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!

FullSizeRender (3)

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

A Husky Point of View


What does a lead dog see on the trail?

In my class we have been learning about the differences between perspective and point of view in our writing and in the stories we read, and how they help us understand someone’s experiences in a different and unique way.  We wanted to write about the point of view of the different participants in the Iditarod: dedicated mushers, excited spectators, and Iditarod lead dogs.


What a fan sees on the Iditarod Trail


What a musher sees on the Iditarod Trail


What a husky sees on the Iditarod Trail

For help with this lesson, I turned to rookie musher Patrick Beall.  Patrick was born and raised in Oklahoma, and he has trained with Mitch and Dallas Seavey.  He created a fantastic video showing a day in the life of a musher wearing a GoPro camera and was gracious and shared it with me to use in this lesson. 


Patrick Bealls – photo – Iditarod

It was a unique perspective that helped us “see” the world from a musher’s viewpoint.  We thought about other perspectives in this race, and what could be seen and felt on the trail by the huskies and the humans. 

A lead dog in front of a sled is low to the ground, so what landscape do they see?  A musher is riding the sled and can see the whole team in front traveling along, or maybe looks up to see the Iditarod Air Force overhead. 

A spectator at a checkpoint sees the entire team travel by, stretched out along the towline, perhaps at night with the northern lights above.  This activity really helped us think about the race and what special events make it unique.


We used a little plastic bowl to draw an eyeball, and then illustrated it from a particular perspective: a lead dog, a musher, or a spectator.  We thought carefully about the landscape and events that make the Last Great Race on Earth® as we illustrated our perspectives.

When we finished our perspective masterpieces, we thought about how we could incorporate this into a writing piece about point of view.


Eyes on the Trail


Purpose, Point of View and Perspective *Link unavailable at this time.

PIE_Download_Aug_2015 *Link unavailable at this time.

We created an anchor chart to help us understand point of view, the perspective from which a piece of text is written.  This can be a bit complicated for young students, but starting with the “eye on the trail” art project made it much simpler to understand. 


The Point of View anchor chart


We learned about first, second and third person point of view, and then put a photo of an Iditarod team at the starting line in the middle of a piece of construction paper.  We sectioned off the paper, and in each section the students had to write about the Iditarod picture from  the different perspectives: 1st person, 2nd person, 3rd person limited, 3rd person omniscient, and 3rd person objective.

This activity helped us understand point of view, and it helped us bring the Iditarod into our Writer’s Workshop. 


Thank you Patrick for sharing a little of your life in Alaska with us!


Hot Cocoa With a Side of Poetry


Hot Poems on a Cold Day


I have spent a great deal of time getting to know our 2016 Iditarod mushers this year.  My special focus has been to share the stories of the rookie mushers, and their personal journey to the starting line.  Like many teachers we have a poetry unit each year, but I wanted to find an Iditarod musher who also loved poetry that could share with us.  That was no easy task, but I found the perfect person for the job.


Photo courtesy of Iditarod

Elliot Anderson is a 2016 Iditarod rookie musher who hails from Wisconsin.  He loves the great outdoors, and has had many adventures, from working on a horse ranch in Wyoming, to being a tour guide on the Mendenhall Glacier running dogs.  

Being a musher in Alaska is not an easy life.  I asked him what his inspiration was to come here, live in the wilderness, and run dogs. Elliot loves the poetry of Robert Service, the British-Canadian writer who has often been called “the bard of the Yukon”, and told me a story from his childhood that inspired him to one day give up many modern amenities and move to Big Lake to live out his dream.  He shared with me a personal story from his childhood:

My favorite poem that means the most to me is “The Cremation of Sam McGee”.  My second favorite is ” The Spell of the Yukon”. My third favorite is ” The Men Who Don’t Fit In”.   The “Cremation of Sam McGee” inspired me to come to Alaska because my dad would say the poem while next to a campfire in the summer nights.  He memorized the poem and would say it very dramatic like.  My dad went to Alaska in the 70’s and worked as a gold miner for a company.  He fell in love with the lifestyle.  He showed me bits of that lifestyle when I grew up in Wisconsin.  He has an old rough looking Robert service book that I would look at.

IMG_2822 (1)

David Anderson, Elliot’s father


The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
      That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
      But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
      I cremated Sam McGee.

