Testing Your Iditarod I.Q. With STEM


Checking our Iditarod quiz answers using STEM and circuits

The 2016 Iditarod class has been learning about informational text and graphic features in my language arts class.  We used the Scholastic book Mush! Sled Dogs of the Iditarod by Joe Funk and the Iditarod.com site to help us learn all about the history and fascinating trivia and facts of the Last Great Race on Earth®.

Each student put their STEM knowledge of circuitry to good use and created an “Iditaquiz” from their research to test the Iditarod knowledge of others.  Heavy duty aluminum foil, wires, a D cell battery, and a small light bulb were used to check the answers, called a “light-right.”


Creating and sharing our Iditarod knowledge

We have learned that even store-bought foil is a conductor of energy, and it will create a simple, closed circuit.  A hole is made in the paper, with aluminum foil underneath it, which then acts as the conductor.

Regular masking tape was used to cover each piece of foil that connected the correct answer to the question, which insulated the “circuit” from other foil pieces.

My students had great fun creating what they called, “fake-out” circuits to fool the quiz taker.

I created templates for my students to use to hand write the Iditaquiz tests, and we had true/false, multiple choice, or matching as options.  My class had great fun learning new and interesting facts about the Iditarod, testing their knowledge, and then creating quizzes for others.  The science of circuitry made it more interactive and engaging.  Print the templates below and begin to create your own “light-right” quizzes.

Test Your Iditarod I.Q. With STEM

Light Right Quiz – True False – With Lines

Light Right Quiz – True False – No Lines

Light Right Quiz – Multiple Choice – Word

Light Right Quiz – Multiple Choice

Light Right – Matching – Word

Light Right – Matching


Create and test your knowledge of the Iditarod with these templates

In our study of informational text features, like many teachers, we use sticky notes to write down interesting facts we find, or trivia information we want to use in our research.  There are many great apps that can turn your paper sticky notes into “digital” sticky notes on your computer or tablet.  Why is this helpful?  A digital sticky note saves money and paper in the classroom and can easily be shared between users in a free classroom set-up by the teacher.

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Google Chrome has an add-on app called “Sticky Notes” that allows you to add “digital” sticky notes onto your desktop computer as you research a site.  The “Post-It® Plus” app scans your notes, creates a computerized version of them on your tablet or device, and allows you to save them under different group titles.  These useful tools allow your students to research and save their information for expository writing, without having to keep up with little notes of paper.

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This week is our annual Eanes Elementary School STEM Day.  My class took research of the Iditarod Trail from Iditarod.com and is creating its own fantasy version of the trail on our playground.  We will use the rolling robot Sphero, nicknamed Snowball, to travel our course.  Students program the Sphero on any device and give it directions by directly programming it through coding skills.  This will involve ingenuity, creativity, patience, and passion.  Stay tuned!


Current Events in the Iditarod Classroom:

People often ask me how I integrate the Iditarod theme into my regular classroom curriculum and still meet my state standards and district and school expectations.  Well, the answer is that it is really easy to do!  This week we integrated a little of the Iditarod theme into the Dia de Los Muertos holiday.


The 2016 Iditarod class celebrates Day of the Dead with our ofrendas, or offering

Here in Texas, this special holiday came to us by way of Mexico long ago and is a popular and beloved time of reflection for many.  The Day of the Dead replaces the gore and silliness of Halloween and instead celebrates, with love, the lives of those we have lost.  Altars are created in homes, candles are lit, and treats from the Mexican bakery are set out to encourage the souls of loved ones to visit.  Decorative sugar skulls are popular with children of all ages over the three days of events, and they are a way to show that the holiday is a joyous time for celebration.

To help celebrate this special time, I sent care packages to a few of my friends who may be familiar to many Iditarod fans.  Linda Fenton, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, and Erin Montgomery, 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ and her dog, Dixon, enjoyed their Day of the Dead gifts including sugar skulls and t-shirts.

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We usually celebrate this special day by creating dancing human sugar skulls with our names in symmetrical form in math class.  This holiday, however, we changed our creations to Day of the Dead dancing husky dogs.


Our symmetrical Day of the Dead husky dogs

I created templates for our Day of the Dead sugar skull husky dogs, and we used tissue paper and decorative art with markers to create the look of icing found on a real sugar skull from a bakery.  In math class, we created the symmetrical version of our names to make the rib cages of our dogs.  We then added the bones from my templates and glued them on black paper.  The results are fun, whimsical, and in keeping with the “spirit” of the day, with a little math thrown in for good measure.

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The Day of the Dead Dancing Husky Dog Lesson Plan

Husky Dog Head

Husky Dog Ears

Husky Dog Lower Legs

Husky Dog Upper Legs

Husky Dog Hip and Tail

My class was very fortunate to have the aunt of one of my students come share all of her memories from childhood in Mexico with my students.


Miss Denise sharing all of her family traditions with us for Dia de Los Muertos

Do you want to enrich your classroom holiday celebration with Dia de Los Muertos next year?  There are many wonderful children’s books available for the classroom teacher to enrich the understanding and meaning of the holiday.  I found that one book in particular, Day of the Dead Activity Book by Karl Jones, not only teaches about Dia de Los Muertos, but it also comes with a pull-out altar in the back, complete with sugar skull stickers.  Just punch it out, set it up, and you are ready to celebrate!


