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!

Virtual Fieldtrip

We had a chance to take a virtual fieldtrip to Windy Creek Kennel, home and kennel of Ken Anderson.  Ken completed his rookie race in 1999 and has run consecutively since 2002.  He’s had five top ten finishes and has finished twelfth in the last two races.  He has always finished in the top twenty since his rookie year!  Ken offers a wonderful virtual fieldtrip to his kennel using GoTo Meeting.  He typically shows a slide show where he discusses sled dog racing, the Iditarod, and his life in rural Alaska.  He also has the capabilities to take the kids right into the dog yard and introduce them to the athletes.  I have participated in this virtual trip with my classes for the past three years and it is always one of the highlights of our year!

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Since it was after the race, and our time was limited, we changed things up a bit for our visit this year.  Ken showed the kids the scenery around his home.  He pointed out where Fairbanks and Denali were and gave us a quick glimpse at the dog yard as a tease of what was to come later!  Then we just started asking questions!  It was really interesting to have a conversation with a competitive musher after wrapping up with Monica Zappa, who as a rookie, had  totally different goal for this year’s race.

Ken reports, as most other mushers have, that yes indeed, this year’s race was hard.    He said that he felt it was especially hard coming out of Elim. There were steep hills and no snow and it was downright scary.  “I used to think the Yukon Quest was tough, but this was terrifying,” he said.  He feels successful because he didn’t seriously hurt himself and his sled held up well.  Concerns about the rookie and less experienced mushers really worried Ken however.  He said he was always confident that he is a good sled driver and would make it, but he was very worried about many of the other mushers.

The boys wanted to know if the dogs slipped on the ice when it was really windy and slippery.  Ken told us that the mushers sometimes take the booties off on ice to give the dogs a little better traction with their claws. This isn’t a foolproof strategy though.  The dogs nails are intentionally clipped short to save wear and tear on booties, so they don’t really have long nails to grab the ice.  He said that were places on the trail this year where the dogs actually blew sideways on the trail!

“Was there someone on the race you really hoped to beat?” was another question presented to Ken.  He kind of laughed and said, “Yeah, all of them!”  As a competitive veteran, Ken is in it to win it!  He always goes into every race with the goal to win.  And he’s been very successful with that strategy!  He says that he gets along with the other mushers, but they are competition.  He has beaten them all in one race or another at some time in his career… except Jeff King! He says he has never finished ahead of King in a race.

Summer training was another popular question.  Ken says he has tried different things over the years to keep the dogs in shape during the summer.  In years past, he has taken the dogs to glaciers to work in the summer.  Cruise ship passengers on vacation can take an excursion in a helicopter to the glacier to take a dog sled ride. This is a good way to keep the dogs running and to keep them socialized when there is not a lot of snow in the rest of the state.  One year he offered summer cart rides at his home kennel.  He feels, however, that the dogs aren’t really made to do hot summers.  He will run them on the trails around his home only if the trails have water on them.

This summer he has a new strategy to try.  He is planning “swim” the dogs. He is putting in a pool and is going to let the dogs “run” in the pool, or swim, to keep their strength up.  The boys suggested that he might want to join the dogs in swimming laps to keep himself in shape as well!

The highlight of the trip was getting to go to the dog yard and meet the dogs!  Many of the boys saw and heard about dogs who they have drafted for their own fantasy teams, which was just amazing!  Ken explained that the dogs were lethargic at the time of day we were talking (early afternoon). He said it is just part of their biorhythms, and if we looked at the team’s run times during the race, we would see that they often rested on the trail during this time of day.  The boys were tickled to meet the dogs of the Thomas the Tank Engine litter – I think they relived their childhoods for a few minutes remembering all of their old train friends!

Ken says it definitely the plan to run the Iditarod again next year.  He doesn’t think he will do the Yukon Quest though.  This year it was pretty tough on the team to do both and he needs to work carefully to balance his family and his dogs!  He does have five year old twins and a three year old!

I’m so glad we had the chance to visit Ken and his dogs at Windy Creek Kennel. If you’d like to schedule a virtual visit, you can get more information here: Windy Creek Kennel

Shout Out Via Skype!

I have had a jam packed three weeks doing pre-trail Skypes with schools all over the country.  It’s been a lot of fun to talk Iditarod with kids of all ages and all levels of experience with the race via Skype in the Classroom.  One of main goals while I’m out on the trail is to try to connect with these schools live from the trail! I’m hoping to be able to share the energy and excitement of what I’m experiencing at the checkpoints with all my Skype schools and my own students.  I’ll also be blogging and reporting here, so be sure to check back frequently!

Here’s to all the classes who are going to be joining me on this adventure…. Hope to see you from the trail!

