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.


Photo courtesy of

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.


  • GPS Tracker
  • Commercial-Free access to all video content
  • Highlight 5 Mushers with email alerts

A Turkey on the Trail


Turkeys in disguise while training for the 2016 Iditarod

In honor of Thanksgiving this year, my class disguised paper turkeys as husky dogs and mushers preparing for the 2016 Iditarod.  They wrote about their plans for escape from the farm in first person narratives. This time-honored school tradition involves a lot of creativity, humor, and great writing.  What a perfect way to save a turkey from a horrible fate.  The farmer would not suspect a thing!

We brainstormed other ideas for our turkey disguises as well.  How about a moose on the trail?  Some of my students created polar bears, and snowflake disguises for their turkeys.  All of these creative ideas have a great tie-in to the study of Alaska and the Iditarod race.

If you are a teacher with an Iditarod Insider subscription, now is a great time to watch the musher videos preparing for the race.  This is a great source of inspiration for the writing project.

A Turkey on the Trail Narrative


Turkey in Disguise

The Turkey on the Trail Lesson Plan


Make your turkey digital by using an app like Chatterpix for Kids to create a voice-over for an image of their finished project.  Students can record themselves reading their plans of escape in 1st person that allows the beak of the turkey to move.  This can be shared with parents or embedded on a teacher website.

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The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for teachers around the country to come together and learn best teaching practices surrounding the theme of the Iditarod.  Check out the Iditarod site for more information about this unique professional development opportunity.

I will be joined this year by a few talented teachers from my school, Eanes Elementary, here in Austin, Texas.  We will be sharing STEM and STEAM hands-on lessons based upon the Iditarod theme with conference attendees.  We hope to see you there!


A Snapshot of Jeff Schultz



A “snapshot” of Jeff Schultz biographies in the Iditarod classroom

We have been spending some time in class this last week learning about some of the people behind the scenes of the Iditarod that help bring The Last Great Race® to people around the world.


Jeff Schultz on the Iditarod Trail – photo courtesy Bob Jones

When my students see the amazing photographs of the mushers and their dog teams along the trail, they ask me who captures these incredible images for all of us to enjoy.  I shared with my students this week that Jeff Schultz, celebrating 35 years as the official Iditarod photographer this year, is the reason we can share in the Iditarod experience in such a special way.

Jeff’s photographs can not only be seen on the Iditarod site, they grace the covers of magazines, calendars, and books all over the world.

To teach my students about the life of Jeff Schultz and his work, I created a simple “biography snapshot” booklet complete with a camera cover and six pages with guiding statements or questions to write and illustrate.  We used Iditarod website articles about Jeff to learn fascinating details about his life.  This lesson was created to be completed with illustrations by our kindergarten buddy class.

Lesson Plan – A Snapshot of Jeff Schultz

Primary Grades – Gypsy’s Jeff Schultz Iditarod Research

Upper Grades – Jeff Schultz Iditarod Research

(View our Q&A at the end of this post or open and print the PDF below for your class research:

Jeff Schultz Q&A with the 2016 Iditarod Class – PDF

We used our biography research from the Iditarod site to write about Jeff Schultz, and then we visited our kindergarten buddy class and shared our information with them. We asked our buddies to illustrate the pages with us.  The results are a wonderful collaboration research project that can easily be adapted for primary or upper grades.

Biography Snapshot Camera Cover

Biography Snapshot Page #2

Biography Snapshot Page #3

Biography Snapshot Page #4

Biography Snapshot Page #5

Biography Snapshot Page #6

Biography Snapshot Page #7

Jeff Schultz


Jeff Schultz and Iditarod Memories

I am excited about my special time as Teacher on the Trail™ in March, and I am especially looking forward to seeing Jeff in action while I am there.  I was curious about some of the experiences from the trail from the teachers who have come before me, so I reached out to a few familiar faces to reflect upon a special, personal memory with Jeff Schultz with all of us.

