Money, Money, Money!

Rule Number 11 deals with the race purse:

Rule 11 — Purse: A purse of $650,000 will be shared among those placing in the top thirty

(30). Every effort will be made to supplement this baseline purse. In addition, beginning with 31st

 place, $1,049.00 will be paid to each remaining finisher.

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But of course the race purse isn’t the only money involved.  Before the racers can even hope to get to the finish line to collect a part of the purse they will have spent thousands of dollars in preparation which provides students with lots of opportunities to practice their money skills.

We always begin with a review of counting money, but for us, our new learning is making change. Here is a classwork assignment Starting Line Snacks and homework sheet Iditarod Shop page 1  Iditarod Shop page 2 to review those skills.

Our big project with this skill is shopping for supplies for the race.  This project takes us at least four days to complete. It’s based off an assignment entitled Musher Mall Math that was originally published in Iditarod Activities for the Classroom.  I have edited, chunked, and streamlined the project for my third graders:  Supplied for Success and Survival

What’s Your Angle?

What do you call an angle that is adorable?

Acute angle!

This week we are all about angles in math class! This is a new skill for us… it appears in the new version of our math book, and is something we haven’t taught before.

DSC_0357So, I started by thinking of where on earth I have seen angles…. And it finally came to me – dog sleds and sled dog harnesses!

So here is two days’ worth of lessons for you about angles.  On day one, the students will classify angles as acute, obtuse, and right and then practice measuring angles they find on a dog sled using a protractor.  On day two, the students will review, and then create an original design for a sled dog harness that includes a set of required angles.  Along the way, they will gain insight into how both sleds and harnesses are designed and constructed.  There is even a homework assignment included!

What’s Your Angle Lesson PlanDSC_0356

What’s Your Angle Classwork

Harness Maker Classwork

Harness Maker Outline

sled dog angles – homework

Dog Yard Dilemma

This week we are focused on calculating area and perimeter… and what better tool to do that with then dog yards!

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This week the students are presented with a scenario where they have been sponsored by a local fencing company who offers them fencing for their dog yard.  Instead of traditional sled dog yards, the students will use the fencing material to advertise for their sponsors and create individual dog pens for their dogs.  In this three day unit, they will experiment with area and perimeter and discover how you can have many different yard shapes and still maintain the same area.  They will ultimately design their dream dog yard with spaces for all of their team dogs and possibly puppies and ill dogs as well.  The homework assignment seeks the students’ assistance in setting up the White Mountain checkpoint while testing their understanding of area and perimeter.

Dog Yard Dilemma Lesson Plan

How Big is That Yard Classwork

Dog Yard Dilemma Classwork

White Mountain Checkpoint Design Homework

Skyping Stone Fox

Last year, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail ™, Linda Fenton issued a challenge to see how many students she could get to read Stone Fox (  The timing was perfect for me.  The fourth grade had recently dropped the novel from their repertoire, so I was able to pick it up and tie it into my curriculum!  I had never read the book before, and was soon just as hooked as Linda is!  It’s a great novel which is a great choice to teach students about point of view.   It also lends itself to discussion on an authors’ craft as you can discuss why the author made the story telling choices he did.

To begin our novel unit, we did a prediction activity by looking at the various illustrations that have graced covers of various editions of the book.  The boys quickly decided that I chose the book because of the obvious dog sledding connection to the Iditarod!  We discussed what it takes to be a responsible pet owner, as the boys predicted that the boy on the cover must own a dog.  (Here are some ideas if your students need some help:   We also talked about whether or not those responsibilities would be different if we lived in a cold environment and/or if that dog was a working dog instead of a household pet.

 As we had recently finished our unit on the fifty states, we spent a day looking at the setting of the novel.  The students each had a map of Wyoming and we created symbols and a key to identify key locations from the novel:  Jackson (the setting) and the Two Wind Indian Reservation (to represent Stone Fox’s tribe).

The students had predicted that there was a dog sled race involved from looking at the covers of the novels.  I introduced the kids to the International Pedigree Stage Stop Race ( which is a modern day race held in Wyoming each winter. This year’s race begins January 31st.  The race is quite different from the Iditarod in that the mushers stop in towns after each leg.  We added the race route to our Wyoming Map and realized that this contemporary race is held in the same area of the state that the novel is based.  So by looking at photos of the race, we had some aids to help in our visualization of race scenes in the novel.

