Musher Music Playlist

Music is enjoyed by so many people across the world.  From rock to pop, and country to classical, music is all around us.  Music can tell a story, convey a feeling, or simply help us relax.

img_3126The music in the Insider videos help us catch the feel of the race, while listening to Hobo Jim gets us pumped for the 1,000 mile race across Alaska.  Music can even be found at Matthew Failor’s 17th Dog kennel.  Failor said that music is a big part of his kennel, and he has speakers all over his dog yard.  Failor and his team enjoy listening to classic rock n’ roll and classic country and his team’s favorite song to jam out to is Space Oddity by David Bowie.

In this lesson your students will create a playlist for the Iditarod.  They will choose music based on its lyrics and/or feeling the music conveys.  They will choose 5 different songs which match up with 5 different checkpoints along the race.  Students will also explain why they chose each song in their playlist.

I began the lesson by pimg_3124laying 8-10 different songs (see the lesson plan for suggestions) and had my students discuss how the song made them felt (i.e. sad, happy, energized, mellow, etc.).  We then discussed how a song can make us feel and how we can use songs to describe how mushers might be feeling out on the Iditarod trail at specific checkpoints.  I had my class look at the southern route map (the route being used this year) to locate the different checkpoints.  I gave them my example playlist which is below.

Willow: Wake Me Up by Avicii
Rohn: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
Iditarod: Beautiful Day by U2
Unalakleet: Fight Song by Rachel Platten
Nome: Eye of the Tiger by Survivor

This lesson was a bunch of fun, and my students loved picking songs and dancing around the classroom a bit.  When they were finished my students shared their playlists with their table group, and then we put them up in the hallway.  We also shared them with our music teacher who enjoyed reading why each student picked their songs.

Musher Music Handouts

Musher Music Lesson Plan

Other Iditarod Teacher News:

I am Skyping with classrooms across the country!  I have enjoyed taking my students on virtual field trips over the years, so I’m excited to work with you and your students to bring the Iditarod to life in your classroom.  To find more information and sign up for a time click here.  I will also be continuing the Iditarod Classroom Club with Skype which began last year with 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Laura Wright.  To join in the fun, click here: Iditarod Classroom Club.

Join us in Chicago for a conference on  January 21!  Speakers include Iditarod finisher Charley Bejna (via Skype), local musher Pat Moon, and 2017 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail (along with a few other Teachers on the Trail).  Click here for more information.

You can also join us in ALASKA!  The 2017 Winter Conference will be held February 28-March 3 in Anchorage, AK with the theme of “Making Sense of Problems and Persevering Through Them”.  Don’t miss the opportunity to learn from strong educators, and from the mushers themselves.  For more information on this conference click here.


Winter Conference field trip to Matthew Failor’s kennel in 2016!

Honoring Our Veterans (and the Iditarod Connection)

dsc00796At first thought you may think there is no connection between the Iditarod, a sled dog race in Alaska, and Veterans Day, a day that honors those who have served in our country. However, there quite a few connections.

In this lesson your students will explore how they can use the gifts and talents they have to honor our US veterans this Veterans Day. This lesson was inspired by musher, Rick Casillo who has dedicated his life to helping our war veterans.  Casillo has finished the Iditarod six times, but his kennel has more than just a goal of racing the Iditarod.  His kennel, Battle Dawgs, has the added goal of raising awareness of combat veterans.  The mission of Battle Dawgs is to help combat veterans and empower them through therapeutic and exciting experiences in Alaska’s beautiful landscape using the healing power of sled dogs.

286101_158128761036389_619532534_oCasillo invites veterans up to the kennel to participate in various camps and day trips.  One of the camps is the “Iditarod Camp” in which veterans have the opportunity to help Rick prepare for the race, attend the start of the Iditarod, and fly out to a checkpoint along the race.  Casillo’s wife, Jennifer, is a combat veteran herself and she is still active as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Alaska Air National Guard.


Two of my students after they completed writing down ways they can honor our veterans

Rick Casillo shares his talent and passion of mushing to help and honor the veterans of our country.  He gives of his time and makes certain that each veteran who visits his kennel feels loved and appreciated.  He helps them heal from the emotional toll of war, and allows them to experience Alaska and Iditarod in a most unique way.

Rick is an outstanding example of how each of us can use our gifts and talents to help and honor our country’s veterans.  Have your students take time to reflect on how they can give back to the veterans of your community.  Can you make them cards?  Share your gift of art? Share your gift of song? Perhaps read them a story you wrote.  How can you make a difference in a veteran’s life?

Veterans Day Reading Handouts

Veterans Day Writing Handouts

Veterans Day and Iditarod Connection Power Point

Veterans Day Iditarod Lesson Plan

Thank you to Rick and all who are involved in Battle Dawgs.  Your dedication to our US veterans is an inspiration to us all.  To learn more about Rick’s efforts, check out the Battle Dawgs website.

When doing this lesson with your students, you can also include information about the founder of the Iditarod, Joe Redington Sr, also being in the military.  Joe, along with many other past mushers, have bravely served our country.  To learn more about Joe Redington Sr., click here.


Other Iditarod Teacher News:

I am Skyping with classrooms across the country!  I have enjoyed taking my students on virtual field trips over the years, so I’m excited to work with you and your students to bring the Iditarod to life in your classroom.  To find more information and sign up for a time click here.  I will also be continuing the Iditarod Classroom Club with Skype which began last year with 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Laura Wright.  To join in the fun, click here: Iditarod Classroom Club.


Skyping with the Duluth Teacher Conference on November 5

Join us in Chicago for a conference on  January 21!  Speakers include Iditarod finisher Charley Bejna (via Skype), local musher Pat Moon, and 2017 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail (along with a few other Teachers on the Trail).  Click here for more information.