That inspiration was just what we needed.  We imagined ourselves around the campfire, drinking hot cocoa and reading our favorite poems to each other.  In our classroom we wrote haiku, free verse, alliteration, rhymes, cinquains, and shape poems.  We wrote haiku about the northern lights, rhymes about huskies on the trail, diamante about snow falling, and shape poems about sleds.  I’m sure every teacher has their own special Iditarod-themed poems they can use in this project.  We wrote and illustrated our final drafts on a paper hot chocolate cup that eventually were placed into a paper sleeve from local coffee shops.  The results were “good to the last drop!”


Hot cocoa with a side of poems


As we worked on our “cocoa cup” poems, I placed them into a hanging shoe rack so they were out of the way but could showcase their beautiful work.  It took us several weeks to work through and illustrate all of our poems, but this is a wonderful project to work on all year long, and add to your cocoa cup collection hanging on the wall. 


Iditarod mushers are such interesting people, with many passions and hobbies in life.  To find a musher who loves poetry as much as we do was a real treat.  Elliot told me that this father will be waiting for him when he crosses the finish line in Nome.  What a remarkable journey.  My students and I will be cheering him on as well!



Coffee Sleeve Template

Hot Cocoa Template



Enjoy a slideshow of my students in our “northern lights nook” showing off their favorite cocoa cup poem:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.



Follow my journey this year as 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. We have partnered with Skype as a virtual field trip experience, and I will be sending recorded video messages daily along the trail to classrooms around the world.  Sign up for a free Skype account first, and then join the “Iditarod Classroom Club” to follow along.  Remember, you must have a Skype account first, or you only be in my club for 24 hours as a guest!  Click the link below:

Iditarod Classroom Club

Painter and Ugly: Friendship at the Jr. Iditarod


IMG_2370 (1)

Friendship is…

One of the special benefits of the Jr. Iditarod is that the young mushers bond with each other in a unique and lasting way.  In the woods at Yentna Station, after taking great care of their dogs for the night, they bonded over a campfire and shared trail stories.  It was remarkable to see, and I am sure these memories will last a lifetime for them.


Photo courtesy of

What is friendship like in the Jr. Iditarod for these young people?  Can your sled dog be your friend?  For help, I turned to former Jr. Iditarod champion, and 2016 rookie Iditarod musher Noah Pereira.  

Noah, born in Brookport, New York,  became the first non-Alaskan to win the Jr. Iditarod in 2013.  This week, I met up with him at the Jr. Iditarod start where he was offering support and help to the young mushers before his 1,000 mile adventure next week.

My class wanted to know more about this very special Iditarod event, so we sent Noah one of my favorite books about the Jr. Iditarod, called Painter and Ugly, by Robert J. Blake.  The book is from the perspective of two Jr. Iditarod lead dogs who are good friends and finish the 150 mile race together.  

I asked Noah about his friendship with his sled dogs and he said, “My dogs are my friends because I really truly trust them, and they truly trust me.  No matter what happens I know I can depend on them.  With that bond we can do some incredible things.”


Noah was so gracious and recorded himself reading the book aloud with his sled dog, Rainy!  How often does an Iditarod musher read a children’s story to classrooms around the world?  As a bonus, Allison Perry’s wonderful second grade class from my school in Austin, Texas, created sled team friendship books after listening to the story.  The book inspired them to think about friendship for themselves and what qualities they look for in a friend.

They pretended to be mushers in the Jr. Iditarod and colored their own sled dog scene. When they were finished, they added their faces to the musher and put their lovely writing in a special book about friendship.


Noah shared his inspirational experiences from his champion Jr. Iditarod year and what his friendship with his dogs meant to him:

  The Jr Iditarod is a 150 mile race meant to prepare young mushers for future dog sled races. Mushers from ages 14 to 17 can take up to 10 dogs and compete.  For many, Jr Iditarod is just way to have fun with dogs, but for myself it was so much more. 
         In 2012 I was a sophomore going to a high school in upstate New York.  I had dreamed about Jr. Iditarod since my first sled dog encounter during 5th grade.  When I heard of an opportunity to race it I could not pass it up. In December of 2012, my father and I left New York headed for Alaska and the Jr Iditarod.  That February I would be a rookie in the race.
         There was little hope for me to win the race, but I had some very talented dogs to get me to that point.  The first 75 miles was simple and we made it to the halfway point with ease.  During the mandatory 10 hour layover I fed my dogs, took care of their feet, and gave them all straw to sleep on.  After all that was finished I finally was able to eat something myself.  Morning came and it was time for me to take off.  I was the second musher to leave the checkpoint.  We eventually caught the first place musher about 40 miles from the finish.  We mushed together and neither one of us could take the lead for long.  About 10 miles from the finish I was able to take the lead.  I kicked and I pushed as hard as I could for the whole way to the finish constantly looking over my shoulder to see if he was catching up.  I made it to the finish line in first place.  If there’s one thing I learned throughout my experience it’s that where you come from doesn’t dictate what you can become.


