20 Lucky Huskies


We love our kennel name!

The Iditarod Summer Camp for Teachers is a remarkable opportunity to meet mushers at the volunteer picnic as they sign the dotted line and enter the Last Great Race on Earth®.  


Photo courtesy Iditarod

I had the pleasure of meeting rookie musher Mary Helwig that day.  I remember Mary casually mentioning to me that she had lost her home and belongings in the Sockeye fire that affected so many mushers last summer, and I could not believe her amazing attitude.  Her team and dog sled survived the wildfire.  To lose almost all you own, and yet still be dedicated to bringing your beloved dog team nearly 1,000 miles to the burled arch in Nome…was simply inspiring.  

In my last post about puppies, we learned about newborn huskies, made our own, and named each one, lovingly, using a Texas theme.  We followed a special and time-honored tradition within the musher community to name puppy litters.  Now it was time to create one kennel name to bring us all together as a class.  For help, I turned to Mary and I asked her how her kennel, “Bravo Kennel”, came about.  She was so gracious and created a video for all of us to see, answering our question while very busy in the middle of training.  We were surprised by her answer!

We loved meeting Bravo, Mary’s special sled dog, and learning that his attitude and hard work inspired her to name her kennel after him.  A vote was in order!  My students had many ideas for our kennel name, but we needed to find one that was personal for us and our journey this year.  A great way to narrow down votes in a classroom is to use Tap Roulette, a fun, game-formatted app that helps a group make decisions through the process of elimination.  We decided to use Poll Everywhere on the web to give everyone a chance to express their passionate view of what our kennel name should be.  I added every name choice from my class, created a QR code for my students to find my poll online easily, and then we voted together online.  

After our initial vote, I edited and narrowed down the choices to our top 4, and we voted again.  Poll Everywhere allows you to change your choices easily, without having students enter a new poll all over again.  The results of our vote were in real time:

Our new kennel and class name became “20 Lucky Huskies”, and we celebrated.  What a perfect designation for our amazing journey this year.  We certainly are fortunate to have this unique opportunity to share our learning with the world, and sometimes we feel just like huskies on a team… working hard together for a common goal.  It is perfect for us!  

Now, it was time for some math activities to bring the lesson all together.  I created a kennel fraction activity for my students based upon what we learned in my post about dog house design.  Students had to color and decorate a kennel following fraction rules.

In our whole group lesson, I created a kennel glyph.  Glyphs are a fun way to gather and create data using pictures.  First, I created a form with Iditarod-themed questions for my students to answer, and their responses told them how to color and create their individual husky dog house picture.  Put all together, we had one, big, kennel bulletin board that represented all of our answers from the glyph.  We then looked at our pictorial data, analyzed it, and created fractional representations from it on a chart.  We also challenged ourselves to reduce the fractions to their simplest form.


Below is video of Mary, taken by her father, as she took her team out for a 50 mile practice run over the Christmas holiday.

Fraction Dog House

Fraction Dog Yard Student Sheet

Fraction Dog Yard Glyph

Fraction Dog Yard Directions

Dog House Glyph Lesson Plan

Dog Yard Fraction Lesson Plan



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 Mary Helwig and 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
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Get to know Mary Helwig with her Insider video – http://www.iditarod.com

How Does Your Puppy Grow?


Meet our pups; future Iditarod champions!

Puppies are the future for an Iditarod kennel.  As the 2016 Iditarod draws near, we have been spending a great deal of time talking about husky dogs and learning all about them.  We fell in love with veteran musher Matt Failor’s puppies this year after his Insider interview when Iditarod veteran “Cool Cat” gave birth to her litter of adorable, squealing newborns.  We wanted to know more about Iditarod husky puppies and how they are raised to prepare to one day be Iditarod champions.  I reached out to Matt and he shared some personal video with us so we could learn more:

Matt gave us some interesting information about newborn puppies.  “They are born with their eyes shut (fused shut).  The eyes usually do not open until around 10-12 days.  This is one of the reason a dogs nose is sooooo much stronger than ours (humans), because they rely on it from day one, since they are blind.  The whining from the puppy will release a chemical in the mom’s brain, to begin the flow of milk.  The pups instinctually go for the belly to find food.  The RACE is on!  They will fight for position and latch on to her.  Truly fun to watch and educational.”