Andrea “Finney” Aufder Heyde, 1999 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™


“Finney” 1999 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ (2nd from left) at the Jr. Iditarod – photo by Jeff Schultz

Andrea Finney Aufder Heyde, or “Finney” for short, was the very first Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ almost 18 years ago. Her courage and independent spirit started this special program, and I will be forever grateful.  She shared a special memory with me from that very first year with a picture of her taken by Jeff Schultz from the Jr. Iditarod.

“Some of the volunteers at Yentna Station! My first sighting of the Northern Lights was here when I was up with the young mushers!!”

Terrie Hanke, 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

“In 2006, as the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, I was assigned to fly with Jeff and his pilot, Danny Davidson. At any moment in time, Jeff might point at something and Danny would bank sharply to get Jeff in position for a shot. Danny’s plane was specially equipped with a flip up window for Jeff. So after banking sharply and getting into position, Jeff would flip that window up and click, click, click.  Sitting directly behind Jeff, I got the brunt of the frigid air at roughly 100 miles an hour. I learned very quickly that the only way to stay warm was to fly in full gear. Let’s face it, if Jeff was shooting something, so was I. The only difference was that I had a little Canon point and shoot while he was using a Canon with a mega zoom lens capable of showing whiskers on dogs at 800 feet.”

Photos (above) taken by Terrie Hanke. Read about Terrie’s article about Jeff Schultz on the Iditarod site.

Read Terrie’s full article about her time on the trail with Jeff Schultz here:

Jeff Schultz article

Martha Dobson, 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

“Two great memories of my 2011 year–getting to fly with Jeff for a day while he took photos for the race. Because I flew with him, I got to a number of checkpoints I wouldn’t have seen otherwise: Shageluk, Grayling, the primitive checkpoint of Eagle Island, and Kaltag. I also took one of my favorite photos during the race there in Shageluk, a four year old girl exchanging nose kisses with one of Paul’s dogs.  Another fun memory is getting to work with the Pee Team in Takotna. They invited me to help collect urine specimens, and Jeff took photos of that.

Linda Fenton, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™


Linda Fenton, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™  and Jeff Schultz – photo by Terrie Hanke

“I saw Jeff a lot on the trail.  He was tireless and focused on his work.  It was fun watching him find just the right spot for his shot.  The picture (above) was taken in Nome.  I was posting and Terrie was taking my picture.  He just sat down and joined me for the shot.”

Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

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Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ – photo by Jeff Schultz

“I was most struck by how much of a true team he and his people are.  It’s just another piece of the “team” mentality that gets this whole race down the trail: the volunteer team, the mushers and their dog teams, the judging team, the Insider Crew team, Jeff and his people.  There are lessons to be learned about teamwork in all facets of the race.

That and that I knew if I watched where he stood to take pictures, waited until he walked away and then stood in the same spot I could get some pretty good shots myself! 

At the Volunteer Potluck Supper after the race, he presented a slide show of close to 200 photos from the race.  They were amazing. But what was even more amazing was the story that he was able to tell about every single one.  It’s amazing how what seems to be such a simple picture can become so much more when you have the story behind it.

Jeff Schultz Q & A with the 2016 Iditarod Class:

IMG_0662Q: How many years have you been taking pictures for the Iditarod?  

A: I photographed my first Iditarod in 1981 and I’ve been the Iditarod’s official photographer since 1982

Q: In the Iditarod, do you go to every checkpoint?

A: I’ve been to every checkpoint. Each year I try to go to each one. Sometimes I miss one or three.

Q: Have you ever taken a picture under water?

A: no


Q: How did you get inspired to take photos of the Iditarod?

A: I met the “Father of the Iditarod” Joe Redington Sr. in 1979 and he got me interested in it.

Q: Why do you like to photograph the northern lights?

A: It’s a unique phenomenon that does not happen everywhere.  So it’s fun and a challenge to make photos of them. 