Sleds Dogs in Winter PDF

Noah Pereira Kennel


Check out more wonderful images from this special lesson for Noah:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Follow my journey this year as 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. We have partnered with Skype as a virtual field trip experience, and I will be sending recorded video messages daily along the trail to classrooms around the world.  Sign up for a free Skype account first, and then join the “Iditarod Classroom Club” to follow along.  Remember, you must have a Skype account first, or you only be in my club for 24 hours as a guest!  Click the link below:

Iditarod Classroom Club

Want to know more about other 2016 Iditarod mushers and their teams?  The name says it all.  The ULTIMATE INSIDER ultimate-school-300x300 gives a school access to everything!  All of the benefits of the INSIDER VIDEO combined with the ability to “Track the Pack” with the GPS INSIDER!  Access to all of the commercial-free video.  Spotlight up to 5 of your favorite mushers and receive email alerts when they enter and leave a checkpoint.


  • GPS Tracker
  • Commercial-Free access to all video content
  • Highlight 5 Mushers with email alerts

Ode to Iditarod


An Iditarod Valentine’s Day

In honor of Valentine’s Day and the Iditarod, my students and I worked together to write a special form of poetry called an ode.  An ode is an exaggerated poem that celebrates something ordinary as extraordinary.  They are great fun to write because they use figurative language, vivid verbs, expressive language, personification, and can be over-the-top and a little silly. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 4.56.27 PM

Ode to a Husky

An ode does not have to rhyme, but some of my students decided to take up the challenge.  We read some mentor text in Writer’s Workshop, and noticed that odes sometimes repeat phrases and have an over-the-top exaggerated voice.  Our first ode was written from the point of view of a devoted musher to a husky.  

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 4.55.52 PM

Oh Iditarod!

We wrote another ode from the point of view of a fan of the race.  How would we all feel if there was no Iditarod?  Would huskies lose their joy?  We had many giggles exaggerating our writing for this project.

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 4.56.11 PM

Ode to Iditarod

We were inspired by our odes of gratitude for the Last Great Race on Earth®, so we decided to make our own compliment booklets to each other in honor of Valentine’s Day.  Peter Cameron, an innovative educator in Ontario, Canada and fellow Apple Distinguished Educator, has a wonderful blog called Mr. C’s SharesEase that is a great resource for teachers.  He shared his friendship booklet idea, and I knew that would be a wonderful way to end our day.


A friendship compliment booklet

Christine Hinkle, my friend and 4th grade teammate, created a blank 11 X 14 page of strips for each of our students to fill in with a compliment for someone else.  This activity could be turned into an Iditarod-themed booklet very easily.  Students could use Iditarod facts to write a compliment or a thank you note from a different point of view as a short formative assessment.  How would a musher compliment his team?  How would a husky dog compliment a dog bootie?  The possibilities are endless!

Each year, Eanes Elementary School students bring in a decorated “mailbox” for our Valentine’s Day parties in the classroom.  Boxes are lovingly decorated with creatively engineered openings for students to deliver cards.  Many students save them and reuse them from kindergarten through 5th grade.  It is a lovely tradition.  Several of my students chose an Iditarod theme for their cards and treats this year!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Blank Compliment Booklet Sheet – 11X14

Oh Iditarod!

Ode to the Great Race

Ode to a Husky

Ode to Iditarod Lesson Plan

Ode to Iditarod Checklist

And now…take a moment to see the Valentine’s Day fun in the 2016 Iditarod classroom this year as we delivered our notes and treats to our friend’s mailboxes:


The perfect Valentine’s Day card for me!