Of course, my students wanted puppies of their own, but since that was impossible, we made our own rice and sock version to learn some husky puppy math and start a dog diary about them.  Our source of inspiration was a wonderful lesson from 2007 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Kim Slade.  I loved this activity, and since we wanted to learn more about husky puppies, I brought it back out of the Iditarod archives and updated it this year for my class.

Husky puppies are born weighing 12-16 ounces.  Since we are learning about measurement in math class, I decided to test my students and see how close they could make their husky rice puppies weigh 16 oz (1 pound) on a scale with estimation.  First, we measured out 1 ounce on a scale to see what it looked like, and feel it in our hands.  From there the challenge was to see if we could first estimate, then fill our sock with exactly 16 ounces with rice.  We chose a men’s sock we liked out of white, black, or gray, then used funnels to fill our sock.  Students went back and forth to the scale to measure them until they reached exactly 16 ounces.

Now for the fun part! We used little rubber bands to tie off the head, paws and tail.  Some students added a muzzle with an extra rubber band.  Then we added a black pom pom for the nose, felt ears, google eyes, and a little pink felt tongue.  Students could add extra felt for special markings for a personal touch.


Time for a husky puppy name!

We fell in love with our puppies, and when we were all finished it was time to name our litter.  Mushers have a special tradition when naming a litter of puppies in their kennels.  We read a great Iditarod post about how this is done, and we talked about what our theme should be.  Can you guess?  From that theme, each student gave their puppy a unique name.  Read our husky puppy names below, and see if you can guess what it is:

Our theme is “Texas” of course!  Our puppy names were inspired by the Lone Star State: wildflowers, food, spices, places, and even NASA.  What would your theme be?  Kim’s original lesson plan had a puppy birth certificate, so we created our own.

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Puppy Birth Certificate Word

Puppy Birth Certificate PDF

How Does Your Puppy Grow? Lesson Plan

Matt’s puppies have grown up quickly in the last few months.  Matt shared with us how he starts to train and prepare his puppies for the Iditarod in the future.   In the video below he walks around his kennel with the 14 puppies from Cool Cat who are now 3 months old and weigh 15 to 20 pounds.  He explains how he starts walking with the puppies and mom when they are young, but then he walks them alone so they can bond with him.  The jingle of a bag of dog kibble keeps them running to him and not wandering off.  It is amazing to see them all stay close together and trust him. 



What is more fun to watch than Matt Failor’s puppies?  Matt Failor’s puppies in slow motion:



We wish we could have had the real thing – but we learned a lot with our sock version!

Follow my journey this year as 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. We have partnered with Skype, and I will be sending recorded video messages daily along the trail to classrooms around the world.  Sign up for a free Skype account and then join the “Iditarod Classroom Club” to follow along.  Click the link below:

The Iditarod Classroom Club



Want to know more about Matt Failor and 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


Sled Shopping with Musher Kristin Pace

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The sled and mandatory gear for rookie Iditarod musher Kristin Pace

Reading the actual 2016 Iditarod rules is a fascinating learning experience for any classroom teacher, and it is a very important process to understand how the Last Great Race on Earth® is successful all the way from Anchorage to Nome.  

There are many interesting questions from students about the requirements for an Iditarod musher, especially the section about mandatory gear for the race.  We are far from the life of a musher here in Austin, so my students wanted to know more about making it to the starting line.

For help, I turned to 2016 Iditarod rookie musher Kristin Knight Pace from Hey Moose! Kennel in Healy, Alaska.  Kristin, a fellow Texan like me, was born and raised in Ft. Worth and moved to Alaska in 2009.  She fell in love with the beautiful, wild landscape of the north and is now a wilderness planner for Denali National Park.  She feels, “There’s no better way to see and experience the country than on the back of a dog sled.”  

