Painter and Ugly: Friendship at the Jr. Iditarod

 

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Friendship is…

One of the special benefits of the Jr. Iditarod is that the young mushers bond with each other in a unique and lasting way.  In the woods at Yentna Station, after taking great care of their dogs for the night, they bonded over a campfire and shared trail stories.  It was remarkable to see, and I am sure these memories will last a lifetime for them.

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Photo courtesy of Iditarod.com

What is friendship like in the Jr. Iditarod for these young people?  Can your sled dog be your friend?  For help, I turned to former Jr. Iditarod champion, and 2016 rookie Iditarod musher Noah Pereira.  

Noah, born in Brookport, New York,  became the first non-Alaskan to win the Jr. Iditarod in 2013.  This week, I met up with him at the Jr. Iditarod start where he was offering support and help to the young mushers before his 1,000 mile adventure next week.

My class wanted to know more about this very special Iditarod event, so we sent Noah one of my favorite books about the Jr. Iditarod, called Painter and Ugly, by Robert J. Blake.  The book is from the perspective of two Jr. Iditarod lead dogs who are good friends and finish the 150 mile race together.  

I asked Noah about his friendship with his sled dogs and he said, “My dogs are my friends because I really truly trust them, and they truly trust me.  No matter what happens I know I can depend on them.  With that bond we can do some incredible things.”

 

Noah was so gracious and recorded himself reading the book aloud with his sled dog, Rainy!  How often does an Iditarod musher read a children’s story to classrooms around the world?  As a bonus, Allison Perry’s wonderful second grade class from my school in Austin, Texas, created sled team friendship books after listening to the story.  The book inspired them to think about friendship for themselves and what qualities they look for in a friend.

They pretended to be mushers in the Jr. Iditarod and colored their own sled dog scene. When they were finished, they added their faces to the musher and put their lovely writing in a special book about friendship.

 

Noah shared his inspirational experiences from his champion Jr. Iditarod year and what his friendship with his dogs meant to him:

  The Jr Iditarod is a 150 mile race meant to prepare young mushers for future dog sled races. Mushers from ages 14 to 17 can take up to 10 dogs and compete.  For many, Jr Iditarod is just way to have fun with dogs, but for myself it was so much more. 
         In 2012 I was a sophomore going to a high school in upstate New York.  I had dreamed about Jr. Iditarod since my first sled dog encounter during 5th grade.  When I heard of an opportunity to race it I could not pass it up. In December of 2012, my father and I left New York headed for Alaska and the Jr Iditarod.  That February I would be a rookie in the race.
         There was little hope for me to win the race, but I had some very talented dogs to get me to that point.  The first 75 miles was simple and we made it to the halfway point with ease.  During the mandatory 10 hour layover I fed my dogs, took care of their feet, and gave them all straw to sleep on.  After all that was finished I finally was able to eat something myself.  Morning came and it was time for me to take off.  I was the second musher to leave the checkpoint.  We eventually caught the first place musher about 40 miles from the finish.  We mushed together and neither one of us could take the lead for long.  About 10 miles from the finish I was able to take the lead.  I kicked and I pushed as hard as I could for the whole way to the finish constantly looking over my shoulder to see if he was catching up.  I made it to the finish line in first place.  If there’s one thing I learned throughout my experience it’s that where you come from doesn’t dictate what you can become.

 

Sleds Dogs in Winter PDF

Noah Pereira Kennel

 

Check out more wonderful images from this special lesson for Noah:

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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 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

Benny’s Flag

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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Our 1,000’s grid flag data!

Harnessing the Team

Honor, Integrity, Respect, Humility, Excellence

These are the cornerstones of my school’s character development program, and this year it is headed to the dogs, along with pretty much everything else!

Our guidance counselor, Laura Jordan, has come up with a great way to get our whole school (Team Greyhound – we are the home of the Greyhounds)  headed down the trail with our character development ideals.

