Behind the Scenes

Part of me lives at the Smithsonian now…

And my students’ artwork is there too…

Talk about being honored and proud!

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I recently had the honor of visiting the Smithsonian’s American History Museum and taking a “backstage” tour with Jane Rogers, curator of sports.  You may remember that I first met Jane two years ago when she attended the Winter Iditarod Conference for Teachers (LINK).  She was there to learn more about the race and to begin to collect artifacts for a possible exhibit about the sport of dog mushing and the Iditarod.  The race is such an integral part of Alaska’s history and culture; it’s not just a sporting event!

The whole journey started for Jane when someone donated Libby Riddle’s sled to the museum (LINK).  By setting out into a storm that held must mushers up in the checkpoint, Libby became the first woman to win the Iditarod.  She is still a presence at race time… she greeted team after team under the Burled Arch and provides specially made hats for the highest placing female Junior Iditarod mushers.

But one object doesn’t make an exhibit, and the sled needed to be put into context, so Jane set about learning about mushing and gathering other Iditarod items.  This is one of my favorite conversations to have with kids.  What if you needed to create a museum exhibit about the Iditarod but you could only include ten items?  What would you include?  From whom would you collect them?  What part of the Iditarod story would you tell?  It’s fascinating, because from speaking with Jane and visiting the Anchorage Museum with her, I’ve come to realize that the Smithsonian isn’t just about collecting “stuff.”  The stories that the “stuff” tells and represents are the key!  And as you know… the stories are what drew me to the race in the first place!

So, while I was on the trail this year, Jane asked me to help her acquire a few things to represent the race.  I headed down to the Smithsonian to donate the artifacts I had collected for the museum.  Here is the list of items if you want to challenge your kids to think about what part of the Iditarod story these items tell:

  1.  Used Drop Bags from Martin Buser and Jeff King
  2. A No Pebble Mine Flag carried on the trail by Monica Zappa
  3. An unused dog urine sample collecting bottle
  4. A program from the Junior Iditarod Banquet
  5. A program from the Iditarod Finishers’ Banquet
  6. An Iditarider badge

Now… here’s the really amazing part of the list:

  1.  My Iditarod Teacher on the Trail patch designed by three of my students
  2. My Iditarod Teacher on the Trail name badge with the pins I collected

Yes, you read that correctly… the Teacher on the Trail program is represented in the Smithsonian American History Museum!  Jane realized that education is such a huge part of the Iditarod story that it needed to be represented in the collection.  I am so honored to represent all of the amazing teachers who have realized the value of using the race and as you can imagine my kids are over the moon to know their art work is there!

So I took a day off from school and took the train down to DC with my bag of artifacts.  Jane met me in the lobby and took me up to the storage area and opened cabinet after cabinet after cabinet to let me see all of the Smithsonian goodies in storage.  The sports are in the Division of Culture and the Arts, so the storage room I got to poke around I was amazing….  I got to see skateboards and snowboards, Lance Armstrong’s bike, Olympic uniforms, tennis rackets, ice skates, trophies, professional wrestling costumes, sports balls of all sizes, and more.  The cool thing is that not just professional athletes are represented… part of the American sports story is the millions of kids who play sports too! So there are kids’ trophies in cases right next to trophies won by people like Tiger Woods.  This room was also where all of the TV and Movie memorabilia is stored as well!  So I got peeks at Fonzie’s leather coat, Klinger’s dresses, Batman’s masks, Edith Bunker’s chair, the typewriter from Murder She Wrote, Ginger Rogers’ gown, the Muppets, and so much more!  It was really amazing… like exploring America’s attic!

But, of course, I wanted to see the rest of what Jane had been gathering for the Iditarod collection.  What a treasure trove she has…. DeeDee Jonrowe’s Humanitarian Award, her pink parka, and the full set of dog tags from her team…  Lance Mackey donated his parka, hat, boots, and bibs…  Ken Anderson gave dog coats and booties…

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And there sits my little patch in the middle of all of it.


We Want You!

We Want You…


To be the next Iditarod Teacher on the Trail!

As my time starts to wind down, I want to take a minute to encourage anyone and everyone who has ever thought about applying to be the Teacher on the Trail to go for it!

It honestly has beenthe most rewarding professional experience of my life.  Going through the application process really made me analyze my teaching and think about the reasons behind why I do what I do in my classroom.  Being chosen as a finalist was amazing.  Being able to get behind the scenes of the race and experience it as a volunteer and insider made my teaching of the race so much richer.

To actually be chosen as the 2014 Teacher on the Trail was unbelievable.  To experience the race from as close as you can get without being on a sled was something you actually have to do to truly appreciate it.  My teaching and my life will never be the same again.  The friendships I’ve made, the self-confidence I’ve found, and the experiences I have had will never be forgotten.

And you could be the 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail!  You could be getting the next Iditarod Teacher on the Trail Coat.  You could be hanging out with the Junior Iditarod racers on their half-way lay over. You could be riding in a sled at the Ceremonial Start.  You could be watching the teams arrive and depart in Takotna or Unalakleet or White Mountain or anywhere in between. You could be standing under the Burled Arch and welcoming them to Nome.

All you have to do to get the ball rolling is to apply.  You can find all the information you need here:  LINK

How I Came to be On This Amazing Journey

The question I seem to be asked most commonly these days is how I got chosen to be this year’s Iditarod Teacher on the Trail ™…. Kids ask me, teachers ask me, old friends ask me…. So here’s the story!

Two years ago my teaching partner and wonderful friend Ellen Rizzuto and I applied for a grant from our school to travel to Minnesota to go to dog mushing school and then to attend the Iditarod Winter Conference for Educators and to see the start of the 2012 Iditarod.  I had always taught the Iditarod as part of my curriculum – through changes in schools and changes in grade levels, the Iditarod was one constant in my teaching.  It’s an amazing motivator for kids and an even better character development lesson.  In anticipation of the trip ahead, Ellen joined my madness and we fleshed out and expanded my Iditarod math related activities to a full blown math unit to teach from January – March.  I had found my partner in crime!

When we returned home from the conference, Director of Education, Diane Johnson emailed us to find out what our next step was. That’s when I started to seriously consider applying for the Teacher on the Trail program.  I spent the summer compiling my binder full of application materials and sent them off that fall.  It felt like a large part of my heart and soul went in the mail when I left the binders at the post office!

In January of 2013 I received a call that I had been selected as a finalist for the 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail!  It was a whirlwind from there!  I had about a month and a half to make plans to be in Anchorage for the 2013 Iditarod start and Teachers’ Conference!  At the conference I had to make presentations, participate in challenge activities, volunteer for the race, and have several interviews.  As I Skyped with my class from Alaska, they got more and more excited for me!  They decided that “when” I got the call telling me I was selected, I wouldn’t be able to tell them while I was on the phone, so I should jump up and down so that they knew the answer was “YES!”

On April 2nd I got the call that I had been selected to be the 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail!  Diane Johnson called me in my classroom!  I must have jumped up and down because my class broke into cheers so loud I had to go out my outside back door to hear what she was saying!  When I came back in, the kids were doing a conga line around the room chanting, “Teacher on the Trail!  Teacher on the Trail!”  And teachers, I guess hearing the commotion, had started coming from all down the hall.

And that brings us to today!  I’m ready to fly out to start my grand adventure!  Cross your fingers the snow in Baltimore doesn’t prevent me from getting my flight out!  Next stop, Anchorage!!!