Q: Who inspired you to be a photographer?

A: I found that I had a God-given talent of composing photos and I was good at it.  My brother-in-law Reggie Miller encouraged me to follow my passion when I was 14.

IMG_0655Q: How many pets do you have?  Are dogs your favorite?

A: No pets, but dogs are my favorite 


Q: How many books about the Iditarod have you taken pictures for?

A: My photos have been published in 8 or so books on the Iditarod.

Q: What colors have you seen in the northern lights?

A: Red, purple, green and yellow


Q: When did you start taking professional pictures?

A: I was 14 when I got paid for my first assignment… taking photos at a 25th year wedding anniversary, but I became a full-time professional in 1982.

Q: Have you ever been in an airplane while filming the northern lights?

A: No, but that’d be cool.

IMG_0656Q: Have you ever gotten frostbite on the trail?  

A: No, by the grace of God.

Q: When you were a kid, did you follow the Iditarod?

A: No.  I had no idea what the Iditarod was until I met Joe Redington Sr. in 1979.


Q: Do you take pictures outside of Alaska?  Where? 

A: Not really.  Only when I’m on vacation and it’s just for fun then. 


Q: Have you ever been a musher in the Iditarod?  

A: no

IMG_0653Q: Do you live in Alaska?  How long have you lived there?

A: Yes, I live in Anchorage.  I’ve lived here since I was 18.  I moved up 3 months after graduating from High school.


Q: Who flies you around during the Iditarod?

A: Great volunteer pilots fly me. I typically have one dedicated pilot fly me.  Over my 35 years, I’ve had 3 main pilots… Dr. Von Mitton DDS, Sam Maxwell and most recently Danny Davidson.  Sometimes I get rides from other volunteer Iditarod air force pilots


Q: Do you open the door or window to take a picture during the race?  

A: 95% of the time I open the window to take photos. 

IMG_0643Q: How long do you seen the northern lights during the night?  And what is the longest time you have seen them in one night?  

A: I have seen them last only a few minutes sometimes, and I’ve seen them last for 6 or more hours. 

Q: Have you ever taken a photo of a shooting star?

A: Yes.  Sometimes, when making long exposures of the night sky, a shooting star will fly through the frame.  It’s only by luck that happens. 

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Join me and three exceptional Eanes Elementary School teachers at the 2016 Winter Conference for Educators

The 2016 Winter Conference for Educators is an amazing week for teachers around the country to come together and learn best teaching practices surrounding the theme of the Iditarod.  Check out the Iditarod site for more information about this unique professional development opportunity.

I will be joined this year by a few talented teachers from my school, Eanes Elementary, here in Austin, Texas.  We will be sharing STEM and STEAM hands-on lessons based upon the Iditarod theme with conference attendees.  We hope to see you there!

The Important Thing About Dogs


My fourth grade students, the 2016 Iditarod Class at Eanes Elementary School! We are excited to share!

The first day of school is always filled with nervous excitement for teachers.  What will we learn from each other?  How can we share our passion with others, outside of the four walls of our classroom?  This day was filled with special anticipation for me, as the 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ facing the unique responsibilities of this honor.

The first day of school for my class was filled with enthusiasm and an eagerness to share our passion about the Iditarod with the world.  On the second day of school, we started our first lesson.  As rookie musher, Gwenn Bogart, told me at the musher sign-up picnic in June, “It’s all about the dogs.”  So, that is where we began.

For nearly 20 years I have given a quick-write activity as a formative assessment the first week of school.  I use The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, as a guide to create our own version in class.  This simple activity tells me a lot about my students and their writing, attention to details, vocabulary, and artistic talents.  It is a lovely assessment that we turn into a class book each year.  For this lesson, we wrote about our love of dogs.