Each teacher has been given stack of husky puppy outlines.  Each time they catchDSC_0138 a student demonstrating one of our “Gilman Five” they fill out the puppy with the details.  Students can also nominate their peers to earn puppies if they are the beneficiary of an unexpected kindness in some way.  The kids take the puppy home to share with their parents and then return it to school where it is attached to one of the school sleds on the bulletin outside of our auditorium.

We are all anxious to see just how many sled dogs will end up pulling our mushers down the trail this year!

The musher artwork came from this source:  http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Iditarod-Themed-Bulletin-Board-Set-and-Lesson-Activities-190182

Trail Jobs

The countdown is on…

I don’t know about you, but I have seventeen days until I have to return to school to start my in-service training.  In some ways I’m really excited – it’s going to be an AMAZING year. In some ways, I wish I could hold on to summer just a little longer!

To continue my summer of “ways to turn your classroom into an Iditarod themed masterpiece,” I wanted to share my new classroom job board!

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I had a version of this board last year with jobs that were Dog Yard Chores, but this year, I am tweaking it to make it more specific to the Iditarod Race and I’ve turned it into Trail Chores.  I have chosen 8 classroom jobs for this year.  With 16 kids, that means each student will have a job every other week. When they don’t have a job, they will be “Out on the Trail.”  Here are the jobs that I chose to use, the Iditarod job description, and my classroom job description.

Lead Dog – the dog that runs in the front of the team – line leader

Wheel Dog – the dog that runs closest to the sled in the team – line ender

Swing Dog – the dog that runs right behind the lead dogs in the team  – substitute (covers jobs as needed)

Go Fetch – okay, not technically an Iditarod job, but it’s really fun to call out “GO FETCH!” and have a kid jump up and do your bidding!  – this is my messenger/ errand runner

Handler – the handler helps the musher with training and race prep – in the classroom this is my right hand man – passes out materials, collects materials, etc.  (I think it’s going to be fun to just call out “Handle it!”)

Race Judge – the race judges are responsible for the enforcement of race rules and procedures – in the classroom this person is going to run the Homework Iditaopoly Game for me

Stats – the stats volunteers are responsible for updating the race data to the web – in the classroom they are responsible for updating the classroom for the next day (changing the calendar, erasing the board, updating the schedule)

Air Force – the Iditarod Air Force is responsible for (among other things) delivering supplies to to the various checkpoints – in the classroom this person will deliver the library books back to the library

Here are some other jobs I thought of if you need more ideas:  Comms – they get the information from the trail to the race headquarters – could do classroom newsletter or other communications jobs; Vet – could take students to the nurse when needed; Teacher on the Trail – could take classroom attendance; Sweeper – could do a room sweep at the end of the day to check for cleanliness.

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I wanted the name tags for the job board to mimic the armbands that some race volunteers wear.  Here is a pdf that you can add your own students’ name to –

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Hopefully my students will take their jobs as seriously as the amazing Iditarod Race volunteers do!

Musher Assessment Form

Anjanette Steer starts her rookie run in 2012

Anjanette Steer starts her rookie run in 2012

In order to enter the Iditarod, a rookie musher must meet a set of qualifications that includes having completed a number qualifying races.  New this year, the mushers must also have a Musher Assessment Form completed for each of those qualifiers.  More details can be found here:  http://iditarod.com/resources/mushers/

Well… in my mind… a Musher Assessment Form = a Musher Report Card right?

In my classroom, at the end of each week (or more realistically every two weeks), my kids take home their Friday Folder of completed and graded assignments. My grade level team also likes to include a mini evaluation form with the folder just to touch base with the parents about how things are going in class.

Given that a lot of the character traits that the Iditarod Race Judges are looking for in their mushers are the same traits that I am looking for in my third- graders, I thought it might be fun to adapt the Musher Assessment Form into weekly self-assessment form for my students!

I think using this form with the students will give us a great opportunity to talk about the idea of preparedness.  Why does the Iditarod require qualifying races be completed prior to attempting the Iditarod?  Why would the judges be looking for specific character traits in the mushers?  Are those traits only useful for mushers or do they apply to “real-world” situations as well?

Find the form here:  Student Musher Assessment Form