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

dsc00663

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.

 

And… GO CUBS!

dsc00950

Brent Sass beginning the 2016 Iditarod

 

Making Connections in Nature – Bats, Moose, and Prickly Pear…Oh My!

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” John Burroughs

How could one teacher be so lucky?  This summer I was fortunate enough to come face to face with two special animals in the wild that have been on my “bucket list” of nature connections for, really, most of my life.

It was well past midnight as we drove through the Palmer Hay Flats in Alaska in late June, and with summer solstice in full swing, my eyes were having a hard time adjusting to the changes in light.  I was very sleepy as my friend, Sara Lamont, longtime Iditarod coordinator, drove me into the backwoods she knows so well.  We were on the hunt to spot moose in the wild, a lifelong dream.  I remember the feeling of elation when we spotted our first mother and calf.  I felt adrenaline all over my body as we pulled up slowly to see them grazing.  The mother was protective right away and turned and glided through the tall grass with her calf beside her and disappeared into the woods almost without a sound.  It was the most remarkable moment.  There is nothing like witnessing an animal in its own natural world.  As a human being, you feel oddly out of place in those moments, and as John Burroughs once said, I had “my senses put in order.”  It was all the more magical because of the falling darkness that felt like a strange, eerie twilight.

Coming home to Texas, I had my second animal encounter with a visit to Bracken Cave, outside of Austin.  “Keep Austin Weird” is the theme for our city, and with no wonder!  We love our Mexican-free Tailed Bats that live under the Congress Avenue Bridge during the warm months of the year.  Each summer night, over a million bats emerge from their safe, cozy roosts and fill up our city sky.  Each bat can eat 100 insects a night, so they are a welcomed site for “Austinites”.  Bat Conservation International was founded here in Austin, and on this special night in July, I was fortunate to be given permission as a BCI member to see one of the greatest bat emergences on Earth.

It was well over 100 degrees in the Texas heat as we walked past prickly pear cactus to the entrance of Bracken Cave. I gasped as I first noticed the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pups flying wildly outside the cave entrance, while their mothers had patience until sundown to join them, roosting on the cave walls.  They flew with wild abandon, like impatient children, but as the mother bats  joined them, the most remarkable change happened.  The wild, chaotic flying started to form a giant mass of one counter-clockwise formation, getting bigger and faster as night fell.  The mass of 20 million bats began to pull away from the circle and spiral into formations in the sky.  Joining the bats were their predators.  Hawks flew in and out of the spiraling mass, clutching bats with their sharp talons, a snake slithered along the cave ridge, hoping for an easy meal, and a mother skunk brought her babies to the cave floor, searching for unfortunate pups who had fallen to the ground.  This was strangely not a disturbing sight; it was the cycle of nature right before our eyes, and all seemed right.

IMG_0291

The 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ in a bat selfie!

“Cup your hands to your ears!” my sister nudged me.  I noticed others doing the same, and even though I felt a little silly, I went along.   When I put my hands to my ears they turned into a natural headphone.  I squealed with delight.  The gentle, beautiful sound of 40 million fluttering bat wings was like nothing I had ever heard before.  There are no words to describe it.  It affected my soul, and I know we all felt connected to these animals in a special way.

This special gathering at Bracken Cave is the largest concentration of mammals on Earth.  Think about that!  I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity, and I wish to return each summer to experience it with my family and friends.

Did you know?  There are bats in Alaska!  The Little Brown Bat, the Long-legged Myotis, the California Myotis, the Silver-haired Bat, and the Keen’s Myotis all make their elusive way into the southern parts of Alaska, and they are all important, as insect eaters, to the ecosystem there.

As a teacher I am always looking for ways to make connections with my students and the world.  Returning from my moose and bat encounters, I wondered if there was a way to do that.  It turns out, there is!

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 12.18.28 PMiNaturalist is an incredible web-based site and app that allows anyone, child, adult, serious scientist or teacher, to make connections with the flora and fauna of their local habitat, then share them with the world.

The iNaturalist site describes its objective like this:

“From hikers to hunters, birders to beach-combers, the world is filled with naturalists, and many of us record what we find. What if all those observations could be shared online? You might discover someone who finds beautiful wildflowers at your favorite birding spot, or learn about the birds you see on the way to work. If enough people recorded their observations, it would be like a living record of life on Earth that scientists and land managers could use to monitor changes in biodiversity, and that anyone could use to learn more about nature.”

I set up my free account, recorded my photos of the moose in Alaska and the Mexican-free Tailed pup in Texas, and the site added the google map and scientific information for me!  Now my observations are there for anyone in the world to see.  There is also a space to journal about your experiences, much like an old-fashioned science paper notebook.  This digital application has remarkable opportunities for the classroom.  My class will be comparing and contrasting the animals and plants of Alaska and Texas, and since my students are under 13 years of age, I will set up a teacher account.   We can then use our class account to begin documenting our local wildlife.  Perhaps we can connect with a school in Alaska and share observations?  The opportunities are endless.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 12.13.45 PM

Now, these rare and special moments with nature can be shared with others, bringing us all closer, and inspire others to care about the world a little more.