One of the covers we previewed also had a picture of a person whom my students identified as Native American. So I introduced them to the fact that this character is Shoshone, and that the Shoshone National Forest in also in the same area as the rest of the novel setting, so we added that to the map also!  We also located and identified Yellowstone National Park, because it is also a key location in the northwest corner of Wyoming.  If Yellowstone is new to your students, the Yellowstone Park Rangers do a distance learning program for students through Skype in the Classroom:

Since we had already participated in that program, I needed a new Junior Ranger program for my students to complete related to this novel, and I found a great one through Shoshone National Forest.  The Forest Service offers a Junior Forest Ranger Badge program here:   The students complete the packet and send in the back page with an adult’s signature to demonstrate that they have completed the program.  They are awarded a patch and pin and get a membership card that allows them access to a special kid’s only online clubhouse.  The Forest Service also offers a Junior Snow Ranger Program that I am going to use with my guys to talk about winter safety in January:

Once we were finally ready to start reading the novel, we Skyped with Linda Fenton’s class.  I have never tried to simultaneously read and discuss a novel with another class, let alone another class in another state in another time zone… but it was really an amazing experience.  We did a mini-mystery activity by coming up with a list of ten questions to ask the other class, and then using the answers to determine what state we were virtually visiting.  Timing wise, it worked for us to Skype at the start of our Reading class which was at the end of Linda’s Reading class.  So during our first Skype, after determining their location, her students introduce the novel to us and helped pique our interest in reading.  In other Skype sessions throughout the next couple of weeks we discussed character traits for the main characters, shared our surprise at was happening, our feelings on the book vs. movie debate, and then finally shared our end of unit projects.  It was so cool to discuss the book with Linda and her class.  They had a different perspective on the novel and it was also neat for my kids to hear how different some things are between Wisconsin and Maryland!

Our Skype-Shared Brainstorming Chart

Our Skype-Shared Brainstorming Chart

Our final project, to tie together the race in the book, the Iditarod, the Wyoming Stage Stop Race, etc. was that each class designed a sled dog race for their state.  Linda had her kids begin their race in their hometown of Waupaca and then decide where to go to make a one hundred mile race.  They worked in partners to create a race course.  My kids worked as a whole class to create a race across the state of Maryland.  (We actually decided on a Northern Route and a Southern Route so we could visit Baltimore City and Washington, DC on alternating years!)  We decided to start on the Eastern Shore and end in the mountains of Western Maryland.  As a group we chose a series of towns to get us across the state and then they worked in partners to plan the checkpoints.  The partners used online travel sources to determine a great location for their checkpoint, decided what assistance they would be able to provide the teams, and explained all of their thinking.  We put the whole thing together in a Narrated Google Earth Tour, where we were able to fly over our race route and zoom into each checkpoint location and see the details that the boys had planned for each stop.  We quickly discovered there are A LOT of golf courses in Maryland and determined they would make great checkpoints because of the amenities available and the amount of open space for parking teams.


Mushing Towards Understanding Non-Fiction Text Features

My students, maybe because they are boys, seem to gravitate towards non-fiction texts. They love to pour over the pictures and stats that fill their favorite non-fiction books.  But, I have noticed that they don’t always use all of the features in the book like captions and sidebars to their advantage as readers, and they certainly don’t carry those elements over into their own non-fiction writing.

The non-fiction book, Mush!  Sled Dogs of the Iditarod, published by Scholastic is a great book to use to introduce features of non-fiction texts to your students (and sneak a little Iditarod knowledge in too)!  I introduced this book to my boys after we had finished our first fiction novel and had analyzed the elements of a story.  I began by having the boys search through Mush with sticky notes in hand, marking everything they found that isn’t typically found in fiction novels.  After we discussed them, the boys made posters that explained the various features and why authors may choose to use these devices in their books.  The posters will serve as our anchor charts for this unit.

As we read the book, we focused on using those non-fiction text elements to pull out important details. We made bio cubes highlighting Dallas Seavey’s accomplishments, debated if mushers are as athletic as their dogs, identified characteristics of huskies, and compared and contrasted changes in race equipment over time.

Attached is the unit plan with five days of lessons (although, truth be told, the bio cubes took two days – one to plan and to create).  I’ve also posted one of my student’s responses to whether or not mushers are as athletic as their dogs here:  LINK  Don’t forget to send me your student’s writings!  I’d love to post as many as I can!