You can also join us in ALASKA!  The 2017 Winter Conference will be held February 28-March 3 in Anchorage, AK with the theme of “Making Sense of Problems and Persevering Through Them”.  Don’t miss the opportunity to learn from strong educators, and from the mushers themselves.  For more information on this conference click here.

*Photo credits: Battle Dawgs and Rick Casillo

Iditarod Sportsmanship

In many parts of the country, including Chicago, fall is a season full of sports!  Hockey img_0343season is just beginning, college and professional football are well under way, and major league baseball is nearing the 2016 World Series, in which the students of Saint Andrew School are hoping to see their neighborhood team go all the way this year (Go Cubs!).  In all of these sports we see good and bad sportsmanship—we see players doing/saying things that are hurtful, but we also have players lifting one another up and being great role models for our students.

Dog mushing is full of sportsmanship, as well.  I have heard many stories of mushers helping one another out along the Iditarod trail—from catching another musher’s team, to lending out a sled to a musher in need.  However, my favorite story, one many of you probably know, is the story from the 2015 Iditarod when Brent Sass was disqualified for having a 2-way communication device with him on the trail.

Brent made an honest mistake and his heartbreak was seen by thousands of classrooms across the country.  While many were sad for Brent, I looked at the situation as a great teaching moment for my students.  That year, and every year since, my students and I discuss the sportsmanship and character traits that Brent exhibited during a rough point in his mushing career. Brent owned up to breaking the Iditarod rule, and he showed integrity and respect to his team, his fans, and to the Iditarod. blog-post-wall-display-page-001

I have created a lesson based around Brent’s disqualification from the 2015 race.  In the lesson students learn about the 2-way communication rule (which is different for the 2017 race), watch a video clip of Brent shortly after the incident, and discuss the 8-
traits of Iditarod that Brent exhibited.  The students then have to write an opinion piece answering the following questions: Should Brent Sass have been disqualified from the 2015 Iditarod for having an iPod Touch with him?  Why or why not?  Which of the 8 Traits of Iditarod do you think Brent possessed after he was disqualified?  Explain.  After my students complete the writing piece I have them post it on our classroom KidBlog site.  This is a great (and very safe) website for kids to upload their work to and to share with classmates, teachers, and parents.  I have also included a handout in which the writing piece can be written on, along with space for a picture.  These make great hallway displays!

oreo-writing-brent-sass-page-001For younger students, you can begin by discussing what happens when students break a classroom rule or a school rule.  Then, discuss how sometimes mushers make mistakes too, and talk about Brent’s mistake.  As a class, or small group, have students decide whether or not Brent should have been disqualified or not.  I have included a simple template for students to use to document their thinking.

As for older students, I think this lesson can go deeper.  I
suggest having them learn about Brent’s 2015 race, and have them research another athlete who also broke a rule in their sport.  Did the sports player demonstrate integrity and respect like Brent, or were they dishonest? Students can then compare and contrast the two situations or write an opinion piece about either the sport player or Brent Sass.

To Disqualify or Not Lesson Plan

8 Traits of Iditarod

Insider Video of Brent Sass

Rule 35 and 8 Traits of Iditarod Handout

Blog Post Wall Display Primary Grades

Blog Post Wall Display


Meeting Brent at the 2013 Midwest Conference

I love this lesson because it is more than just writing an opinion piece.  It is a lesson in
character.  It shows students the importance of being respectful even when things are going your way and that even superstars make mistakes.  It is my hope that your students enjoy the lesson as much as mine did.  And thank you to Brent for turning a rough situation into a wonderful lesson for students across the country.




Brent Sass beginning the 2016 Iditarod


Inferring with the Iditarod Air Force

Gary Paulsen, an Iditarod finisher, is one of my favorite authors for my 4th grade students.  Paulsen’s style of writing is engaging and keeps the readers on their toes.  Currently my language arts class is reading Hatchet, a story of a thirteen year old boy who survives a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness.  I am always looking for ways to connect Iditarod to what I am teaching, even when the connection might not be obvious.


Credit: Iditarod Air Force Website

Hatchet begins with the main character flying in a Cessna 406, a plane similar to those used in the Iditarod Air Force.  Therefore, for this lesson my students learned the reading skill of inferences using the Iditarod Air Force (IAF).  My students began the lesson by learning what inferencing is and making inferences based on pictures from the IAF.  Once we completed making inferences from the pictures, they made inferences based on a short text based around the Iditarod.  They read 16 different text cards, and as a class we inferred what was occurring.  The text cards can be done as both whole class or small group.  Lastly, I had my class complete an inferring handout with both pictures and text as an assessment.


Iditarod Inferring Assessment Handout

Inferring with the Iditarod Air Force Powerpoint

Inferring with the Iditarod Air Force Cards

Iditarod Inferring Lesson Plan

This activity was one of the lessons I presented to teachers at the Midwest Mushing Symposium and Iditarod Teacher Conference last week in Curtis, MI.  It was a fantastic weekend of learning and engaging with the dog mushing community in the lower 48.  I had the opportunity to chat with many Iditarod mushers including Kristy & Anna Berington, Charley Bejna, and Ed Stielstra.  Iditarod rookie mushers Laura Neese and Roger Lee were also in attendance.  The conference wrapped up on Sunday at Nature’s Kennel where we had the opportunity to meet the racing teams of Ed and Laura for the upcoming season.  We also got to hold 3 week old puppies!

While this conference is in the books for 2016, there are quite a few still coming up.  Check out the Iditarod Education Portal for the upcoming conferences including Duluth, Chicago, and Anchorage!


Iditarod Mushers!


Teachers and the newest litter of puppies at Nature’s Kennel!


Winners of the 2016 Jr. UP 200 (a game the teachers played during the conference)

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!