Going to the Dogs!

If you are anything like me, even though you are on summer vacation, your mind is always going and going and going and you are always thinking of things to do to make your classroom more welcoming and more inviting for your students.

???????????????????It’s safe to say that in the last two years my classroom has officially gone to the dogs!  I have always used the Iditarod as a part of my teaching curriculum and toolbag, but two years ago I really let it take over my classroom and become my yearlong classroom theme.   I say two years ago, because that is the year that my life took a turn on the trail towards this amazing adventure I am embarking on.

Two years ago, my good friend and teaching partner Ellen Rizzuto, burst into my room one morning declaring, “I just heard the coolest thing and you are the only person crazy enough to do it with me!”

The crazy thing she had heard about was Wintergreen Lodge in Ely, Minnesota, where you could go for a long weekend and learn to dogsled.  Not just go for a ride, but really get your own team and learn how to mush!  I immediately countered that if we were going to do that, we should tie it into something educational and apply for a grant from our school.  That winter we spent Martin Luther King weekend at Wintergreen, and then attended the Iditarod Winter Conference for Educators and the start and restart of the 40th Iditarod.  It was a life changing experience, and has directly led me to where I am today.

As you can imagine, with all the excitement of that first trip, my trip to the race last year as a finalist, and then of course all that will be happening this year, my classroom revolves around the Iditarod.  I’ve found it to be an amazing classroom theme for my third grade boys… the race is full of action, adventure, dogs, wilderness, and competition… all things boys adore!  In using it as my classroom theme, it surrounds us all year long, not just at race time.  I can sneak in little tidbits of information when time allows and not have to let it dominate one portion of my curriculum.  (Although the race IS my math curriculum from January-April… but that is a post for another time).

So during the summer, I thought I would share with you some of the ways I use the Iditarod as my classroom theme. I hope that you will be able to find something that you can use – or “borrow and tweak” as 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Linda Fenton would say!  Let me know if you do….I’d love to hear about it!

At the start of the year before adding student samples

At the start of the year before adding student samples

To that end, I thought the first idea I would share with you is the Advice from the Trail activity we do in my classroom.  When Ellen and I attended that first conference, I found myself writing down tidbits of advice and quotations that mushers, vets, volunteers, and presenters said.  I realized that many of the quotations, while obviously focused on the Iditarod, had applications in the “real-world” too.  Advice that I hoped my students would take to heart!

Every month I choose a quotation and post it on the Advice from the Trail bulletin board.  Throughout the month, we discuss the advice and what lessons we could take from it.  We try to apply it to what we are experiencing in the classroom.  We talk about how it applies to characters in books we are reading and our lives outside of school.  At the end of the month, the students write a reflection about the quote in their journals and then we start the whole process over with a new quote.

This activity, while obviously a good writing assignment, also allows me to sneak in some character development lessons.  An added bonus, which I didn’t originally anticipate, is that it allowed me to introduce several key and memorable mushers to the students.

Included in the lesson plan is a list of quotations that could be used for this project.  I keep adding to the list! Lesson Plan Here:  Advice From the Trail July