Follow my journey this year as 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. We have partnered with Skype as a virtual field trip experience, and I will be sending recorded video messages daily along the trail to classrooms around the world.  Sign up for a free Skype account first, and then join the “Iditarod Classroom Club” to follow along.  Remember, you must have a Skype account first, or you only be in my club for 24 hours as a guest!  Click the link below:

Iditarod Classroom Club


Iditarod S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d Art


An old calendar gains new life in the Iditarod classroom

As the year comes to a close, we have been organizing, cleaning up, and preparing our classroom for the new year.  One of these tasks involves bringing down our 2015 Iditarod calendar from the wall.  Old calendars can be recycled into a fantastic art project I like to call “stretched art” using basic art supplies and a lot of creativity.

Optical illusions hold a special fascination for my students.  I have a collection of these types of books in my classroom that are continually checked out and shared throughout the week.  I decided to combine our interest in this visual phenomenon with our calendar art project in 10 easy steps.

Step One:

Share optical illusion books from the library with the class and discuss the visual trickery involved.  Some of my favorites are:

Xtreme Illusions by National Geographic

Optical Illusions by DK Publishing

Magic Eye: A New Way of Looking at the World by Marc Grossman

Step Two:

Tear apart your out-of-date calendars, and let your students choose their favorite month and picture for the project. Turn it over and lay it on a larger piece of standard, white construction paper; any length will do.  Lay the picture exactly in the bottom left-hand corner of the paper.


Step Three:

Using the top of the calendar as a guide, draw a line all the way across the top of the white paper.  Cut off the excess strip and recycle it.


Step Four:

Use the daily grid lines on the back as a guide, and have students simply cut the calendar page into long strips.  I find it best to number the strips across the top, so they can be put back in order easily when they are flipped over.  For a mathematical challenge, you can require different measurements across the page with a ruler.


Step Five:

Turn over the strips and make sure they are in the correct visual order.  Keep the first strip on the far-left side, then stretch the last strip all the way to the end on the right.


Step Six:

Now simply stretch the other strips equally between the ends of the paper.  When you have them evenly spaced apart, glue each strip down.


Step Seven:

Now the fun begins!  Students should use a regular pencil to draw in the missing picture between the strips first, then add color.  Use any medium you want to fill in the blank spaces between the strips as accurately as you can.  We found colored pencils and oil pastels worked well together.


Step Eight:

Oil pastels bring a bright pop of color to the design.  They also add a little realism to the optical illusion when students blend the color with their fingers.


Step Nine:

It’s helpful to let students see their project from across the room as they work.  Viewed up close the picture may look a bit strange, resulting in some giggles from the class.  Held up a few feet away, the optical illusion comes together, and they can see their added design brings the strips into a cohesive image, resulting in many “oohs” and “aahhs”.

Step Ten:

The stretched art project makes a wonderful bulletin board display in the classroom.  I used a black background to make the illusions stand out for the viewer.


For an extra challenge, have students remove more strips to leave larger empty spaces.  More creativity and problem solving will be needed to fill in the blank areas with their drawings.

This activity is also a great beginning for a writing lesson.  My students wrote similes and metaphors about their pictures since we are learning about figurative language in class.  An Iditarod themed narrative story is a great choice or a how-to procedural text about the entire art process: the possibilities are endless.  We had great fun creating our optical illusions, but the Iditarod stretched art project has the added bonus of recycling and reusing obsolete calendars destined for the trashcan.

Iditarod S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d Art Lesson Plan

View our slideshow to see our gallery of Iditarod illusions:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Get your gear for the 2016 Last Great Race on Earth™.  Be prepared for the upcoming school semester by ordering your new Iditarod calendar from the online store now.


Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 6.35.55 PM

Later this week we will celebrate the holidays while learning about some special features of the Iditarod race.  We will be comparing and contrasting two books with a unique take on the Christmas classic, The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore.

Musher’s Night Before Christmas, by Tricia Brown, tells the tale of a team of determined Iditarod huskies who must help Santa deliver gifts to Nome during a snowstorm.  Texas Night Before Christmas, by James Rice, is a Lone Star State version of the classic tale with southwest themed imagery; cowboys, cowgirls, and a sled pulled by eight longhorns.

The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for educators around the country to come together and learn best teaching practices surrounding the theme of the Iditarod.  Check out the Iditarod site for more information about this unique professional development opportunity.

I will be joined this year by a few talented teachers from my school, Eanes Elementary, here in Austin, Texas.  We will be sharing STEM and STEAM hands-on lessons based upon the Iditarod theme with conference attendees.  We hope to see you there!