The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for teachers 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.


The Sphero and the Iditarod make a great STEM connection!

All Lit Up: Circuitry, Engineering, and The Last Great Race on Earth®


The city of Nome, Alaska, under the “northern lights” lit up by the 2016 Iditarod class

Our amazing 4th grade students at Eanes Elementary School spent several days designing and creating a “Circuit City” in each classroom for the culmination of our energy unit in science.  Of course, the 2016 Iditarod class created the city of Nome, Alaska, under the twinkling northern lights, with dedicated dog teams on their way to the finish line of The Last Great Race on Earth®.

“Circuit City” was a schoolwide event for our students to demonstrate how electricity travels in a closed path, creating an electrical circuit which then lights a simple bulb.  Making a circuit and creating light with wires, a battery, and light bulb is easy to do, but the effects are magical.

Our science standards for energy, force, and motion ask us to investigate the different forms of energy, including renewable resources such as solar power.


Let there be light!

We began our unit learning about electrical safety with a visit from Austin Energy.  Our local electric company has free community outreach programs for schools that show how energy is created and shared throughout our community.

Austin Energy brought in a toy pretend town called “Power Town” to our school and used electrical circuits to show how electricity is brought into every home in our city.  The program also highlighted electrical safety which was a wonderful and importantIMG_1371 introduction to our energy unit.  I would encourage any teacher to check their local power company for any free school programs available for this project.

At Eanes Elementary School, we are fortunate to have electrical kits from FOSS kits and Caddystack™ Electricity Kits to enrich our circuitry experiments in the safest way possible.

However, expensive science kits are not necessary to light a bulb with a simple circuit.  I gave my students batteries, wires, and a bulb and asked them to find a way to light it up.  This created many interesting “Ah-ha” moments as my students and their partners found a way to connect a simple circuit and create energy.  Then we pulled out our electrical kits which also included switches to “open” the circuit and turn off the energy. Aluminum foil or copper tape can easily be substituted for wire since they both conduct energy.  Experiment with other materials to find conductors and light the bulb.

Electric Experiments – How to Make a Circuit – PDF

Our science activity transitioned into a STEM activity with the design and creation of our fantasy village of Nome.  We decided to recreate the Iditarod at night, with the lights of our circuits, wires and bulbs, showcasing the race to the famous finish line.  A simple, donated shoebox from home was used as the basic building form for our creations.  Of course, our fantasy village of Nome had to have log cabins from popsicle sticks, miniature Arctic animals, gently falling snow, and warm and cozy wood burning fireplaces!

We decorated our Nome cabins with gift wrap paper for wallpaper, felt for carpet, and used doll furniture to outfit our rustic cabins or made furniture out of legos from home.  This STEM activity quickly turned into a STEAM integrated art activity, and every child in 4th grade was engaged and excited.  We pushed all our tables together, covered them in white butcher paper, dropped white poly-fill for snow and lit up our city with our homemade circuits.

We left a hole on the roof for our lights bulbs to shine through, and with our knowledge of circuitry, we lit up our houses one by one.  When we turned out the classroom lights, the results of our efforts took our breath away.  We had used science and engineering to recreate a very special place.  Now it was time to share!

Mush to Nome, Alaska!

We turned out the classroom lights, played the classic tune Hobo Jim’s Iditarod Trail Song, and invited every student in our school to tour our city and learn about energy and circuitry.

The other 4th grade classes enjoyed their own special tours.  Unique cities captured the imaginations of all of our students with themes that were personal and meaningful to that particular class.  It was an amazing day of sharing our creativity with not only our school, but central administration and our parents as well.

New York, New York!

Mrs. Victor’s class recreated the bright lights of New York City, including a bustling Central Park, a towering Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Center complete with ice skaters, and the sights and sounds of the “Great White Way” of Broadway.  Students were serenaded by Frank Sinatra as tour guides shared the design and history of their creations.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Harry Potter himself would have been proud to see how the famed school for wizards was recreated down to the last detail by Mrs. Brewer’s students.  Her room was transformed into the famed setting for J.K. Rowling’s series, complete with owls on the roof, warm, burning fires in the dorm rooms, and a little magic from the students.

The Modern Architectural Wonders of the World

Ms. Walters is passionate about history and art in her classroom, so her students focused on sharing the most amazing pieces of architecture in the world such as the Golden Gate Bridge.  The Empire State Building came complete with its own King Kong at the top.  Her students also became tour guides showcasing how the buildings and bridges were constructed as well as providing interesting facts about them.

Beware of Haunted House Lane!

Mrs. Bromlow’s class celebrated the arrival of fall and Halloween by recreating detailed, fun haunted houses.  Some houses were whimsical, some were gloriously creepy, but they all glowed with the eerie light of circuitry!  What a perfect way to celebrate the season.

