A First-Grader’s Alaska Story


Alaska is very very cold.

My grandma has ben there lots of times.

There are husky dogs there in Alaska.

You have to race on sleds.

The dogs pul the sleds so you can go.

There are 62 people on the sleds.

There are 992 dogs puling you.

Written by a 1st grader, typed here as written

This first grader took herself to the computer at home and wrote this story. She asked questions about the number of dogs and people and how to spell people. That’s it. I discovered the story in the printer tray. Engaged in the topic of the Iditarod and Alaska, this young writer produced the basis of a seven page picture book.

"You have to race on sleds."

Where could you take this story? Illustrate each sentence, publish the work, and now you have a published author. A thermometer showing cold temperatures on page one, sleds on page 4, and it would be fun to see how young authors illustrate 992 dogs pulling. Hold an authors’ reception complete with ice cream sandwiches, sno-cones, or milkshakes.

What national standards (NCTE) would this meet?

NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills

Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies

Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge

Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

Communication–How It Happens on the Trail

Comms volunteer, Nancy, uses a walkie talkie to receive and confirm information from the race checker upon a team's arrival in Eagle Island.

How many forms of communication did you use today? Generate a list. Were all of the forms on your list electronic, or did you include forms like sign language, writing, or speaking? Make a chronological list or timeline of the development of all the forms of communciation you used in one day.

Now, think about how quickly or slowly these forms of communication worked. Did you have to repeat any of them in order for the person receiving them to get the communication?

During the Iditarod, a group of volunteers works a job called Comms, for Communications. Comms volunteers work at every checkpoint and send information such as musher arrival or departure dates and times and the number of dogs they arrive or leave with to the Comms department in Anchorage. This process is how the race standings are updated by the Anchorage Comms volunteers. Comms also communicates messages from people at the checkpoints to others elsewhere.

In Alaska, Comms is challenging. The Iditarod runs through remote Alaska, and after leaving Willow at the start, the race is off the road system, as they say in Alaska. That means there is no road connecting the villages and checkpoints; flying, snowmachine, or dogteam are the only ways to reach them.

The remoteness affects communciations–race checkers and checkpoint Comms volunteers may use walkie talkies to communicate arrival and departure information to each other. Using cell phones to transmit race details to Anchorage Comms is not reliable because there isn’t cell service in all areas; Internet service may be available via ethernet cable connection or wireless, but usually it isn’t wireless.  Sometimes the Internet is only accessible by satellite, and sometimes a sat phone (satellite phone) is all there is to use, like in Iditarod checkpoint. In Eagle Island, information is sent by data sat–that means a satellite phone is attached to the laptop and an antenna outside the Comms tent gets satellite signal to transmit the communication. In a day and age when people are accustomed to almost instantaneous communication, this could seem to be a delayed process.

And, all of us who use email or text messaging have experienced sending a message which disappears into who knows where, and the intended recipient doesn’t receive it.

My phone was off and packed after Skwentna because it didn’t get service; no phone for me for about 3 weeks. I used ethernet cable and wireless at other places, and in a couple of places, there was no Internet for me to use because it was more important for Comms to access it than me. And, I got down to basic communication as well, just asking and talking, instead of calling or emailing.

In the photograph, notice the heater and laptop in the tent. Clothing is hanging in order to dry–wearing sweat-soaked clothes in cold weather chills the body, something to be avoided. Find out why this should be avoided and explain it to someone else.

Back in Anchorage 3.22.11

Last night the last group of volunteers, except those working in the dog lot in Nome where teams rested awaiting their flights home, returned to Anchorage. The group included cooks, dog handlers, vets, trail sweeps (people who follow the end of the race on snowmachines), Iditarod Insider crew, ITC employees, and me.

On Sunday, an enormous number of volunteers set up the Nome Recreation Center for the finishers banquet. Staff from the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage came in to help prepare the Alaskan king crab legs, halibut, beef, vegetables, salads, and strawberries which were arranged in dog sleds on the buffet tables. 800 tickets were available for the event, and I didn’t notice empty seats, or empty stomachs after that meal! Someone from Little Diomede kindly showed me how to crack the crab legs and get that delicious, sweet meat to dip in butter. (Check the map to find out where Little Diomede is and what is on that island now.)

Monday found me at Nome Elementary School and the Head Start program presenting to all the grade levels. The school is a beautiful building and is filled with student projects including hatching salmon and bulletin boards of newspaper clippings about the Iditarod.

Monday was a windy day with snow falling. By recess, though, the snowfall had stopped. Students played outside on the playground equipment and pushed snow around into piles with their hands, as if in a sandbox making sandpiles. Compare and contrast your recess time with the description and photos of the Nome Elementary recess time.

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After being interviewed by a high school student and visiting with a high school English and journalism teacher in Nome, I was dropped off at the church where I’ve been staying and I packed my gear bag, readying it and me for the flight to Anchorage.

This isn’t my last post, though, so return to the blog to read new posts.

Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights 3.19.11

Nome, cloudy skies, some snow, perhaps drizzle falling today

Northern Lights, McGrath, AK


In Takotna a week ago, the Northern Lights appeared brightly, shimmering green. A friend sent me photos he took of them that night; to photograph these, a tripod is necessary because it’s difficult to hold a camera still enough.

This site, http://www.gedds.alaska.edu/auroraforecast/, gives aurora borealis forecasts as to how “good” the night’s show will be. The night I saw them, the forecast was a 4. These lights are a natural light display in the sky, caused by the collision of charged particles directed by earth’s magnetic field. They are especially easy to see in the polar regions.

The Northern Lights were named after the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, and the Greek name for the north wind, Boreas.

The science of these lights involves photon emissions from ionized nitrogen atoms which regain an electron and oxygen and nitrogen atoms changing from an excited state to a ground state. Solar wind particles excite, or ionize, these atoms when they collide. Oxygen emissions produce green or brownish-red lights and nitrogen emissions produce blue or red lights.

Chemistry classes—research this light phenomena, illustrate the process by which it happens, visit the site above for information on the Northern Lights. 

Northern Lights, McGrath, AK

St. Patrick’s Day in Nome 3.17.11

Temperature 16 degrees F, feels like 2 degrees F

People sported green for St. Patrick’s Day in Nome, attended their parade, and took their pictures under the burled arch finish line attired in green. Kelly Maixner finished his race today in a St Patrick’s Day top hat.

Kelly Maixner, DDS finishes his first Iditarod.

 Did you figure out what the four people in yesterday’s post had in common? Besides running the Iditarod, all four are native Alaskans.

An event at the mini-convention center was a reading of Robert Service poems by Richard Beneville, including The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee. These poems’ inspiration came from Service’s time spent in the Yukon Territory in the early 1900s. The Cremation of Sam McGee has a surprise ending. Study it with your students and discuss their different interpretations of the ending.