slowly introduce the Iditarod to your students to generate interest.  I’m excited for this journey and I want my students to be as well.