Pencil Point

An exciting and productive life demands both short and long term goals.  Two pieces of advice I received recently have helped form a new short term goal for me that I would like to share with you. After reading maybe you will share yours with me.

Jon Van Zyle shared an experience from his childhood, when he was already an artist, with me.  He would proudly show his mother a drawing he had made and she would look and simply say “good, do it again.”  Then, during in-service this year we watched a youtube video by TED that talked about the fact that you can do almost anything for 30 days and when those 30 days are over you often find that you have attained an accomplishment that will have lasting results.

As I have shared with you, I have been drawing Rookie at my easel in the kitchen every morning and he is really taking on better form.  The other day my husband actually left a stickie on it that said – “the best one so far.”  Likewise I have been having my drawing students draw a freehand circle at the beginning of each class (a more difficult feat than you might imagine) and some of these circles are really taking shape, pun intended.

Is there something that you would really like to do?  Something maybe you thought was too big to really do?  Our students feel that way every day.  Break yours down to one of the simple things you will need to master to attain your goal and do it every day for the next 30.  Send me emails and let me know what you are working on, particularly if it has anything to do with drawing or the Iditarod.  I would love to share your challenge.

I have two new goals that I am working on – 1. I want to draw a realistic oak tree as I live in a valley where they grow abundantly and 2. I want to run 250 miles before I leave for the Iditarod.  So, my short term goals will be to draw one oak tree a day for the next 30 and to run, just run (fast/slow, long/short) every day.  Right now I am doing a little over a mile and a half when I do run and well – I have shared my oak tree with you below.  OK, so it is a little fairy tale like and looked a bit like an octopus, but I have 30 days.

Check in with me in 30 days to see where we have come.

Staying on the trail with Rookie,


It All Starts as a Rookie

The champions of the Iditarod are true icons.  They embody the enormous accomplishment that we aspire to within our own individual passions.  We look at them and we see success.  Although these amazing examples inspire us, we often feel very small around them, as though we could never do what they do because, after all, we are only human, right?

It is for that reason that I find the rookies so very interesting.  Iditarod rookies are mushers that have not yet completed the Iditarod and crossed under the arch in Nome.  I find I can relate to them more easily.  I watch carefully each step they take toward their successes and think to myself – that’s doable, not easy, but doable.

There are 12 rookies signed up so far this year and as the school term progresses you will be able to learn about them and their hopes and dreams by going to

I have a new inspirational partner of my own this year.  His name, oddly enough, is Rookie and he is a sled dog that appears on my easel every morning.  My job is to work with him until I can draw him quickly and easily (under a minute) to introduce him to the students I meet along my trail.  Rookie helps me see things with an accurate and positive perspective. He reminds me every morning that there isn’t much I can’t do if I put my mind to it.  So far he has gotten me back out on the pre-dawn running road four out of five mornings this week.

We are all really rookies at something.  This month I offer you the beginning of Rookie’s development, (please feel free to offer suggestions).  I also offer three lessons you may wish to include this year.  They all involve imagining a goal and planning for it, which is where all rookies start on the road to success.

The first lesson is “Safety First” and can be adjusted to any grade level.  We begin with a reading of Rivers, Diary of a Blind Alaska Sled Dog by Mike Dillingham showing us how his musher prepares a place and life for him that helps to keep him safe and on the trail. safety first

The second lesson is “Tracking the Musher.”  This activity may seem a little premature in the heat of late summer, but some video of the race itself may inform the students about the enormous complexity and overall scope of information generated by the race and is a slightly less overwhelming planning exercise than the planning of volunteer placement and supply drops that we will look at later.  It is never too soon to start planning how we will keep track of the grand movement that is the Iditarod.Tracking the musher

The third lesson I call “Imagine the Possibilities.”  Norman Vaughn, explorer and WWII hero was an Iditarod rookie at 83 years of age.  His story is in Iditarod Classics by Lew Freedman (available on line from  Many of the stories would be great jumping off places for a discussion of dreaming big and making the choices necessary to achieve a goal but Norman’s is my favorite. Imagine the possibilities – lesson plan

I hope you find one of my lessons this month that works for you and as always feel free to email me with reactions, suggestions and new ideas.

Staying on the trail with Rookie,


What Can You Expect?

Hello all and welcome back –

It is that time of year when we plan, plan, plan, but often lose sight of the real first step, which is imagining the goal.  A favorite quote of mine is by Albert Einstein – “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  If you cannot imagine something, you cannot accomplish it.  If a rookie musher expects to cross the finish line in Nome, he has to first imagine himself finishing. Oddly, this means that he needs to plan backwards.  So too, with your students, if you want them to be reading at a particular level by the end of the year you will need to plan backwards, scaffolding experiences for them along the way by feeding their interests, sort of like sending out drop bags to the trail.  You need to anticipate what you will need to get there.  This is where I come in.  I will be offering you ideas and plans that will build on their skills by involving their curiosity and imaginations.

So, I guess this is the perfect time for me to get into your schedule.  Here is my plan – log onto my blog on the 20th of each month starting August 20 and I will have a menu of opportunities to include the Iditarod into your lessons. You know that building on a common theme is crucial for keeping skills in context so I will have a minimum of three different lesson ideas revolving around the Iditarod.  Many of my lessons could be used in a number of different contexts, but a clear focus on the Iditarod will build a knowledge base and context that will allow your students to truly deepen the skills and understanding they will experience as we approach race time.  So, as always, build your contexts before starting a lesson with video clips from the Insider or fun stories from our trail reporters from last year like Zuma.  Your students will think they are getting a treat.  These resources are all available at in the teacher’s section.  Ready-made introductions, it couldn’t be easier or quicker.

My favorite successes with Iditarod inspired education have been with my at-risk kids and character education, so I will start there.  It may even be something we can all learn from since we are all lifetime learners. Teacher on the Trail sponsor, Target®, emphasizes and supports literacy.  In support of their efforts, I’ll share monthly reading activities.  Education sponsor Exxon-Mobil supports many science and math teacher academies so I will be sure to include a science/math inspired lesson.  I will try to vary the targeted grade level through the year, but also offer some ideas for adjusting the delivery up or down as you may need.

I picked up a great idea from someone this summer for my career exploration class.  Take the map of the Iditarod Trail with checkpoints and have a sub goal to be accomplished at each checkpoint. That, in itself, is a tremendous life skill.  My planning challenge for this one is to identify what those sub goals will be, what I will need at each checkpoint. Planning backwards will keep my class and me on track.  I will let you know how it goes.

SO – log in on August 20 for some lessons to get you started.  I will probably be visiting with you between now and then so bookmark me and visit often.

Staying on the trail,