Ms. Hawkins’ Classes in Kentucky

Ms. Walsh’s Class in New Jersey

Mr. Grabowski’s Class in Ontario

Ms. Tousignant’s Class in Illinois

Ms. Whitman’s Class in New York

Ms. Castonguay’s Class in Maine

Ms. Whyte’s Class in Canada

Mr. Kersey’s Class in England

Ms. Baechler’s Class in Homer, Alaska

Ms. Carroll’s Class in Massachusetts

Ms. Worthington’s Class in Florida

Ms. Louk’s Class in Montana

Ms. Mitchell’s Class in Virginia

Ms. Pavlik’s Class in Ohio

Ms. Schneider’s Class in Minnesota

Ms. Avery’s Class in Arizona

Ms. Kilroy’s Class in Washington

Ms. Reagan’s Class

Ms. Crook’s Class in North Carolina

Ms. Kilpatricks’ Class in Massachusetts

Ms. Boynton’s Class in Indiana

Ms. Kress’s Class in Ohio

Ms. Phillips’ Class in Montana

Ms. Fox’s Class in Illinois

Mr. Johnson’s Class in Wisconsin

Ms. Skrdla’s Class in Nebraska

Mr. Redmon’s Class in Iowa

Ms. Coyne’s Classin New York

Ms. Youngers’ Class

Ms. Morphew’s Class in Arkansas

Ms. Doyles’ Class in Maryland

Mr. Jesser’s Class

Ms. Schuette’s Class

 

Sled Dogs of Denali

One of the big parts of our Social Studies curriculum in third grade is the study of our National Parks as a subtopic of our study of Fifty States.   Alaska is the home to 15 national parks, preserves, monuments and historic parks.  The Park Service in Alaska also oversees 49 National Historic Landmarks and 16 National Natural Landmarks.  The Park Service is rich in resources that you can use in your classroom to help you and your students as you explore the vast, amazing state of Alaska.

In the past couple of weeks we have been lucky enough to Skype with park rangers from two national parks, Yellowstone and Denali. The Yellowstone Skype is a fantastic way to introduce the concept of National Parks and their importance in our world.  Skypes with a Yellowstone Ranger can be arranged through Skype in the Classroom:  Yellowstone Ranger

One tie into the Iditarod Race is Denali National Park which is home to the nation’s only team of sled dogs who actively patrol a national park.  Sled dogs have been crucial to Denali’s operations since its founding in 1917 to assist rangers in patrolling the backcountry of the park. After World War II, airplanes began to replace the dogs and due to budget cuts, the dogs completed their service in 1949.  But, by the 1970’s they were again being used.  Today they are crucial to the park as much of the park has been declared wilderness and therefore cannot be patrolled by motorized vehicle.

Today the dogs are a cultural resource that helps to preserve the historic and natural resources in Denali.  The teams average 3,000 miles a year on patrol and greet and interact with about 50,000 visitors to their kennels each summer.

denali sign

Denali offers an amazing Distance Learning program via Skype called The Science of Sled Dogs.  The rangers will teach the students about five adaptations sled dogs have that allow them to survive in the subarctic:  tongue, fur, foot pads, circulation, and tails.  The kids quickly discover that these characteristics are ones that mushers also look for in their sled dogs.  The rangers lead the kids through two mini science experiments so that the kids can get a strong grasp of the concepts.  They also teach them about the positions in the dog team and the qualities each team member needs to have to help the team succeed.  The program materials include lessons to use with the kids before and after the Skype session.

You can find more information about Denali’s Distance Learning Program here:  Denali Distance Learning

A great way to get your students involved in the National Parks is by challenging them to collect Junior Ranger Badges from various parks as they tie into your curriculum.  The Junior Ranger program is a program offered by the National Parks that awards students special badges or patches for learning about and protecting National Parks.  Many of the parks require students to be on site to complete the program, but some will allow students to complete the program through the mail or over the internet and will send badges to the school for the students.  During the course of a year, my class usually collects ten to twelve badges as class projects that tie directly into our curriculum, another nine or so as extra credit monthly at home challenges, and two in person on field trips!  We keep track of our accomplishments on a bulletin board and the boys are always anxious when a new badge arrives!

Here is a lesson plan that includes lots more information about Alaska’s National Parks and the programs they offer (including Junior Ranger Badges):  Alaska’s National Parks

Skyping with Squid Acres

Just a quick comparison:

Baltimore time:  1:30pm    Squid Acre time:  9:30am

Baltimore temperature:  51⁰F    Squid Acre temperature:  0⁰

It’s a distance of 4, 152 miles away from us and would take us 2 days and 23 hours to drive there.

But with Skype, we could connect in a matter of minutes! 

Cody on Skype

Using Skype in the Classroom is an amazing way to bring the world to your doorstep and to take your class on field trips that would otherwise be impossible.

