Coordinates for Your Sled–The Math Trail

GPS—how did we get anywhere without it! Enter your destination and drive to it! No map unfolding and refolding—map refolding is challenging—it never ends up the way it looked before it was used. GPS directs us to locations using coordinates that map the world. Latitude, longitude, number lines, space, spheres. Coordinates plot points on graphs, too, making numbers into a visible picture or line so we can “see” where the numbers are going, what they are “doing”.

Use this lesson to take your sled down a math trail. It challenges students to plot the coordinates of a sled dog, an activity for upper middle school and Academically Gifted students. Or, use the lesson modification for primary students to make a connect the dots dog using numbers. Color the completed dog and put a harness on it. A set of coordinates, a picture of graphed sled dogs, a connect the dots dog, and a sled dog outline are included in this lesson for your use. Keep reading for another math lesson.

The next math lesson here plots temperatures on a graph, comparing temperatures of three locations over an extended time period. My inspiration for this lesson was the unusually cold temperatures in my area of North Carolina late December 2009 through early January 2010. The cold temperatures coincided with the introduction of integers for our sixth grade team, so Mother Nature lent a great hand to learning! Students plotted the temperatures for Nome and Anchorage Alaska and Mt. Pleasant, NC. The lesson provides practice with integers as well as plotting points on a graph. When the graph is complete, turn it into a line graph with a different color line for each location. The lines really communicate the graph results to students.

Mushing on,


I Knew I Could Do It! Write a Personal Narrative

This lesson plan for grades three through high school uses the book Big-Enough Anna to spark students’ thinking. The book, by Pam Flowers, is a true story about how a little sled dog was big enough to learn to lead the team, to step up when the team counted on her, and to meet a dangerous challenge and continue on in her position as lead dog. Take a look at one of my July posts to order the book.

The lesson generates thoughts on universal themes such as accomplishing things that others don’t think you can do or continuing to work even though you are challenged. Then, students brainstorm personal experiences they’ve had with the same situation—doing something or accomplishing something that someone thought they couldn’t do—and write a personal narrative about it.

The narrative should reflect the students’ writing abilities and levels, thus a high schooler’s personal narrative will be more extensive and developed than the elementary school student’s paper. A rubric to score the narrative is part of the lesson.

Publish your students’ “can do” narratives and refer to them when students feel challenged in the classroom or in life, just like teams and mushers push through the tough parts of the Iditarod to move on down the trail.

Mushing on,


September Ideas for Your Sled

 It’s after Labor Day and we’re all back in school. I hope you’ve found ways to use the clipart and bookmarks in your classrooms or you have plans to use them during the year.

I‘ve had another remarkable Iditarod experience since school began that I’ll share with you. About two weeks ago, my classroom phone rang, and the caller was a parent of a student at another school in my school system. She had read an article about me in my position as the Target® 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ in a school system publication and was excited to contact me about her family’s history of racing Siberian huskies when they lived in Iowa. The most wonderful part of the call, though, was finding out they were selling a dog sled, only 20 minutes away from me! Last Saturday I picked up my “new” old sled, harnesses, and a gangline as well as some great stories of their dogs and running dog days. And, I got a super lead on the sled’s  history which I’m working to confirm.

Iditarod has provided unexpected opportunities for me over the years; where I least expect a connection, there is one. Who would have thought that in Cabarrus (say kuh bear us) County, North Carolina I’d have a chance to buy a dog sled with some really remarkable history connected to Alaska? It’s like going on a treasure hunt. I bet that you will have remarkable experiences in your classrooms when you use Iditarod as a teaching tool, too.

Here are some lesson ideas my sled generated. I can’t wait to hear about the activities and results you get when you try these.

  1. Use the photo of the sled next to the Toyota Prius as a writing prompt.  Compare and contrast the two types of transportation, their size, their purpose, their use, where they are used; create an analogy between the dogpowered transportation and the mechanical energy saving transportation; write a dialogue between the sled and the car; choose either the sled or the car and write about why it is a superior form of transportation; write about what you can do with the sled that you can’t do with the car.
  2. Write a story from the sled’s point of view.
  3. Write about a race the sled was in.
  4. Persuade someone to buy this sled with an illustrated advertisement.
  5. Build your own small scale sled using popsicle sticks.
  6. Use a computer program to design your sled.
  7. Create an illustration of the sled and team using an art technique such as mosaic, pencil, or collage.
  8. Write a fable about the sled and the car. (This reminds me of The Tortoise and the Hare fable.)

Mushing on,


Togo and Balto

When I introduce the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race™ to my students, I use an article, The Story of the Iditarod Trail, for them to read. I watch them reading it to themselves or to their partners, and, it never fails, they perk up and recognition glows on their faces when they read about Balto in that article. They say, “I know Balto!” because they’ve read a book or seen a movie about him.

Togo and Balto were the lead dogs on Leonhard Seppala’s and Gunnar Kaasen’s teams which helped deliver antitoxin to Nome in 1925 to stem a diphtheria epidemic. Both dogs were Siberian huskies, a breed brought to Alaska from Siberia by William Goosak, a Russian fur trader. These dogs were smaller and leaner than the huge dogs being used at that time to pull freight sleds delivering mail, supplies, and bringing out gold in Alaska. Their nickname was not very complimentary—“Siberian Rats”. The Siberian husky breed was officially recognized in 1930 by the American Kennel Club, and many sled dogs today descend from Seppala dogs.

Roald Amundsen planned to use Togo and his teammates for a North Pole expedition which was cancelled. Seppala continued to train and race the dogs, and in 1925, was called upon to run a long leg of the route to deliver the diphtheria antitoxin.  Togo led the team the longest distance, 260 miles, while other teams ran distances of 25-40 miles.

Balto, another Siberian husky owned by Gunnar Kaasen, led the last team to carry the medicine into Nome. Whiteout blizzard conditions and snowblindness forced Kaasen to rely heavily on the 3 year old dog’s abilities. (Source: 9.11.10).

Read more about Togo and Balto at these sites.

After his death, Togo was preserved by a taxidermist and is on display at the Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla, Alaska. In December 1925, a statue of Balto was unveiled in New York’s Central Park. Determined that Balto would also be on display in Alaska, Kim Raymond searched, located, and arranged shipping of a second Balto statue to the Iditarod Headquarters in 2009.  Togo’s statue stands in New York City also, at Seward Park.

These photos are of Togo, Balto, and a replica of the leather harness that Balto wore. I am holding it at Jon and Jona VanZyle’s house in Alaska. Jona worked at the Cleveland Museum in Ohio at one time. The museum owns Balto who was preserved by a taxidermist after his death. Jona found the harness in a collection of items the museum holds from the time when Balto and other team dogs lived at that museum. She had a replica made of the harness which is surprisingly heavy.  It fits around the dog’s neck and behind the front legs, encircling the torso. Today’s sled dog harnesses are very lightweight and made of webbing which fits along the dog’s back and sides.

My dog, Morgan, is modeling a more modern type of harness. It is a little big for her, but she shows how a harness fits. By the way, a lot of people ask me if she pulls a sled. The answer is “No”. I rescued her about three years ago from our animal shelter, and while I’ve taught her gee, haw, straight ahead, and on by commands, we just go for FAST walks! (say jee, it means right; haw means left)

Mushing on,