Into the Wild with Musher Monica Zappa

DSC00933

Iditarod clay diorama – complete with a husky, the northern lights, and paw prints in the snow

What do mushers see on the trail?  In art classes, the Iditarod and the study of Alaska and the Arctic have been a special project this year.  The students at Eanes Elementary School researched the geographic landscape and animals found along the trail and created amazing clay dioramas to represent what they found.   The results are stunning!unnamed-8

The question about certain polar animals always comes up when learning about Alaska.  Many times, students, and even adults, make the mistake of thinking that penguins live at the North Pole.  

Erik Brooks, the artist and illustrator, has written the perfect book to solve this mystery!  Polar Opposites is a lovely children’s picture book about a polar bear and a penguin who are friends and pen pals.  It talks about their respective homes at the North and South Poles and really helps students learn the difference once and for all.  Our dioramas were penguin free, and with a little research, students had the opportunity to learn about other unique Arctic creatures and landforms.

For help and insight into this special project, I turned to Iditarod musher Monica Zappa.  Monica lives in the remote Caribou Hills of Kasilof, Alaska, and her passion for nature and conservation is well known and respected.  Monica shared a video of her morning salmon and turkey snack time at her kennel…but with a special visitor.  A bald eagle flies in each morning hoping for a treat, much to the delight of her beloved dog team.  Will the eagle snatch the treat away from Dweezil, her lead dog?  Watch and find out:

 

 

Although this is a typical morning for Monica, it certainly seems extraordinary to me!  Her video was wonderful inspiration for this unique and thoughtful project.  Our students worked closely with our art teachers, Erin McElroy and Caitlin Maher, to recreate their Alaskan landscape scenes with clay, art tools, paint, and a lot of love.  We learned a lot about what an Iditarod musher sees and experiences along the trail in the remote wilderness.

It is so easy to bring the study of the Iditarod into any classroom.  This is a beautiful project that integrates the Last Great Race on Earth® and the study of wild Alaska into an art and research project.  When we finished, our students displayed their dioramas in a touring gallery display.  The next step is to allow students to tell a story about their dioramas in a narrative form or an expository research project in Writer’s Workshop.  This would also be wonderful for a companion poem with each Arctic scene.  The possibilities are endless!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Monica Zappa has had a very adventurous life, inspired by her parents who were both mushers.  It was her father’s dream to run the Iditarod, and now she is fulfilling that dream for him with her third Iditarod this year.  Monica has degrees in meteorology and geography, and when she is not mushing, her main occupation is commercial fishing.  She is passionate about protecting Alaska’s wild salmon and the pristine waters of Bristol Bay.  She is truly a conservation advocate for her state!

How’d They Do That?

Check out the steps below to easily create your own Arctic clay dioramas:

 

Find out more about Team Zappa on their website:

(You are leaving a secure site, not responsible for content)

http://teamzappa.com

www.erikbrooks.com

Into the Wild – Arctic Diorama Lesson Plan

Want to know more about Monica Zappa 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.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • GPS Tracker
  • Commercial-Free access to all video content
  • Highlight 5 Mushers with email alerts

Print

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

Iditarod S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d Art

IMG_1849

An old calendar gains new life in the Iditarod classroom

As the year comes to a close, we have been organizing, cleaning up, and preparing our classroom for the new year.  One of these tasks involves bringing down our 2015 Iditarod calendar from the wall.  Old calendars can be recycled into a fantastic art project I like to call “stretched art” using basic art supplies and a lot of creativity.

Optical illusions hold a special fascination for my students.  I have a collection of these types of books in my classroom that are continually checked out and shared throughout the week.  I decided to combine our interest in this visual phenomenon with our calendar art project in 10 easy steps.

Step One:

Share optical illusion books from the library with the class and discuss the visual trickery involved.  Some of my favorites are:

Xtreme Illusions by National Geographic

Optical Illusions by DK Publishing

Magic Eye: A New Way of Looking at the World by Marc Grossman

Step Two:

Tear apart your out-of-date calendars, and let your students choose their favorite month and picture for the project. Turn it over and lay it on a larger piece of standard, white construction paper; any length will do.  Lay the picture exactly in the bottom left-hand corner of the paper.

IMG_1806

Step Three:

Using the top of the calendar as a guide, draw a line all the way across the top of the white paper.  Cut off the excess strip and recycle it.

IMG_1809

Step Four:

Use the daily grid lines on the back as a guide, and have students simply cut the calendar page into long strips.  I find it best to number the strips across the top, so they can be put back in order easily when they are flipped over.  For a mathematical challenge, you can require different measurements across the page with a ruler.