Last week we were lucky to Skype with Paige Drobny and Cody Strathe from Squid Acres Kennel.  Cody will be running the Yukon Quest this year and Paige will be running her second Iditarod.  It was 0⁰ at their kennel outside of Fairbanks, they were expecting a storm and hoping to get some snow, while we were sitting in our short sleeved shorts and watching the orange leaves blanket the playground.  It’s hard to believe how two places in the same country can be so very different!

Paige and Cody introduced to us to lead dog Scout, who very patiently allowed himself to be dressed in a harness, booties, and coat while my boys watched.  We looked carefully at his coat and paws to see how he has special adaptations that allow him to thrive in the Arctic environment.  We also got to see Paige get all dressed up in her gear.  We were so surprised how much bigger she looked once she was dressed to go mush!  We could barely recognize her!  She needs a lot of gear to stay warm on the trail. Cody showed us what was in his sled and some of the supplies he carries on the trail during his races.  We even got to see our buddy Scout join his team and lead them off out of the dog yard and out on a run!

It was a fantastic experience!  The boys were excited to see many of the things we talked about happen live and in person.

Squid Acres offers Skype lessons on several topics including Sled Dog Diets, Sled building,  Adaptations, and the Yukon Quest and Iditarod.  They are booked for this year, but be sure to check back with them next fall. You can see their Skype in Classroom lessons here:  Squid Acre Skypes

Check out their AMAZING website here:  Squid Acres Kennel. They have some great dog biographies and videos that you can share with your students.

We will be cheering them both on in their races this year!  We’ll especially be looking to see if Scout is in lead!

Balto Lives WHERE?

Did you know that Balto currently resides in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History?

After the famous Serum Run, Balto quickly achieved hero status and traveled all over North America.  Eventually Balto and his teammates were sold to a vaudeville show owner in California where they were mistreated.  George Kimble, a businessman from Cleveland discovered the dogs living in squalor and organized his hometown to save the dogs.  They were moved to the Cleveland Zoo where they were well loved for the rest of their days.  Today, Balto’s preserved body is on permanent display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History… and in fact… a new display is being planned around Balto as we speak!

While there isn’t an Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race tie to Balto directly, there is definitely an Iditarod Historic Trail tie in… and it’s a wonderful story to boot!  Contrary to popular belief, the Iditarod race was never meant to commemorate the Serum Run of 1925 where the lifesaving diphtheria serum was carried to Nome by dog sled.  Joe Redington, Sr.  founded the race to both commemorate the Iditarod Historic Trail and to save the sled dogs who were being systematically replaced by snowmachines.

Still, the Serum Run is a part of Iditarod Trail History and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has a wonderful distance learning program developed around Balto!  I introduced the story of the Serum Run to my boys with the book The Great Serum Race:  Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie S. Miller.  This book has amazingly beautiful pictures by Official Iditarod artist, Jon Van Zyle.  We also talked about the idea that many people believe the Iditarod race is based on this historic event, but we reviewed Joe Redington, Sr.’s real motivation for starting the race – preserving the huskies and the historic trail.

On our assigned day and time, we connected with the museum where our guest teacher Lee Gambol led us through the program.  We learned so much more than just the story of the Serum Run and how Balto ended up in Cleveland.  We learned about the difficulties the mushers faced, we learned about the art of taxidermy (Did you realize they take the animal’s skin off and put it over a sculpture of the animal?  I’m not sure what I thought happened, but that wasn’t it!), we learned about Balto’s life after the event, and some history of the time period.  It was fascinating for the students AND the teachers!

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When you make arrangements for your “trip” to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History they send you a big blue kit full of hands on materials to share with the kids.  The kit includes modern day attire (snowsuit, boots, gloves, hat) so that they can compare them to historic photos of the Serum Run mushers, a husky skull so that the students can look at the teeth to learn what kind of eaters the dogs are, booties and harnesses.  One of the harnesses is even people sized so that the kids can try it on and see what it feels like to pull!  It was great for showing the boys where the dogs feel the pull of the weight of the sled in their bodies.

We followed up the program just with a class discussion about Balto, but you could easily follow it up with a more in depth study or a writing assignment.  My kids are still convinced that Togo got the raw end of the fame deal! Togo by Roger J. Blake is a great book to share for Togo’s story.   We also had a fascinating discussion of the Disney movie Balto and why so much was changed for the movie.  Just look at the pictures The Real Balto (picture link) and the Disney Balto (picture link).  The biggest change as far as the boys were concerned was that Balto actually never had any offspring. He was “fixed” early on because he wasn’t viewed to be a great enough dog to breed!

You can find more information or book your Distance Learning Trip here:  http://www.cmnh.org/site/ClassesandPrograms/SchoolPrograms/AtYourSchool/DistanceLearning/CMNH.aspx