Scaling Up the Trail

Several years ago, we realized that we were never getting to the Geometry Unit that inevitably occurred at the end of the math book and therefore at the end of the school year. We decided to break up the unit into pieces and teach it periodically throughout the year. Inspired by the book Mathematical Art-O- Facts: Activities to Introduce, Reinforce, or Assess Geometry & Measurement Skills by Catherine Johns Kuhns, we decided to accomplish this by using art to create monthly geometry projects. This allowed us to teach the geometry skills throughout the year in a hands-on way that require the students to use the new geometry skills immediately to create something.

When I returned to my school from my Alaskan adventure, the boys were returning from Spring Break and the time was prime for a hands-on Iditarod related geometry project. We spent a week enlarging Jon Van Zyle’s print A Nod to the Past to six times the original size! We had a wonderful discussion about the piece of art, the feelings it evoked, and the Iditarod memorabilia it featured. We worked as a full class to compete the project. While each boy was responsible for completing one square of the enlargement, the nature of the project was such that they naturally checked in with each other to see if their measurements were matching up. There were wonderful discussions and coaching between boys about how they were solving the problems. When it came time to color their masterpiece, leaders naturally rose to the top as they discussed shading and combining colors to achieve the desired results. It was nice to see the artistic boys have a chance to be the leaders. The finished product in the hallway is a show stopper and visitors often stop by to admire it and ask questions! Attached is a lesson plan to explain how we completed the project.

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Scaling Up the Trail Lesson Plan

One of My Favorite Places on Earth

I’ve been telling anyone who will listen my retirement plans.  I plan to retire to Jon and Jona Van Zyle’s home.  It is truly the most amazing place on earth.  Not only to they have a dog yard full of beautiful and friendly huskies, their home and studio are filled from floor to ceiling with the most amazing collection of art and artifacts.  Everywhere you look there is something new and interesting to see!

The Van Zyles routinely invite the teacher conference groups to their home for an evening of stories, dog hugs, and conversations about art.  Jon Van Zyle is an amazing artist and book illustrator and serves as the Iditarod’s official artist.  Each year he creates a special poster and a numbered print commemorating a different aspect of the race. He is himself an Iditarod finisher, so he is the perfect person to take on this job.  His wife Jona is an amazing artist in her own right. She works with textiles and beadwork.  Her studio area is a wonderful conglomeration of stuff – beads, furs, leather, horn – all piled on her work space to provide instant inspiration.  Jon’s space is a little more sparse – just a palate, a pile of paint tubes, and a cup of brushes.  But somehow the two different spaces represent the two different artists perfectly.

The teachers enjoyed their visit to the dog yard and studio, collected some artwork to take home for their own, and relaxed in the gracious and welcoming home of the Van Zyles.  It is something I look forward to in every trip I take to Alaska, and once again I am thankful to have had a chance to visit my dream retirement home!  I finally told Jon last night of my plans and he left me a glimmer of hope, “Maybe someday we’ll need someone to come and help us do things.”  Sign me up!

Cooling Down

Alaska is having super hot temperatures this summer.  Everyone keeps commenting about how hot it is and there is a big concern about possible wildfires.  As you can imagine, sled dogs would much rather have it be cold than hot…. so how do sled dogs cool off when it’s hot?  Well, in addition to their  natural adaptions, some have swimming pools!

The teachers and I were blessed to be able to visit Jon and Jona Van Zyle’s kennel, home, and art studio last evening.  In addition to being an Iditarod finisher, Jon is the official Iditarod Artist, a painter, and book illustrator.  Jona is an artist as well, specializing in amazing textile and beaded items.  We were fortunate enough to see some of the projects Jon has in progress including a new painting and a series of illustrations for a new picture book.

This is the third picture book he has done this year!  I asked him to explain that process a bit.  He says that a publisher will send him a manuscript.  He reads it over and if, while he is reading, he sees pictures in his mind, he will agree to do the project.  He prints out the manuscript and starts thinking about where the pages should be divided based on the pictures he is visualizing.  He divides the pages and then, perhaps, makes a note or two at that point.  The next step is to create a mock up of the way the book will look.  He makes rough sketches of the pictures and decides if the paintings will take up one page or two and where the text will be.  These sketches are really rough, with very little detail.  Jon explained that he does it this way because he really only wants to do each of his paintings one time, as he needs the ideas to be fresh as he paints.  The final paintings are then shipped off to the publisher.  I also tried to get a sneak peek or insight into what this year’s Iditarod poster and print will be… but I was not successful!

The Van Zyle’s home is essentially a work of art itself… Jon built it himself, and every nook and cranny is filled with keepsakes and treasures, each of which comes with its own story as you can imagine!

The kennel is essentially heaven on earth for the ten huskies living in the kennel.  They have a multilevel play area, beach umbrellas for shade, swimming pools to frolic in, and a large exercise wheel for when they feel like doing some training!  Not a bad place to try to beat the heat!

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