Problem Solving

I love logic puzzles, therefore, my students learn how to try to solve a problem without giving up.  Attached are a few puzzles we use in the classroom.  Puppies in a Pen teaches congruent shapes. We are currently taking the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, our “high stakes” state test.  This was a good activity to get students’ brains turned on.

With Dogs In A Pen Lesson Plan, students have to think outside the box.  Have fun and don’t give up!


Finding What Works in the Classroom 2.24.11

Temperature in Wasilla, late morning, 20°F, little wind

Teachers want to know what works in the classroom to facilitate student learning and to achieve growth in their learning. The research-based document,What Works in Classroom Instruction by Robert Marzano, Barbara Gaddy, and Ceri Dean (,  is a good resource which explains the research behind classroom strategies and their effect. The effect sizes of various strategies range from .59 to 1.61. An effect size of 1.0 is roughly equivalent to one year’s growth in achievement. Please refer to the above article for a table of strategies and effect sizes.

Strategies that were found to strongly affect student achievement include homework and practice, setting goals and providing feedback, non-linguistic representation, summarizing and note-taking, identifying similarities and differences, cooperative learning, reinforcing effort and providing recognition, generating and testing hypotheses, and activating prior knowledge. The two highest effect sizes fell in the strategies of summarizing and note-taking and identifying similarities and differences. This site has helpful information about using these strategies.

Part of my job as the Target® 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ is giving presentations to students in Alaska schools. I started those today.  The presentation gives students a chance to learn aboutsome  similarities and differences of Alaska and North Carolina. Letting students use a Venn diagram, Thinking Maps (double bubble or bubble maps) or write about the differences and similarities of the two states would be methods to carry out a strategy with a high effect size.

The Iditarod Race is a tool to use to create a lesson on note-taking and summarizing or on identifying similarities and differences. Perhaps your area has a sport or race which could be compared and contrasted with the Iditarod, or watch Iditarod Insider video clips to practice taking notes and then organizing those notes into categories. Maybe those categories could be more easily remembered by using non-linguistic representation, another strategy which can positively affect student learning.     

Something to Do While You Follow Me!

When I arrive in Alaska around February 22, I’ll post often to keep you in the loop about what I am doing and what is going on with the race. And, when the race starts March 6, I’ll post daily about the race and teachable moments.

The NUMBER ONE question I’m asked is: “Don’t you get cold in Alaska?”   To help others Outside of Alaska understand the cold, I’ll post the temperature and wind speed daily on my site while I’m in Alaska. By the way, Outside refers to anywhere not in Alaska, and usually to  the other states of the U.S. Use this information for the following activities to figure out if I’m getting cold! (Don’t worry. I’ve got all the right gear to keep from getting cold!)

  • Elementary–Color a paper thermometer which shows your area’s temperature and another one showing the temperature I posted. Write the temperatures correctly.
  • Elementary–Make a chart or graph showing the temperatures I post.
  • Middle School—Use the lesson plan I posted in Coordinates for Your Sled-The Math Trail to make a 2 or 3 line graph plotting and comparing the temperatures I post and your area’s temperatures.
  • Middle School—Relate positive and negative numbers to the temperatures I post and the temperatures in your area.
  • Secondary—Convert the Fahrenheit temperatures I post to Celsius, and then back again. It’s a great workout for your brain! (Don’t use the converter program, use brain power.) Accessed 12.27.201    

 Fahrenheit to Celsius  

    Celsius to Fahrenheit  


  • Secondary—Calculate windchill and use those algebra skills. I’ll post the temperature and the windspeed daily during the race. You calculate the wind chill for a REAL brain workout. Accessed 12.26.2010
  • Any age level—Research and learn about Fahrenheit and Celsius temperatures. Write a paragraph or paper or create a power point show about the history of how these different ways of measuring temperatures came to exist, why scientists use Celsius more than Fahrenheit, which countries use Fahrenheit more than Celsius, what Celsius used to be called, etc.
  • Read Sanka’s postings on Zuma’s Paw Prints. This K-9 reporter includes weather and climate information in his postings.

Mushing on,


Iditarod is Coming! Fill Your Sled Now!

(Keep on reading to find some ideas of activities for your students to do.)

Mushers carry the following mandatory items in their sleds during the race. I bet you can make this list relevant to what students need to be prepared for their job of school.

  •  Proper cold weather sleeping bag weighing a minimum of 5 lbs.
  • Ax, to weigh a minimum of 1-3/4 lbs., handle to be at least 22” long.
  • One operational pair of snowshoes with bindings, each snowshoe to be at least 252 square inches in size.
  • Any promotional material provided by the ITC.
  • Eight booties for each dog in the sled or in use.
  • One operational cooker and pot capable of boiling at least three (3) gallons of water at one time.
  • Veterinarian notebook, to be presented to the veterinarian at each checkpoint.
  • An adequate amount of fuel to bring three (3) gallons of water to a boil.
  • Cable gang line or cable tie out capable of securing dog team.
  • When leaving a checkpoint adequate emergency dog food must be on the sled. (This will be carried in addition to what you carry for routine feeding and snacking.)

Right now, mushers are preparing for the race by freezing and bagging their dogs’ food for the race, planning and preparing their people food and supply bags, running their teams on daily training runs and in races like the Copper Basin, the Sheep Mountain 150, or the Gin Gin 200. I am always curious about names, so I researched how the Gin Gin 200 got its name.