I was curious to see what the mandatory gear for the Iditarod looks like and what kind of expenses mushers have in order to meet their requirements.  This looked like a great math lesson to me!  Kristin shared pictures with my class of some of her gear for the Iditarod, along with the costs of the individual pieces of equipment below: 

According to the Iditarod rules, a musher is required to have a harness for every dog on the team, and from the harnesses they are all connected together to the sled.  A system of cables, or lines, give the dogs freedom to run and move, but in sync, as a team.  All of the dogs with their lines work in tandem to keep them moving along the trail safely.  See the diagram below to understand how it all looks from above:


Kristin was kind enough to take some video of her Hey Moose! Kennel team preparing for the 2016 Iditarod.  She said, “This was taken about 4 miles from our training camp. We are on the Denali Highway heading east toward the Maclaren River.”  In the video, you can see the tow line, necklines, tuglines, and harnesses helping her stay in control and keep the team together, but with flexibility and comfort for the dogs.


Let’s go shopping!  With all of this great information and video, students can pretend to be mushers preparing for the 2016 Iditarod by going shopping for mandatory sled gear.  Using the Iditarod official rules, review the section about what is required on a sled and discuss why they are important. The health and safety of the dogs is always the top priority for race officials and the mushers.  Using the lesson plan and spreadsheet, students should estimate costs of the mandatory gear required and find a total amount due for a sled with 16 dogs.  The inspiration for this lesson came from 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, Jen Reiter.  Her math lessons can be accessed on the Iditarod site in an extensive PDF booklet called, “Mathing Down the Trail”.

The 2016 official Iditarod rules state that a musher must have 12-16 dogs at the starting line.  For this lesson, we will pretend to start with the maximum number, 16.  Mushers will carry extra tow lines, necklines, and tuglines on their sleds, but we used the required amount for our math.  Have a conversation with your class about having extra supplies on your sled.  What would be the benefit?  Hint: the safety of the dogs is the most important factor in the Iditarod, and dogs can sometimes chew their lines!

Iditarod Official Rules 2016

Let’s Go Shopping Catalog

Let’s Go Shopping Spreadsheet

Sled Shopping Lesson Plan

Kristin, and her husband Andy, also took a few moments on the trail to stop and introduce their dog team to us!


The life of a musher is a fascinating one.  Do you want to know more about Kristin Pace and her life as a musher?  My students created questions to get to know her a little bit better.  Read her Q & A to find out more about Kristin and her rookie Iditarod musher journey:

All About Kristin Pace


Training changes throughout the seasons for a musher and sometimes requires moving to a more remote location in the north for the best snow and weather conditions for the dogs.  Kristin said this is, “a picture of our winter training camp at Alpine Creek Lodge in the middle of the Denali Highway. The highway is not maintained in the winter, so we are 65 miles down the trail from our trucks and about a 7-hour trip to town one-way.”

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Winter Training camp for Andy and Kristin Pace and the dogs

Kristin and Andy have a wonderful site and blog about their kennel.  Their writing is deeply personal and emotional.  Check it out below: (you are leaving a secure site)


Coming Attractions

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Join in a live Twitter chat with sled dogs!  Mushers will pretend to be their sled dogs as students send in questions through Twitter.  The sled dogs will answer in first person…live.


Want to know more about Kristin Pace and the other 2016 Iditarod mushers and their teams?  The name says it all.  The ULTIMATE INSIDER ultimate-school-300x300 gets 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

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.


Parky Symmetry


Creating a symmetrical Alaskan parky in math class


The 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ with Matt Failor and his gear before the 2015 race.

What is a parky?  A parky is quite simply,  the northern term for a parka.   In the Aleutian Islands the word simply means “animal skin”.  They are longer coats with a hood, usually lined with fur.  Most are decorated with lovely fabrics and decorative trim.  I remember seeing many parkys in the winter in Alaska, and wanting to know more about how these beautiful, and warm, traditional coats were made.

In Alaska, one name resonates with traditional parky making, and by chance, it is very familiar!  Laura Wright (no relation) was a famous native parky maker, and her shop is still on 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage.  Many people, including the famous Iditarod photographer Jeff Schultz, have smiled and asked me about the possible connection.  Perhaps one day I can have my own parky made there!

