Iditarod Sportsmanship

In many parts of the country, including Chicago, fall is a season full of sports!  Hockey img_0343season is just beginning, college and professional football are well under way, and major league baseball is nearing the 2016 World Series, in which the students of Saint Andrew School are hoping to see their neighborhood team go all the way this year (Go Cubs!).  In all of these sports we see good and bad sportsmanship—we see players doing/saying things that are hurtful, but we also have players lifting one another up and being great role models for our students.

Dog mushing is full of sportsmanship, as well.  I have heard many stories of mushers helping one another out along the Iditarod trail—from catching another musher’s team, to lending out a sled to a musher in need.  However, my favorite story, one many of you probably know, is the story from the 2015 Iditarod when Brent Sass was disqualified for having a 2-way communication device with him on the trail.

Brent made an honest mistake and his heartbreak was seen by thousands of classrooms across the country.  While many were sad for Brent, I looked at the situation as a great teaching moment for my students.  That year, and every year since, my students and I discuss the sportsmanship and character traits that Brent exhibited during a rough point in his mushing career. Brent owned up to breaking the Iditarod rule, and he showed integrity and respect to his team, his fans, and to the Iditarod. blog-post-wall-display-page-001

I have created a lesson based around Brent’s disqualification from the 2015 race.  In the lesson students learn about the 2-way communication rule (which is different for the 2017 race), watch a video clip of Brent shortly after the incident, and discuss the 8-
traits of Iditarod that Brent exhibited.  The students then have to write an opinion piece answering the following questions: Should Brent Sass have been disqualified from the 2015 Iditarod for having an iPod Touch with him?  Why or why not?  Which of the 8 Traits of Iditarod do you think Brent possessed after he was disqualified?  Explain.  After my students complete the writing piece I have them post it on our classroom KidBlog site.  This is a great (and very safe) website for kids to upload their work to and to share with classmates, teachers, and parents.  I have also included a handout in which the writing piece can be written on, along with space for a picture.  These make great hallway displays!

oreo-writing-brent-sass-page-001For younger students, you can begin by discussing what happens when students break a classroom rule or a school rule.  Then, discuss how sometimes mushers make mistakes too, and talk about Brent’s mistake.  As a class, or small group, have students decide whether or not Brent should have been disqualified or not.  I have included a simple template for students to use to document their thinking.

As for older students, I think this lesson can go deeper.  I
suggest having them learn about Brent’s 2015 race, and have them research another athlete who also broke a rule in their sport.  Did the sports player demonstrate integrity and respect like Brent, or were they dishonest? Students can then compare and contrast the two situations or write an opinion piece about either the sport player or Brent Sass.

To Disqualify or Not Lesson Plan

8 Traits of Iditarod

Insider Video of Brent Sass

Rule 35 and 8 Traits of Iditarod Handout

Blog Post Wall Display Primary Grades

Blog Post Wall Display


Meeting Brent at the 2013 Midwest Conference

I love this lesson because it is more than just writing an opinion piece.  It is a lesson in
character.  It shows students the importance of being respectful even when things are going your way and that even superstars make mistakes.  It is my hope that your students enjoy the lesson as much as mine did.  And thank you to Brent for turning a rough situation into a wonderful lesson for students across the country.




Brent Sass beginning the 2016 Iditarod


Inferring with the Iditarod Air Force

Gary Paulsen, an Iditarod finisher, is one of my favorite authors for my 4th grade students.  Paulsen’s style of writing is engaging and keeps the readers on their toes.  Currently my language arts class is reading Hatchet, a story of a thirteen year old boy who survives a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness.  I am always looking for ways to connect Iditarod to what I am teaching, even when the connection might not be obvious.


Credit: Iditarod Air Force Website

Hatchet begins with the main character flying in a Cessna 406, a plane similar to those used in the Iditarod Air Force.  Therefore, for this lesson my students learned the reading skill of inferences using the Iditarod Air Force (IAF).  My students began the lesson by learning what inferencing is and making inferences based on pictures from the IAF.  Once we completed making inferences from the pictures, they made inferences based on a short text based around the Iditarod.  They read 16 different text cards, and as a class we inferred what was occurring.  The text cards can be done as both whole class or small group.  Lastly, I had my class complete an inferring handout with both pictures and text as an assessment.


Iditarod Inferring Assessment Handout

Inferring with the Iditarod Air Force Powerpoint

Inferring with the Iditarod Air Force Cards

Iditarod Inferring Lesson Plan

This activity was one of the lessons I presented to teachers at the Midwest Mushing Symposium and Iditarod Teacher Conference last week in Curtis, MI.  It was a fantastic weekend of learning and engaging with the dog mushing community in the lower 48.  I had the opportunity to chat with many Iditarod mushers including Kristy & Anna Berington, Charley Bejna, and Ed Stielstra.  Iditarod rookie mushers Laura Neese and Roger Lee were also in attendance.  The conference wrapped up on Sunday at Nature’s Kennel where we had the opportunity to meet the racing teams of Ed and Laura for the upcoming season.  We also got to hold 3 week old puppies!

