Exploring the Alaskan wilderness by dog sled is a topic that has captivated my students for over ten years now. Each February and March we take a deep dive into the Last Great Race on Earth, the Iditarod. I first learned about the Iditarod when I was student teaching in Ohio. It was a brief lesson I observed, yet it was one that had an immense impact on me.
When I started teaching we only did a week long unit on the Iditarod (we didn’t even finish following the race!). Now I do a two week long language arts unit, and usually it spreads into math and social studies as well. We read tons of books and focus our writing all around the Iditarod. Each student also follows a musher through the entire race and we finish up the unit by writing each musher a letter (which we really send, and oftentimes get responses).
A great part of Iditarod is that they have created an entire FREE resource library of lessons! In 2017 I had the privilege of serving as the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail, where I created a bunch of lessons for teachers to use in their classroom. I also traveled down the trail (via bush plane) to follow the mushers and report back to teachers!
Here are a few of my favorites lessons:
The Amazing Iditarod Math Race: This is a fun lesson that can be adapted for any grade. In the lesson students have been selected to travel across Alaska in the “Amazing Iditarod Race” as math mushers. In order to move from checkpoint to checkpoint the math mushers must complete math problems, along with a given task that is supposed to warm them up as they travel along the chilly trail. Tasks include jumping jacks, running in place, and a victory dance once they reach Nome. This lesson is a lot of fun, as it gets the kids moving while doing math. Check this lesson out here.
Iditarod Sportsmanship Opinion Writing: Dog mushing is full of sportsmanship, as well. I have heard many stories of mushers helping one another out along the Iditarod trail—from catching another musher’s team, to lending out a sled to a musher in need. However, my favorite story is the story from the 2015 Iditarod when Brent Sass was disqualified for having a 2-way communication device with him on the trail. In this lesson students will write an opinion piece about whether or not the Iditarod Trail Committee should have disqualified Brent Sass for having an iPod on the trail. Students will use the 8 traits of Iditarod and the Iditarod rules to guide them in their writing. To check out this lesson click here.
Inferring with the Iditarod Air Force: Gary Paulsen, an Iditarod finisher, is one of my favorite authors for my 4th grade students. Paulsen’s style of writing is engaging and keeps the readers on their toes. Earlier this year my students read Hatchet, a story of a thirteen year old boy who survives a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness. I am always looking for ways to connect Iditarod to what I am teaching, even when the connection might not be obvious.
Hatchet begins with the main character flying in a Cessna 406, a plane similar to those used in the Iditarod Air Force. Therefore, for this lesson my students learned the reading skill of inferences using the Iditarod Air Force (IAF). My students began the lesson by learning what inferencing is and making inferences based on pictures from the IAF. Once we completed making inferences from the pictures, they made inferences based on a short text based around the Iditarod. They read 16 different text cards, and as a class we inferred what was occurring. The text cards can be done as both whole class or small group. Lastly, I had my class complete an inference handout with both pictures and text as an assessment. Get this free resource by clicking here.
While this part is not a lesson, this is probably my favorite thing I did as Teacher on the Trail. I created the Iditarod ABCs that tell the history of the race. You can grab this FREE resource by clicking here.
I am happy to help you get an Iditarod unit started, so please ask any questions below or email me at [email protected]