The last few years, I have been so fortunate to come to Alaska and attend two amazing Iditarod Educator Winter Conferences, and one Iditarod Summer Camp for Teachers, joined by dynamic educators from all over the country.  These opportunities have inspired me to have such tremendous respect not only for the mushers, but for the work and organization behind the scenes that help build it and make it happen, year after year.

I fondly remember being a finalist for the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ and traveling with the other conference attendees to Matt Failor’s home and kennel before the race start.  He was gracious, funny, personable and spent a great deal of time explaining his trail gear and sharing trail stories with us all.  Most mushers wear modern, synthetic parkas today.

He generously allowed us all to try on his official Iditarod parka or parky and gloves, or mitts, and it was great fun.  It enveloped me and my 5 foot tall frame!  I asked Matt about his oversized otter skin gloves and why they were attached with a long, braided cord.  His reply?  “Do you want to lose your mitts on the trail in a blizzard?”  Point taken, Matt!

Martha Dobson, the 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, gave me some fascinating information about how mittens, or mitts, are worn in the race.  She said, “Most mushers call them mitts.  The cord runs through the parky sleeves, each mitt hanging out from the wrist of the sleeves.  When the musher takes the mitts off, he/she flips the mitts on the cord behind his/her back so that the cord twists, holding the mitts in place behind him/her, hanging at waist level, out of the way until they are put back on.”

I was fascinated by it all, and I came away wondering how I could share this with my wonderful 4th grade students in the coming year: with a math lesson, of course!

I called up my stepbrother Richard, a fellow Texan and graphic designer, and asked him for help.  He graciously agreed and created a traditional parky image to not only use in my classroom but to share out with teachers all over!  The parky he created is symmetrical, perfect for a math lesson.

Symmetrical Parka

IMG_0915 Symmetrical Parka

It is my passion to have art integrated in all areas of the curriculum, and this lesson also brings together math standards, a good book, and a little science too!  This lesson has several steps involved to make it to the finished product.  I first spent some time talking to my students about the northern lights.  I wanted a watercolor aurora borealis background for our parkys, so we researched all about them.  I had fun sharing with my students about the nightly aurora borealis forecasts I found in the Anchorage Visitor Information Center.  This is very different from Texas weather!

In science class we are researching magnetism and energy, and this planetary phenomenon is the perfect example of both.  My students were amazed to learn that the lights occur on other planets as well as Earth!

We used 8 X 10 watercolor paper for our backgrounds, wet the paper, and painted the colors of the lights, including the famous eerie green that is so prevalent in this special Arctic light show.  We added the adjective “eerie” to our student dictionaries for future reference.

In our Reader’s Workshop we have been integrating our social studies standards with language arts.  In 4th grade in Texas, we begin to study Native Americans not only from our state but from all over North America.  We are currently reading the novel Naya Nuki: Shoshoni Girl Who Ran by Kenneth Thomasma, a piece of historical fiction about a little Shoshoni girl running away to find freedom.  She uses her knowledge of traditional ways to survive in the wilderness.  In the novel we have been learning more about the clothing of traditional native people: a perfect fit with this lesson in math.


Terrie Hanke wrote a post during the 2015 Iditarod with wonderful pictures of the Inupiaq parkys from the community of Unalakleet.  I found this post to be a great resource for this lesson.

I did reduce the size of the original image to fit on top of our 8 X 10 watercolors, but a teacher can keep it full-size for a bulletin board decoration.  We folded the parkys in half and held them up to the light to see the line of symmetry and check the congruent sides.  Then, we decorated them and set them aside for our next step.

We talked about the mukluks and mitts for our pictures.  “What is a mukluk?” my students wanted to know!  We love our cowboy boots in Texas, but my students had never seen anything like these!  Since we have been learning about our Native Americans of Texas and their clothing, it was the perfect time to compare and contrast with traditional Arctic native clothing.  I read two simple picture books to my class to help with this lesson, Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joose and Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith.  For primary grades, these lovely pictures books are a great way to see clothing differences between traditional dress of Alaska Native Cultures and Native Americans from the southwest.

I had the privilege of watching native dancers at the Alaskan Native Heritage Center this summer in Anchorage.  I was inspired watching these young people celebrate their culture and share it with us.  I was struck by their clothing, movement, and passion.