While this conference is in the books for 2016, there are quite a few still coming up.  Check out the Iditarod Education Portal for the upcoming conferences including Duluth, Chicago, and Anchorage!


Iditarod Mushers!


Teachers and the newest litter of puppies at Nature’s Kennel!


Winners of the 2016 Jr. UP 200 (a game the teachers played during the conference)

Rounding Down the Trail

Rounding whole numbers can be a challenging concept for elementary students, but adding the Iditarod to it makes learning so much more enjoyable!  This rounding lesson is one of my favorites! rounding-4

In this lesson the Iditarod Trail Committee invites students to become “math mushers” and they must race down the trail, including taking two mandatory rests, rounding numbers as they go.  Students will learn about the population of checkpoints, distances between checkpoints, annual snowfall in Alaska, and so much more!  The first math musher to the finish line is the “Honorary Math Musher Champion” and the last one in is the “Red Lantern Math Musher”.

Year after year, this lesson proves to be a fun and engaging way to have students practice and master rounding-2rounding whole numbers.  If a group of my students finish early, I have them pick books from my Iditarod book bin and find numbers in them to round.  A few of my favorites for this activity are Snow Dogs: Racers of the North by Ian Whitelaw and Xtreme Races: Iditarod by S.L. Hamilton.  And lastly, to monitor student mastery, I have included a simple exit slip for students to complete before they leave class.

Rounding Down the Trail Lesson Plan

Rounding Down the Trail Board Game

Rounding Down the Iditarod Trail Handout and Game Cards

Rounding Down the Trail Exit Slip & Game Pieces

Rounding Awards

On another note, if you are looking at connecting with other teachers who use Iditarod in their classroom here are a few options.  First off,  there are quite a few Iditarod Teacher Conferences coming up.  I will be presenting at the Midwest Dog Sledding Symposium and Iditarod Teacher Conference  in Curtis, MI next weekend.  Three Midwest natives, Anna and Kristy Berington and Charley Bejna, will also be presenting!  To check out the other upcoming conferences click here.

Secondly, I will be Skyping with classrooms across the country beginning in month or so.  I have enjoyed taking my students on virtual field trips over the years, so I’m excited to work with you and your students to bring the Iditarod to life in your classroom (more information to come soon).  And lastly, I will also be continuing the Iditarod Classroom Club with Skype which began last year with 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Laura Wright.  To join in the fun, click below.

Iditarod Classroom Club

dsc00651-2Linda Fenton, 2013 Teacher on the Trail™, and me at my first Midwest Conference in 2013.  It was at this conference that I decided I would someday apply for Teacher on the Trail™.  If you are interested in applying you can find information here.



Back to School Fun!

IMG_2376Yesterday I finished up my first week of school for the 2016-2017 school year.  It was a fun week introducing my students (and their parents) to the Iditarod.  I didn’t miss a beat getting Iditarod started in my classroom—I started by reading Dallas Seavey’s Born to Mush to my language arts class.  We are about halfway through the book, and my students are loving it!  Born to Mush is a great way to introduce an elementary or middle school class to the Iditarod.  I chose a different skill to focus on each day including visualization, plot, setting, vocabulary, and text connections.  To purchase Dallas’ book you can visit his website.

My Iditarod bulletin board is my favorite part of my classroom. IMG_2375 It is a collection of artifacts, pictures, and the big Iditarod 2017 countdown.  A few simple things you can do to spruce up your Iditarod classroom are begin to collect Iditarod themed books, find a red lantern (I found mine at a local hardware store), and get some authentic Iditarod patches from the Iditarod online store.  One of my favorite Iditarod books is Storm Run by Libby Riddles!  An amazing story of the first woman winning the Last Great Race on Earth!  The patches I have on my board were one of my best purchases I made last summer.  They make the classroom feel like an official part of the race!  Storm Run and other Iditarod goodies can be purchased from the Iditarod online store.

Another item on my bulletin board is my Iditarod word of the week.  I have had these up in my classroom for the last few years and it is a simple way for students to get the Iditarod lingo down before race day.  There are eighteen words in total, and I make sure to review the words we’ve done every few weeks so students remember the terms and definitions.  I hope your students enjoy learning the lingo as much as mine do.