IMG_1815

Step Five:

Turn over the strips and make sure they are in the correct visual order.  Keep the first strip on the far-left side, then stretch the last strip all the way to the end on the right.

IMG_1828

Step Six:

Now simply stretch the other strips equally between the ends of the paper.  When you have them evenly spaced apart, glue each strip down.

IMG_1834

Step Seven:

Now the fun begins!  Students should use a regular pencil to draw in the missing picture between the strips first, then add color.  Use any medium you want to fill in the blank spaces between the strips as accurately as you can.  We found colored pencils and oil pastels worked well together.

IMG_1840

Step Eight:

Oil pastels bring a bright pop of color to the design.  They also add a little realism to the optical illusion when students blend the color with their fingers.

IMG_1853

Step Nine:

It’s helpful to let students see their project from across the room as they work.  Viewed up close the picture may look a bit strange, resulting in some giggles from the class.  Held up a few feet away, the optical illusion comes together, and they can see their added design brings the strips into a cohesive image, resulting in many “oohs” and “aahhs”.

Step Ten:

The stretched art project makes a wonderful bulletin board display in the classroom.  I used a black background to make the illusions stand out for the viewer.

IMG_2121

For an extra challenge, have students remove more strips to leave larger empty spaces.  More creativity and problem solving will be needed to fill in the blank areas with their drawings.

This activity is also a great beginning for a writing lesson.  My students wrote similes and metaphors about their pictures since we are learning about figurative language in class.  An Iditarod themed narrative story is a great choice or a how-to procedural text about the entire art process: the possibilities are endless.  We had great fun creating our optical illusions, but the Iditarod stretched art project has the added bonus of recycling and reusing obsolete calendars destined for the trashcan.

Iditarod S-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d Art Lesson Plan

View our slideshow to see our gallery of Iditarod illusions:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Get your gear for the 2016 Last Great Race on Earth™.  Be prepared for the upcoming school semester by ordering your new Iditarod calendar from the online store now.

IMG_2125

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 6.35.55 PM

Later this week we will celebrate the holidays while learning about some special features of the Iditarod race.  We will be comparing and contrasting two books with a unique take on the Christmas classic, The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore.

Musher’s Night Before Christmas, by Tricia Brown, tells the tale of a team of determined Iditarod huskies who must help Santa deliver gifts to Nome during a snowstorm.  Texas Night Before Christmas, by James Rice, is a Lone Star State version of the classic tale with southwest themed imagery; cowboys, cowgirls, and a sled pulled by eight longhorns.

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.

I will be joined this year by a few talented teachers from my school, Eanes Elementary, here in Austin, Texas.  We will be sharing STEM and STEAM hands-on lessons based upon the Iditarod theme with conference attendees.  We hope to see you there!

Benny’s Flag

Alaska_flag_design_by_Benny_Benson-2

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

IMG_0786

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

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 12.00.54 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 5.11.03 PM

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!

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 6.27.25 PM

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.

23_akhistory-124-219x300

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.

IMG_0736

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!

IMG_0758

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

IMG_0782

Our 1,000’s grid flag data!

Recycled Dogs

I once joked with a coworker that I could turn anything into an Iditarod related lesson, and today I found another example!

I had a chance to visit the Anchorage Museum, which is one of my favorite museums.  They have an amazing exhibit on the history of Alaska, a fantastic kids area, and the beautiful Smithsonian Arctic Studies gallery of Native Alaskan culture and artifacts.  They also have an area where they host changing exhibits.

This year, the changing exhibit is called Gyre:  The Plastic Ocean.  A gyre is a swirling vortex in the ocean.  There are gyres in each ocean.  The gyres are massive, slow moving, whirlpools that sweep garbage into them.  Discarded items can be pulled into gyres where they slowly are pulled in the whirlpool and are pushed towards the center where they form floating garbage piles in the ocean.  You can learn more about gyres here:  http://5gyres.org/

This is, of course, a problem for marine life who often misinterpret the waste as food or are caught up in the plastics especially.

The Gyre expedition and exhibition is the result of a team of scientists and artists who explored the coastlines of Alaska and collected plastics most likely deposited from the North Pacific Gyre.  The exhibit was a sobering reminder of what we are doing to our planet.

The artists who were included in the exhibit took different approaches to the project.  Some displayed found objects as they were, which was sobering.  Some made juxtapositions between the ugly trash and the beauty of the environment in which they were found.  And still others used the found materials to make something new.  Like this dog sled and team!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wouldn’t this make a neat art project?  Could you and your class create a life sized dog team from recycled materials?  And there’s a perfect tie in between plastics in our oceans and the Iditarod!