As a person of Cherokee descent, I felt connected to the rhythmic drumming, and I thought about how I could connect this in my classroom to our native heritage in Texas.  Below is a small portion of some of the wonderful dancing we observed at the ANHC:

This week I took my class to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum to celebrate American Indian Heritage Day.  It was an outstanding spectacle of dancing and drumming from native people representing tribes from Texas and Oklahoma.  I could not help but compare and contrast what I had experienced here and at the ANHC this summer:

Of course the weather, animals, and geography were factors in how Alaska Native Cultures and Native American tribes lived, and hunted, and clothed themselves.  Traditional dress of people such as the Caddo of Texas included moccasins instead of fur skin boots.  Why?  They hunted buffalo, instead of reindeer and seal, and in the Texas heat warm, waterproof, fur lined boots were unnecessary!   They certainly didn’t need fur mitts!  My class brainstormed and discussed why, and we researched designs and patterns to create our own using our math skills.

How else does this relate to the Iditarod?  I shared a video with my class of the musher banquet in Anchorage two years ago when I came to the 2014 Iditarod Winter Conference for Educators with a group of teachers from Eanes Elementary.  On the stage every musher pulled their starting order number from a traditional mukluk.  I put together a little movie of a few mushers we were following and rooting for in 2014, and my students loved the fact that the mukluk was used in this special way.

We created symmetrical mitts and mukluks by folding our paper and creating congruent sides.  I have a very artistic and gifted class this year, so everyone put a great deal of pride and effort into their creations.  I decided to cut out the face of the image and put fun photographs of each student, but these can be drawn on instead.  When we finished, we had another wonderful art project for our classroom art gallery, and we learned a little bit more about the ways of native people from the past and present.  Bringing that all together with math and science skills made it a very special lesson for my students.  Click the links below for the lesson plan and graphic:

Parky Symmetry Lesson Plan

Symmetrical Parka

The 2016 Iditarod Class – Ready for the Trail!

Do you want see more lessons from the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™?  Check out the Iditarod Education Portal on the Iditarod site.  There you can navigate lessons from all areas of curriculum and across grade levels.  This is a great resource for any teacher!

Are you interested in coming to Alaska for the 2016 Winter Conference for Educators?  Find information and resources on the Iditarod site about this wonderful event in March!

I hope to see you all there!

Benny’s Flag


Benny Benson’s original submission for the Alaska flag design competition. ASL-MS14-1, American Legion, Designs by School Children for Alaska’s Flag, Alaska State Library-Historical Collections. Photo courtesy Alaska State Library-Photo Collection


The Lone Star Flag of Texas

In Texas, we love our symbols.  The famous “Lone Star” is a symbol that is easily recognizable by just about anyone, young and old.  In our state social studies standards in fourth grade, we dig a little deeper into the symbolism and start to really understand our history and what those symbols we see and know so well really mean to us as Texans.  I am sure every teacher in elementary schools across the United States do the same thing.  We try and bring history alive for our students and help them appreciate the sacrifices that so many have made in the past for us today.

Six flags have flown over Texas: Spain, France, Mexico, The Republic of Texas, The United States of America, and The Confederate States of America.  The lone star on the flag was created after the hard-fought independence from Mexico.  It represents pride and independence.  I think those traits apply to any state, and certainly the people of Alaska.

Our State Symbols

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I spent some time with my class this week investigating the wonderful history of symbolism of each state and comparing it to our own.  I can’t find a larger and more interesting contrast than comparing the great state of Alaska to that of the Lone Star State.  I use the straightforward and simple website State Symbols USA as an easy and fascinating guide into learning and understanding various state symbols.

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Screenshot courtesy of State Symbols USA

The site is easy to navigate, and my students were fascinated by the unique features and symbols that each state holds dear.  Did you know that the official snack of Texas is chips and salsa?  Did you know the official Texas flying mammal is the bat?  Did you know that the official Alaska state sport is dog mushing?  My students giggled and yelled out, “Of course it is!”  What I appreciate about the site is the interesting information students can read and research when they simply click on the state name or symbol title.  This is fantastic for state research reports and a great way to learn about basic, but sometimes quirky, official symbols and icons of your state.  The bat, of course, is the only flying mammal in the world!