Austin City Limits

Mrs. Hinkle represented our very own Austin, Texas, by allowing partners to work together and recreate their favorite places around our beloved town.  Students created “Hey Cupcake”, a favorite food truck for the delectable treats on Congress Avenue, complete with little toy food.  “Big Top Candy” was recreated in all its glory, including its famous local logo.  One group designed our very own Eanes Elementary School, the oldest running school in Texas, complete with toy desks and little plastic students ready to engage and learn.  Go Mustangs!

A digital personal invitation was sent to every class at Eanes Elementary School to come and visit our “cities” using the Emaze web-based presentation program.  Emaze.com has free professionally designed templates for teachers and students to use to create presentations to share on a site or in an email to others. Simply choose your template, drop in your photos, video, and text, and share it out.  Digital presentations created by students, are alternative formative assessments instead of a traditional paper and pencil test.

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Use the Emaze tools to create slides in your chosen template.  When completed the presentation will flow like a video with the click of the arrow keys on your keyboard.

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Circuit Symbols – PDF

Circuit City Parent Letter – PDF

All Lit Up Circuitry Lesson Plan

Iron Dog Racers


Our “iron dog” racers made it all the way to the finish line using Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion!


Erin Montgomery, 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ on her iron dog – photo courtesy Erin Montgomery

This week our Eanes Elementary School fourth graders have been continuing our research about energy, force, and motion in our science classes.  We learned about Newton’s Laws of Motion, and we decided to put our knowledge to the test.  In a wonderful STEM activity, our students created balloon racers using their science knowledge.  My class put an Iditarod twist on it and designed snow machines, “iron dogs,” using air from a balloon and a straw to move them.

Erin Montgomery, the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, had an interesting post from the trail sharing about her first experience riding an iron dog on the trail.  This was great inspiration for our lesson.


Jeff Schultz on the Iditarod trail – photo credit: Bob Jones

I learned about the term “iron dog” while in Alaska, and my class had an interesting conversation about the term and why it would be used in the state where dog mushing is the official sport!  I saw many snow machines, or snowmobiles, in Alaska at the start of the Iditarod, and I found out that they are used throughout the race to carry people from place to place.

I remember distinctly seeing Jeff Schultz, the official Iditarod photographer, heading out on an iron dog ahead of the mushers at the 2014 Iditarod start in Willow.  It looked like great fun.


The Happy River Steps – photo credit: Loren Holmes, Alaska Dispatch News

Newton’s Third Law of Motion says that, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  So what does this mean?  When we let go of our balloon racers, the air was released, and the iron dog moved in the opposite direction.  StudyJams online has a wonderful video about the laws of motion for your students to watch.

First, we spent a little time learning about potential and kinetic energy.  Basically, potential energy is stored energy such as pulling back on a bow and arrow, or sitting at the top of a roller coaster.  Kinetic energy is the release of that potential energy; energy on the move.  When I thought of these forces, I immediately thought about the infamous Happy River Steps of the Iditarod at Rainy Pass.

The steps start at the top of a steep incline, where potential energy is stored as the musher leads his/her team to the top.  As they descend the notorious Steps, the potential energy changes to kinetic energy, and they are quickly on the move.  I created some simple classroom posters highlighting the differences between the two for teachers to share:

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Potential Energy Poster

Kinetic Energy Poster

We spent time in class in our morning meetings sharing tips and ideas about our iron dog designs; more than one balloon, extra straws, an inclined plane in the front, big wheels, small wheels.  There are many, many strategies and variables for these innovations.  It is fantastic to see children designing, creating, and adapting for better results.

My STEM planning sheet is a great way for students to plan their designs.  This project was created at home, but can easily be made at school using recycled materials and art supplies.  We gave our students a rubric to follow for the designs, and a written paragraph was required as well.

STEM Design Sheet

Iron Dog Snowmobile Racers – Word

Iron Dog Racers Lesson Plan

We brought our iron dog racers to the cafeteria and set up our finish line.  There, we used Newton’s Third Law of Motion and raced our inventions.  When we blew up our balloons through the straw, we covered the straw and held it on the ground (potential energy) and then we released them (kinetic energy) and watched our STEM designs in action.  Smaller wheels and lighter loads seemed to go farther than others.

This is STEM, or STEAM, at its finest!  When students use their critical thinking skills to engage in the world in a creative way, it makes our classroom lessons so much more meaningful and memorable.  This is a perfect activity to achieve that goal.

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A student drawn prototype of the iron dog!

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The Van Zyle Style

Coming soon we will celebrate the legendary Iditarod artist, Jon Van Zyle.  In 2016 Jon will create his 40th official Iditarod poster.  I was thrilled to get a glimpse of the painting at his home in June at the Summer Camp for Educators in Alaska.  My class had the honor of interviewing Jon, and we will highlight him in a future post!


The 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ with the future 2016 Iditarod poster- photo courtesy of Jon Van Zyle

Join us!

The Iditarod Winter Teacher Conference is March 1st – 4th!

Are you interested in taking on the challenge of being the next Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™?  The deadline for applications is December 1st!  See the links above for information, or click here for the application to download.

Follow me!  Click the “follow” button on the right to receive the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ posts all year.