Mush Unit Plan

Cube Planning Sheet

Tales From the Trail: Iditarod Dogs in DC

News Flash:  Three dogs destined for the Inaugural Parade were stolen from the Maryland Farm where they were staying.  Joe Redington Sr.’s lead dog Feets and his faithful Candy who made it to Nome 7 times and carried Redington to the top of Mt. MKinley are two of the missing.  Norman Vaughan’s leader was also stolen.  The theft occurred around midnight on January 18.

As reported in the Iditarod Runner, January, 1981


This past weekend I had the chance to see some Iditarod dogs in DC…. Not your everyday occurrence!  I went to the 2013-09-14 17.01.57Capitol Hills Arts Workshop to see Wes Schaefer’s exhibit of photographs he took while following Lance Mackey’s 2013 Iditarod preparations and race.  Wes lived and worked at Mackey’s Comeback Kennel off and on from October to April to document every aspect of his life. The photographs are an extraordinary look at the relationship between dog and musher and what it takes to take part in the race.  If you get a chance to check it out, I highly recommend it.  The exhibit will continue through October 12th.

Being in DC and thinking about sled dogs, made me think of the story quoted above from Ronald Regan’s 1981 Inaugural Parade.  I first stumbled across the story this summer during the Summer Camp for Teachers when we had the chance to explore a handful of materials that are going to be included on an online Iditarod Museum.

Attached is a creative writing lesson where the students will tell the story that only the missing dogs could ever tell!  If you do the lesson with you kids… please be sure to share their stories with me!  I’d love to publish some on the Tales from the Trail Student section!

Case of the Hot Dogs Lesson

Going to the Dogs!

If you are anything like me, even though you are on summer vacation, your mind is always going and going and going and you are always thinking of things to do to make your classroom more welcoming and more inviting for your students.

???????????????????It’s safe to say that in the last two years my classroom has officially gone to the dogs!  I have always used the Iditarod as a part of my teaching curriculum and toolbag, but two years ago I really let it take over my classroom and become my yearlong classroom theme.   I say two years ago, because that is the year that my life took a turn on the trail towards this amazing adventure I am embarking on.

Two years ago, my good friend and teaching partner Ellen Rizzuto, burst into my room one morning declaring, “I just heard the coolest thing and you are the only person crazy enough to do it with me!”

The crazy thing she had heard about was Wintergreen Lodge in Ely, Minnesota, where you could go for a long weekend and learn to dogsled.  Not just go for a ride, but really get your own team and learn how to mush!  I immediately countered that if we were going to do that, we should tie it into something educational and apply for a grant from our school.  That winter we spent Martin Luther King weekend at Wintergreen, and then attended the Iditarod Winter Conference for Educators and the start and restart of the 40th Iditarod.  It was a life changing experience, and has directly led me to where I am today.

As you can imagine, with all the excitement of that first trip, my trip to the race last year as a finalist, and then of course all that will be happening this year, my classroom revolves around the Iditarod.  I’ve found it to be an amazing classroom theme for my third grade boys… the race is full of action, adventure, dogs, wilderness, and competition… all things boys adore!  In using it as my classroom theme, it surrounds us all year long, not just at race time.  I can sneak in little tidbits of information when time allows and not have to let it dominate one portion of my curriculum.  (Although the race IS my math curriculum from January-April… but that is a post for another time).

So during the summer, I thought I would share with you some of the ways I use the Iditarod as my classroom theme. I hope that you will be able to find something that you can use – or “borrow and tweak” as 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Linda Fenton would say!  Let me know if you do….I’d love to hear about it!

At the start of the year before adding student samples

At the start of the year before adding student samples

To that end, I thought the first idea I would share with you is the Advice from the Trail activity we do in my classroom.  When Ellen and I attended that first conference, I found myself writing down tidbits of advice and quotations that mushers, vets, volunteers, and presenters said.  I realized that many of the quotations, while obviously focused on the Iditarod, had applications in the “real-world” too.  Advice that I hoped my students would take to heart!

Every month I choose a quotation and post it on the Advice from the Trail bulletin board.  Throughout the month, we discuss the advice and what lessons we could take from it.  We try to apply it to what we are experiencing in the classroom.  We talk about how it applies to characters in books we are reading and our lives outside of school.  At the end of the month, the students write a reflection about the quote in their journals and then we start the whole process over with a new quote.

This activity, while obviously a good writing assignment, also allows me to sneak in some character development lessons.  An added bonus, which I didn’t originally anticipate, is that it allowed me to introduce several key and memorable mushers to the students.

Included in the lesson plan is a list of quotations that could be used for this project.  I keep adding to the list! Lesson Plan Here:  Advice From the Trail July