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Screenshot courtesy of State Symbols USA

The website also has a place for students to submit stories and information about their particular state.  I really enjoyed meeting my state standards in such a fun, innovative, and easy format.  My students learned some interesting facts about Alaska during their tour of the website, and it was simple to navigate and fun to use.

Benny’s Flag

We took some time on the website to look at all of the state flags in our nation.  They are as varied and unique as the states themselves, but my students could not quite understand the meaning and importance of the flag of Alaska.  Why was it blue? IMG_0796What do the stars represent?  So, one morning, I pulled them to my carpet for Reader’s Workshop, and I read the lovely picture book Benny’s Flag, written by Phyllis Krasilovsky and illustrated by Jim Fowler.

As I read the story, my students were captivated by the haunting illustrations that brought the simple text to life.  The author did a very thoughtful job of sharing the positive attitude and outlook of Benny Benson to the reader.

Benny was a young Aleut boy with a tragic past.  He was born in the remote Alaskan fishing village of Chignik, and due to heartbreaking circumstances, was raised in an orphanage during most of his childhood.  It was his positive outlook and spirit that really inspired my students.


Benny Benson holding the Alaska flag at the Jesse Lee Home, Seward, Alaska. ASL-P01-1921, Alaska State Library-Historical Collections. Photo courtesy MS14-1-1 Alaska State Library.

Before 1927, Alaska did not have a flag of its own.  Since 1867, when the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, Alaska had only flown the United States flag.  In 1926, territorial Governor George Parks decided to create a contest for children to design a special flag for the territory.  This flag would one day become the state flag and be a symbol for so many.

Benny dreamed of one day becoming a humble, Alaska fisherman, and his dreams helped inspire his design for the flag of Alaska we know today.  In May of 1927, Benny’s flag captivated the judging panel and was adopted as the official territorial flag.  What an honor and an uplifting experience for such a young person.  My students were captivated by this!  I must admit, I was tearful and deeply moved finishing the book, something my students become used to year to year!

Benny’s Flag left us wanting to know more.  So, I turned to the Alaska Historical Society which had a great deal of information and some photographs of Benny from this time period.  I reached out to the library in Juneau, and they graciously agreed to allow me to share these special photographs from the collection in this post.

I especially love what Benny wrote on his actual submission,

”The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength.”

Referring back to our time spent investigating the state symbols on the State Symbols USA site, it all made sense to my students now!  We talked about what an amazing opportunity it must have been to be a child and design a flag that would be admired by so many.  “Let’s design our own flags!” Lucas said.  We all agreed to jump into our fun project, and I asked my class if we should try and create our own version of the Alaska state flag. “No!  That would be disrespectful to Benny!”  So, a change of plans were in order!  We decided to create our own flags.

Fraction and Decimal Flags

In math class this week we spent some time reviewing fractions and decimals, so we decided to create mathematical flags using 100’s grid charts.  These would not be an Alaska flag (Benny would not approve), but a fanciful flag created for an unknown state or country from our imaginations.  First, we did some research about flags by studying international maritime flags and their meanings.  Nautical flags are geometric in nature and perfect for a mathematical design.  We referred back to our study of the state flags online, but for this math activity, we had to create a geometric square flag and then convert the colors into fractions and decimals.  The Fraction Flag online game allowed us, whole group, to review fractions and helped inspire our color choices and design for our independent work.


When we finished our designs, the students filled in a fraction/decimal sheet taking their numbers to the hundredths place for decimals.  Since we are learning about decimals to the thousandths place, we decided to create a special class flag from a 1,000’s grid.  We did the math, and I needed 10 of the 100’s grid charts to make 1,000 little squares.  I cut and taped together 10 charts, and we were ready to create!

Math Flag Challenge

When we finished, we created a chart for our fractions and decimals, and helped each other count the 1,000 colored squares on our flag!


Integrating art, history, and technology into my teaching takes learning to a deeper level for my students, and this lesson certainly had it all.  We learned a lot about Texas and Alaska, and we created something meaningful together.  Do you want to take on this math challenge?  Follow the lesson plan below:

Benny’s Flag

Fraction and Decimal worksheet

100’s grid chart


Our 1,000’s grid flag data!

