Iditarod and Winter Solstice

Paws Along the Trail with Daylight Hours

One of my students once asked, “Why isn’t the Iditarod run in January when there is  more snow?”  This activity may provide an answer.

Winter solstice is almost upon us. My students have been solving a lengthy math problem:  what will be the daylight hours in our home town compared to Shaktoolik, Alaska, on December 21st?  I began by discussing winter and summer solstices and the meanings.  We discussed the equinoxes as well.  I then showed them a screen shot from a weather app for Shaktoolik, Alaska.

December 1: Shaktoolik’s sunrise was 11:07 AM; sunset was 4:00 PM.

Finding out the hours of daylight in our hometown compared to that of Shaktoolik, a checkpoint along the Iditarod Trail, has given my students insight into the far north, the winter solstice, seasons, and earth’s rotations. Struggling through the changing daylight hours from December 1st through December 21st gave them a real feel for time. Comparing a town from the Lower 48 to a village in Alaska December 1st through December 21st has broadened  their world view as they consider life in an Alaskan village where the students have about four hours of daylight.  

Tables comparing daylight in our town and Shaktoolik, AK

Some of my students solved the problem using a table.  This strategy allowed them to see the changing hours each day.  Others tried equations to solve the time differences.  They then had to write a paragraph recounting their mathematical thinking and add in their thoughts on what life is like for kids in the village of Shaktoolik on December 21st.  

Some quotes from my students regarding daylight in Shaktoolik:

“It is probably hard waking up because it is dark all the time.”  -Aiden

“I think it would be weird to only have daylight for four hours.” – Christian

“It would be awesome to have almost total darkness all day.  That’s what it’s like in Shaktoolik. They go to school in the dark and come home in the dark.” – Hannah

Explanation of mathematics and thoughts on little daylight by William

Since that window is done until next December, I thought of an extension activity to offer  as we count down to the start of the Iditarod!  What will the daylight hours be for March 3, ceremonial start of the Iditarod race, in your home town, in Anchorage, and/or in one of the checkpoints along the trail?  

This activity can lend information to answer the question of why the Iditarod begins in March.  Students can research to try to find out why March was chosen.  Another fact to throw into the discussion is that the Iditarod Air Force isn’t allowed to fly after dark.  

In closing, as with all the Iditarod-related activities, my students were motivated to work through the problem even with the pre-winter break excitement!

The Iditarod and Daylight Lesson Plan

Daylight and the Iditarod Exemplar

Winter Solstice Exemplar 

Other Iditarod Teacher News

I am up and running with an Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Virtual Field Trip!  Check out the availability for a possible live lesson with your students about veterinary sled dog care along the trail!

Skype Virtual Field Trip link