Iditarod Word of the WeekIMG_2378

The last “back to school” Iditarod tidbit I’m going to share today is something I picked up at the Mickleson ExxonMobil Teacher Academy this summer.  Each day at the conference they grouped us differently using a deck of cards, and I loved getting to know new peopleIMG_2382 each day.  I decided to tweak this a little bit and make it work for my classroom (and hopefully yours)!  I created six different cards that you can pass out to students as they walk into your room—Husky Group, Moose Group, Paw Group, Sled Group, Lantern Group, and Musher Group.  I usually have my students work in groups of four, so I have printed out four pages of the document, cut them out, and laminated them for use throughout the year.  It has proven to be a simple way to incorporate Iditarod into my classroom, while changing student grouping each day.

Iditarod Small Group Cards

As the school year goes on be on the lookout for new lessons and activities you can do with your students.  To receive all the most recent updates subscribe to the blog by clicking “follow” on the right side.  And if you are looking for an opportunity to meet up with other Iditarod teachers, join us at the Midwest Dog Sledding Symposium and Iditarod Teacher Conference  in Curtis, MI.  I will be presenting at the conference along with keynote speakers Anna and Kristy Berington.


Running & Iditarod

I couldn’t contain my excitement in the Las Vegas airport earlier today as I walked back from the Hudson Newsstand.  With a smile on my face I explained to eight of my co-workers that I just bought the newest issue of Runner’s World Magazine and Anna and Kristy Berington were on the cover it.  This issue combined my love of running with the Iditarod, and I couldn’t have been happier.


Runner’s World magazine with the Berington sisters!

Once I got on the plane I sat down to read the article on the two Wisconsin natives.  It focuses on the twins’ training and their life at the kennel.  The article also highlights the importance Kristy and Anna put on running during the Iditarod—who estimate that they run nearly 100 of the 1,000 mile race.  It helps keep the sled lighter, and Anna points out that it also keeps them warm since standing on the back of a sled can get quite cold.

The article is a fun read and can be used in the classroom to promote fitness, but to also work on non-fiction article analysis.  I have attached a handout that can accompany the article if you want to analyze it with your students. Non Fiction Notes Berington Article

And if you do happen to pick up the Runner’s World issue, be sure to flip to 104 and read a little blurb from my younger sister, Colleen, as she talks about a local women’s race, which happens to take place tonight in Chicago.

It’s a pretty great day when running gets combined with the Berington sisters, Iditarod, and your little sister, so enjoy the read and get out there and run!

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Family and friends picture after tonight’s race in Chicago!

Picnic Fun!

Today was a day the teachers have been waiting all week for!  Today was the volunteer picnic and first day mushers can sign up for the 2017 Iditarod.  It was a beautiful day spent meeting rookies, chatting with veterans, and listening to stories from the volunteers.  By the end of the picnic there were 52 mushers signed up—12 rookies and 40 veterans.


Mushers chatting with one another!

Towards the end of the picnic each year there is an official handing over of the Teacher on the Trail sleeping bag which was very exciting.  Laura has done a fantastic job leading the way this year, and I am honored to represent the Iditarod, teachers around the world, and my school as the 2017 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail.

The last thing that happens at the picnic is a drawing for 2 free entries for the race.  Mushers must be present to win, so many stick around until the very end so they have a chance to win back the $4,000 entry fee.  This year one of the winners was Cindy Abbott, whom the teachers spent a lot of time this week.  Cindy’s reaction was so heartwarming, and the teachers excitedly cheered her on!  We cannot wait to follow Cindy’s journey on the 2017 race!


A very excited Cindy Abbott!


The teachers cheering on Cindy after she won a free entry for the race

Check out the Iditarod website to see if your favorite musher is signed up for the 2017 Iditarod!


Porcupines, and Moose, and Bears, Oh My!


A moose spotted within a beautiful Alaskan backdrop

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Tonight was a page out of a Gary Paulsen book.  While out on an evening drive with a few other teachers we spotted a porcupine, a moose, and a BEAR!  Living in Chicago these are not animals I see every day, so I was quite energized to see all three in one night.  The moose and porcupine were spotted within seconds of one another, and I jumped with excitement because those are two animals the character Brian encounters in Paulsen’s novel Hatchet, which my students read each fall.

Then, as we were getting ready to head back into Wasilla, a furry creature made its’ way in front of our car.  It took us a moment to get the words out, but we all screamed, “BEAR!” at the same time.  As the bear cleared the road and we drove past where we saw him, we saw a trash can on the ground with garbage everywhere.  It was clear that the bear was looking for some dinner.


The black bear crossing the road

After the excitement died down, I continued to think about these three animals and how they can all affect mushers and their dogs.  Here are some discussion questions you can use with students to get them thinking about animals on the trail and in training.

How can a musher protect the dogs in their kennel from animals such as bears or moose?

How do you think a sled dog would react to encountering a moose along the Iditarod trail?

Why is it important for mushers and dogs to keep a safe distance from these animals?

Students can also research these animals to discover more information about their habitat, eating habits, and lifespan.


Beautiful Alaska!