Who was Gin Gin?
The Gin Gin 200 is named after a remarkable dog who dominated a dog kennel for over 10 years. She was an inspiration both on the trail and in the dog yard. She was a dog with unswerving loyalty and stubbornness. She did not know” quit”. Her ability, drive and attitude should serve as an example to dog drivers everywhere. accessed 1.1.11

Fill your classroom sled with some of these ideas to get your class prepared for the Iditarod.  Choose one way or several ways, or think of your own way to connect your students, your curriculum and the race.

  • Start now visiting and , the For Teachers section of that site for ideas to use. There is an exciting lesson plan idea using the Blabberize website on the For Teachers section.
  • Read Zuma’s Paw Prints at the For Teachers page. Zuma and other K-9 reporters give you information about the race.
  • Adopt a musher(s) and use this form to chart his/her race progress. Scroll down to find the southern route chart. The southern route is run in odd-numbered years. The race data is free and is found on
  • Create a race route map along your classroom’s walls or down your hallway and move your adopted musher(s) along the map. This link takes you to the race map and access to a list of the mileage between each checkpoint for the southern and northern race routes.
  •  Teach a novel or read books about the race or related topics. Find books to choose from on these lists.
  • Math problems for elementary and middle school are in December’s posting on this site.
  • Teach students to convert the 24 hour clock time, used to report race times, to 12 hour clock times. Great mental exercise!
  • Temperature charting, wind chill calculation, converting temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius and back again. (See my posting on this site titled Something to Do While You Follow Me! for details)
  • Watch the free Iditarod Insider videos or sign up for this special video view of the race. You and your class can see what’s happening in the race via these clips.

Mushing on,


Iditarod Math for Elementary & Middle Grades

The Iditarod and its race statistics make math real-life situations for students, helping them understand how math is used in everyday life. Use these math problems for practice, homework, extra credit, review, or in middle school at the beginning of class to focus students on an independent activity. Some teachers call these “at the bell” problems.

If you have Notebook software, put these problems in that software and present them via your SmartBoard. Put the problems in a shared folder so all teachers can access them.

There are problems appropriate for K-2 and grades 3-5 (addition, multiplication and division) and for the math skills expected of sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Solutions for the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade problems are here. These problems will probably give you some ideas for other problems. Visit and look around the site to find more information to use for your math work.

Mushing on with math,


Coordinates for Your Sled–The Math Trail

GPS—how did we get anywhere without it! Enter your destination and drive to it! No map unfolding and refolding—map refolding is challenging—it never ends up the way it looked before it was used. GPS directs us to locations using coordinates that map the world. Latitude, longitude, number lines, space, spheres. Coordinates plot points on graphs, too, making numbers into a visible picture or line so we can “see” where the numbers are going, what they are “doing”.

Use this lesson to take your sled down a math trail. It challenges students to plot the coordinates of a sled dog, an activity for upper middle school and Academically Gifted students. Or, use the lesson modification for primary students to make a connect the dots dog using numbers. Color the completed dog and put a harness on it. A set of coordinates, a picture of graphed sled dogs, a connect the dots dog, and a sled dog outline are included in this lesson for your use. Keep reading for another math lesson.

The next math lesson here plots temperatures on a graph, comparing temperatures of three locations over an extended time period. My inspiration for this lesson was the unusually cold temperatures in my area of North Carolina late December 2009 through early January 2010. The cold temperatures coincided with the introduction of integers for our sixth grade team, so Mother Nature lent a great hand to learning! Students plotted the temperatures for Nome and Anchorage Alaska and Mt. Pleasant, NC. The lesson provides practice with integers as well as plotting points on a graph. When the graph is complete, turn it into a line graph with a different color line for each location. The lines really communicate the graph results to students.

Mushing on,


Lessons From Herb Brambley

(Under construction.  Links to be added soon.)

Lesson 1: Introduction to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race; Grades 2-8; Geography, Social Studies, and Science; This lesson introduces how climate relates to lifestyle and culture.

Lesson 2: The Alaskan Husky; Grades 4-8; Technology, Science; This lesson uses computer skills such as cutting, pasting, and saving a Word document as a vehicle to learn the unique characteristics of the Alaskan Husky. 

Lesson 3: Making Electricity from the Sun; Grades 4-12; Science, Technology, Geography, Environmental Education; In this hands on lesson students see how the angle of a solar panel in relationship to the sun’s rays directly effects voltage output.  The Internet is used to research the average hours of sunlight per day for locations across the globe.    

Lesson 4: Wilderness Survival; Grades 4-8; Social Studies, Environmental Education; Students actually build a debris shelter(or model) as they study the hierarchy of survival priorities.  Read Iditarod stories of survival from the book More Iditarod Classics.

Lesson 5:The Reason for the Seasons; Grades 2 -6;  Science, Environmental Education; Students learn about the tilt of the earth and the angle of incidents of the sun’s rays and explain the causes of seasonal change.

Lesson 6: Are We There Yet; Grades 5-12; Technology, Geography; Find out how far it is from your house to Alaska and how long it will take to get there driving, walking, or using public transportation.

Lesson 7: Why is Iditarod a Ghost Town ; Grades 4-12; Environmental Education, Social Studies; Students determine the best place to locate a village by evaluating several locations for available water resources, type of soil, signs of wildlife, and ease of travel.

Lesson 8: The Cold Hard Facts; Grades 4 and above; Technology, Science, Math;In this lesson students use an Excel spreadsheet to record temperature data from their local area and a location in Alaska.  They also use the graphing capability of Excel to create a graph that compares the 2 locations.