History of the Iditarod – Lesson Plan

"The journey of our past has lead us to the present and will educate us for our future." - David Hutchinson

“The journey of our past has lead us to the present and will educate us for our future.” – David Hutchinson

I like to have my students learn the history of the Iditarod early on in the year so we can refer to it as we progress.  This past week my students have been completing and sharing tasks about the history of the Iditarod.  In addition to using Katie Mangelsdorf’s book Champion of Alaskan Huskies, students also used the following websites: http://iditarod.com/about/history/,

http://iditarod.com/about/booms-and-busts/,

http://iditarod.com/about/iditarod-today/,

http://iditarod.com/?s=virtual+trail+journey

Each small group was assigned a different task.  One task, entitled Snapshots of History, had students diving into the different decades of the Iditarod.  Obviously, students needed to find out how many different decades the race has been in.  They would then determine, through research, a picture that could represent that specific decade.  For example, one group determined Susan Butcher was the clear-cut choice for their 1980’s picture.  Students created a collage using PicMonkey.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Another task is creating a Fakebook profile for Joe Redington, Sr.  A favorite status update for students was about Joe and his dogs summiting Denali.  This task was quite appealing to my students as most are very familiar with Facebook.

Joe Redington Sr. Fakebook profile

For my artistic students I had a task to design a flag for the Iditarod.  After designing their flag, students illustrated their flag on their computer using the tool Sketchpad.  This tool allows students to save their flag to their Google Drive as an image.  They then could share the image with me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A fourth task was the Cartographer group.  Their task was to map out the Iditarod trail on Google My Maps.  In addition to mapping out the trail, the students had to provide a short description of each checkpoint.

Finally, for my musical students was a task to compose a song for the Iditarod.  Students chose a song and replaced the lyrics with the lyrics they wrote.  When they were ready to sing their song, they used the tool Audiotool to edit.

My students enjoyed doing this activity in class.  Each student was grouped based on interest.  All students learned a great deal about the history of the Iditarod, each group presenting their information in a manner best suited to their interest.

Check out the lesson plan below.  Included are websites to get to the tools the students used to complete their task.  There are also websites listed to aid students in their research.

History of the Iditarod Lesson Plan

History of Iditarod Tasks

Glogster – The Iditarod, Machu Picchu, and Denali

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

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

Many teachers always comment that they want to incorporate the Iditarod all year, but they don’t know how.  As a result, the Iditarod makes it into their classroom for a small amount of time.  It is very possible to teach the Iditarod year round while still teaching your other curriculum.

My students are currently studying the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations.  During this unit we take a look at the history of Machu Picchu in Peru.  Many hike the 26 mile Inca Trail to the highest point, 4200 meters, Machu Picchu.  My class did some comparing and contrasting of Machu Picchu and the Iditarod.  We also added a third adventure, climbing Denali.

This lesson was done using the online tool, Glogster.  Glogster is a type of social networking site in which you create and share Glogs.  A Glog is an interactive poster that includes text, images, audio, video, etc.  Glogster can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom.  A couple different ways to use Glogs are having students create an interactive poster as a unit project or a teacher generated lesson.  For this topic, I created a lesson for the students to complete in groups.

Photo Sep 08, 8 31 38 AMAt the top of the Glog the assignment is posted clearly for the students.  The assignment is to view the Glog, making sure to click on all the links, images, and view all video clips.  When they are finished they are to individually answer two writing questions; 1. What do you feel all three adventures have in common?  Defend your answer with facts from the Glog.  2. Which adventure do you feel is the most challenging?  Defend your answer with facts from the Glog.

Check out the Glog here.

Photo Sep 08, 8 31 54 AM

With some glitches here and there with Internet connections, this lesson took three days.  We will then have a class discussion over the three adventures.  Our final task will be to get the perspective of someone who has climbed a mountain and has done the Iditarod.  Our class rookie musher, Cindy Abbott has summited Mt. Everest and has attempted the Iditarod twice.  We will ask her which was more challenging for her and why.

Glogster is a great way to incorporate technology into your lessons.  You are able to add so much more to your lessons.  My students are looking forward to creating their own Glogs.

Robitarod!

So this year everything I’ve touched has gone to the dogs… and that includes my Robotics Club!

I work with a group of fourteen fourth and fifth graders once a week after school using Lego Mindstorms to begin to explore programing and basic robotics.  We usually spend the fall semester learning how to program and use the various sensors we can add  to the robot and then in the spring semester we compete in a series of challenges… a Summo Tournament, a Triathalon, and this year the Robitarod!