The Important Things About Dogs

rough draft template

primary template

upper grade template

First, we brainstormed in Writer’s Workshop and thought of all the reasons that dogs make our lives special.  We worked together on our “Important Book” rough drafts, first sharing out ideas, then writing at our table groups.  I no longer use individual desks in my classroom, instead, we use different “community” learning spaces to help us work together on our projects all year.  Collaboration is the key to a 21st century learning space, and the sharing and learning that happens is remarkable.

Sharing our projects digitally is a very important part of our classroom throughout the year.  There are many computer web-based programs and apps that allow teachers to do what was once unthinkable; share and make connections globally, easily, and with little or no cost.

For this project I used a web-based program to create a digital version of our paper class book.  In this post I am highlighting three web-based, free photo editing programs that can allow you to create wonderful movies from video and photos.  Magisto, Windows Movie Maker, and Fantashow are some of my favorites.  They have wonderful themes and special effects to help teachers create and share student work digitally.

First, I used the school copy machine and scanned in each piece of writing, which then emailed it to me, creating a digital version.  A teacher can just as easily take a photo of student writing and create a JPEG image to download on their computer.  Then, I added it to my computer and recorded each student reading their special piece.  I simply added a song from iTunes that I purchased, and the result is a lovely digital version of The Important Book that I can now share out to the world. We hope you enjoy the results below, and feel inspired to create digital versions of your special projects throughout the year.

Introducing, in all their glory, the 2016 Iditarod class!  Expect to be amazed, laugh, and find joy each week this year from these 19 incredible fourth graders!  Join us on our special journey as we celebrate the beauty and unique features of Alaska and bring to the life the Last Great Race on Earth® for teachers and students around the world.  Follow us!

A is For Iditarod!

A is for Iditarod!

“What?” you ask.

A is for Iditarod.

Because the Iditarod awesomely takes place in Alaska and starts in Anchorage!

One of my favorite books to share with my students is A is for Musk Ox by Erin Cabatigan.  My third grade boys always roll their eyes when I tell them I am going to share an alphabet book with them – they are WAY too cool for that you know.

But, by the second page they are hooked!

This book is a funny way to show the kids how to play with language, use humor in writing, and teach them a lot about musk oxen!

We used the book as mentor text for our own version of the book A is for Iditarod.  The boys worked in groups to brainstorm ideas and then we combined their ideas together into one book.  We created illustrations, bound them, and then presented them to our kindergarten little buddies as a gift!  It’s a great way for my boys to get some practice reading orally and for the little buddies to learn a little more about our Iditarod obsession!

You can see a fippable copy of our book via Youplisher here: A is For Iditarod Book

Here is a copy of the brainstorming sheet my boys used: A is for Iditarod

Tales from the Trail: Ghosts of the Trail

“… make sure you leave something (such as food) for the Old Woman when you leave.  You don’t want her ghost chasing you to Nome and throwing bad luck your way.”  From Don Bower’s Trail Notes

2013-06-26 11.42.03So much of the Iditarod Trail is the history.  With that history come the stories of the people of the trail and of the people who have perhaps never left the trail.  Mushers tell stories of seeing other mushers and teams dressed in old clothing and hearing cheers along the trail.  In addition to the actual ghost towns the trail passes through like Ophir and Iditarod, are the stories of the ghost of the Old Woman on the trail between Kaltag and Unalakleet.

There are versions of the Old Woman legend according to an article published in the Alaska Dispatch (   One version tells of a woman who died in an avalanche as a result of a curse for doing men’s work on a mountain used by men as a hunting lookout.  Another version says that the woman and her husband were trappers who lived in the area long ago and were caught in an avalanche. The woman was buried and her husband, refusing to leave her, eventually died on the mountain as well.

One of my favorite things to do at this time of year when I taught fifth grade was to challenge the boys to write ghost stories that were set along the trail.  They could set them in one of the Gold Rush turned Ghost Towns found on the trail or along a lonely section of the trail like where the Old Woman cabin is found between Kaltag and Unalakleet.

I would love to share some of your students’ stories in the Student Tales section of the website!

Ghosts of the Trail

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