Finding Percentages with Cindy Abbott’s Budget



The 2015 Iditarod champion will win $70,000 and a brand new Dodge pickup truck. The amount of money mushers will spend on training, dogs, food, entry fees, supplies, or anything associated with sled dog racing easily surpasses that amount. It’s apparent that dog mushers don’t get into the sport for money. These athletes are in the sport for the love of the dogs and to preserve dog mushing.

Cindy Abbott shared her 2014-15 winter season budget with my class. The basic budget she shared with us is for supplies and expenses just for the races she has planned for the season and is not even half of the money she will spend on her dream of crossing under the burled arch in Nome. Cindy’s basic supply budget is over $35,000.

This budget is a perfect opportunity for students to work on figuring percentages. Students will begin the lesson by making an inference about how much money Cindy will spend this racing season. I imagine your students’ jaws will hit the floor when you give them the actual number. $35,000 is such a large number. Have your students make a list of supplies they think would be included in Cindy’s list.  Start off by giving them a few examples: dog booties, gloves for her, sled, etc. Let your students now look at her supply list, minus the dollar amount. After closely examining Cindy’s list, have your students categorize these supplies into five groups. An example of a category would be travel expenses. Next, give your students a budget of $36,000. Their task is to divide the $36,000 into the five categories. The concept is to get as close to Cindy’s numbers as possible. Using these numbers, students will create a circle graph to display their information. We use Google Drive at my school, so this is the tool we will use. Another option is to use Microsoft Word.

Now share Cindy’s exact numbers with the students. Have your students allocate the correct amount of money to each category they created earlier. The students will create another circle graph from the actual numbers. Putting the graphs next to each other, students are able to see what they predicted compared to Cindy’s actual numbers. On the worksheet assigned to the students are some additional percentage questions based on Cindy’s budget.

This Common Core aligned lesson challenges students to determine their own categories and allocate funds to those categories. This lesson also involves a real world topic and questions. An option to add to this is to compare this budget with the average salary of a member of your community. Another option is to have your students create a spreadsheet with the budget and average salary.  Create a monthly allowance for your bills at home and bills for sled dog racing.

Finding Percentages Lesson Plan

Finding Percentages Worksheet

Cindy’s Supply List

Cindy’s Budget (including money)

Celsius vs. Fahrenheit

"To travel is to take a journey into yourself." - Danny Kaye

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” – Danny Kaye

Ken Anderson getting hot water from the cooker in Takotna.

Ken Anderson getting hot water from the cooker in Takotna.

Tomorrow will be a scorching 35° outside! How often have you heard a meteorologist utter these words? 35° can sound scorching if you’re from Norway or Sweden, but here in the United States it is actually quite chilly. 35° Celsius is approximately 95° Fahrenheit. The United States still measures temperature in Fahrenheit while many other countries are using Celsius. If your students completed this week’s Iditarod Trivia Tuesday, they found out there are 13 mushers from countries other than the United States signed up for the 2015 Iditarod. Converting temperatures is a quick and easy lesson aligned with the Common Core.

To grab your students’ attention right off the bat, reveal tomorrow’s temperature to them in Celsius. This can easily transition into a discussion about how the U.S. uses Fahrenheit while many other countries use Celsius.  This can lead directly to students discovering which countries the 13 mushers from out of the USA call home.

In this lesson students will identify Iditarod mushers that are not from the United States while making real world temperature conversions such as, boiling water, freezing water, body temperature, etc. Students will also develop a week-long weather forecast for their hometown and a village on the Iditarod trail. The weather forecast must be accurate according to the weather app the students choose. While developing the forecast they must also convert the Fahrenheit temperature to Celsius.

Gas stove heating water for all mushers in Skwentna.

Gas stove heating water for all mushers in Skwentna.

The sixth grade students at Camanche Middle School, where I teach, report the weather daily at the beginning of the day. I am going to challenge them to start reporting the temperature in Celsius. This will require reporters to convert the temperatures and encourage the listeners to convert the temperatures. Good luck converting temperatures.

Temperature Conversion Lesson Plan

Temperature Conversion Worksheet