The boys were presented with seven Iditarod themed challenges and then given six weeks to earn as many points at they could.  Everyone started by building their sleds.  They first needed to determine if the robot itself was going to be the dog or the sled.  Then they needed to create the sled.  The official Iditarod Race Rules have this to say about the sleds:

Rule 15 — Sled: A musher has a choice of sled subject to the requirement that some type of sled or toboggan must be drawn. The sled or toboggan must be capable of hauling any injured or fatigued dogs under cover, plus equipment and food. Braking devices must be constructed to fit between the runners and not to extend beyond the tails of the runners.

Therefore, we asked the boys to accommodate for the following in their sleds:

  1. There must be space in the sled for a dog to fit.
  2. There must be an allocated place for the musher to stand.
  3. There must be allowances for where equipment and food would be carried.
  4. There must be evidence of a braking device between the runners of the sled.

From there, they got to determine which of the remaining six events to attempt and in what order.   The challenges required them to take what they had learned in programing, using sensors, and from the earlier challenges and use them in new and unique ways… and all while pulling a sled!  Some teams quickly learned that attaching a sled to their robot really changed the game.  It seemed to affect the drivability and maneuverability of the sled.

It was also a great exercise in strategy.  There just wasn’t enough time to do all of the challenges.  So, the question becomes do you do the ones you perceive as being the easiest first?  Or the ones that are worth the most points first?  And then somewhere near the end, one team started going for partial points at several stations and that proved to be a game changer too!

We had a great time with our robotic dog teams!  You can read descriptions of all of the challenges here: Robitarod

Coming Full Circle

Earlier in this school year as a part of our study of National Parks and as a wonderful tie it to the dog sledding theme that runs throughout my school year, my students and I did a Distance Learning Field Trip with Denali National Park.  [LINK] This is a wonderful program that is presented by the rangers in Denai via Skype. Through pictures, videos, discussions, and hands on activities, the ranger introduces the kids to the sled dogs who help patrol the park in the winter to access areas that are not opened to motorized vehicles.

One of the questions which came up was, “What happened to the dogs when they were too old to work at the park?”  We learned that the retired dogs are adopted by families all over the United States.

While I was on the trail this year, I was contacted by Sharon Winter, with the exciting news that she and her husband Dan were lucky enough to be adopting a retired Denali sled dog!  She was wondering if there was a way to keep the kids involved in the sled dogs’ lives and for them to learn what it means to be “retired” to a sled dog.

It will not surprise you to hear that my answer was “YES!”

Sharon and Aurora on retirement day!  Check out Denali in the background!

Sharon and Aurora on retirement day! Check out Denali in the background!

This week, my class had the chance to meet Sharon and Dan and their newest family member Aurora, via Skype from their home in Eagle River, Alaska.  Aurora’s full name is Princess Aurora Sparklepants!  She wasn’t born at Denali, but was given to the park when she was young.  She is now nine years old and has been living with the Winters for just about a month now.  They also have two other dogs, Amos and Snoopy.  Snoopy is a tripod dog, but he gets around just fine!

We learned that going through the process to adopt a retired Denali sled dog can take years!  There is a long application process that prospective families have to go through, including providing references.  The park looks at where the dog will live (both in terms of climate and kennel space at the home), if the families are active and can provide enough exercise, and if the families have experience with dogs.  It’s really nice to learn that the park works so hard to ensure that their dogs are well cared for in their retirement.

Sharon reports that Aurora’s retired life is pretty different then her working life, but still pretty different then a pet dog’s life!  She has a dog house outside of the house and has her own fenced in area. The fence both keeps her in and any wildlife in the area out.  She goes for several long runs and walks a day, and spends a lot of time with the family outside during the day.  They are trying to get Aurora used to being inside the house too.  She has really never been inside before!  When they first brought her in she wasn’t used to anything in the house!  She was scared of the ceiling fan.  She doesn’t like the noise of the TV either.  She really prefers to be outside.

We had a really wonderful time talking with the Winters and their dogs.  We learned a lot about how sled dogs live their lives when they are retired and it was a great way to wrap up our sled dog filled year!

What’s an Average Leg?

2013-03-03 20.38.15-1Meanwhile Back at School:  This week we have been exploring mean, median, mode, and range.  This skill have been removed from the elementary curriculum by the Common Core, but for me, it’s still a great way to review the basic operations and it’s pretty essential to understand some of the data that comes out of the Iditarod.

So, this week we have been analyzing data galore.  We have calculated the mean, median, mode, and range of the overall winnings of some of the top mushers, ages of the mushers, and numbers of Iditarods they have run.

Attached you will find our culminating activity for this section of the unit. The students will determine what an “average” leg on the Iditarod is.  Half of the class will find the average leg of the Northern Route, half will find the average leg on the Southern Route, and then they will compare their findings.  They will then use this information to determine which route they would rather run on.  My students are usually spit on this decision, but their reasoning is always fascinating to hear!

What’s An Average Leg Lesson Plan