Applicants for 2020 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail

It’s that time of year again!  Teacher on the Trail application time!  We’d like you to meet the applicants for 2020 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, read their bios, and view some of their lessons.  This year,   Six educators completed their application process and mailed the document to our department to be considered as the 2020 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  On or around January 15, we will choose 3 educators to become finalists for the selection.  Those finalists will be invited to join us in Anchorage before the start of the 2019 Iditarod for a personal interview and competition activities. In April, we will announce our 2020 Teacher.

Meet the applicants for 2020 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.

Elizabeth Feller, WY:

My life has been an adventure full of learning and exploring all while having as much fun as possible. Growing up in the small town of Powell Wyoming hasn’t stopped me from living life to the fullest and bringing that state of mind into the classroom each and every day.

My first job was as a veterinarian technician where I worked for 9 years. During that time, I worked under three different doctors, all with their own specialization.  Working with animals was a rewarding and interesting time in my life. I am lucky to have acquired those years of experience and knowledge that I still use today when teaching.

Life changed when I had three children.  I decided it to change my profession and began my teaching career.  I started out teaching ELL and preschool aged children.  I earned my Bachelor of Science in Education degree and became an early intervention specialist and at risk coordinator for high school students.  I was then transferred into a full time third grade classroom teacher position and became a member of our schools Vangaard team where we led the school in the use of technology.  After my fourth year as a third grade teacher, I was transferred into a fourth grade position where I could share my project based unit development expertise. I am currently still in fourth grade where I have earned my masters of education and am a current member of the school leadership team.

When not in my classroom, I spend time with my three teenage children and husband of 21 years. We enjoy the outdoors all year round from running cattle on the mountain, hunting, skiing, and taking part in many equine focused activities like mounted shooting, horn hunting, pack trips, and most recently barrel racing and even competing in an endurance race.   No matter the activity, we are always enjoying the land, history and adventures life has to offer.   

When closer to home, I volunteer with local youth organizations dedicating my time to organizations that educate our youth on outdoor skills such as horseback riding.

Elizabeth’s Video 

Elizabeth’s reason for applying: 

I am applying for this position because it would be an honor to experience something so powerfully amazing that can be shared with students in creating rich and engaging educational experiences.    

A sample lessons from Elizabeth:

Lesson:  Math

Lesson Summary:  Students identify equivalent amounts of time and convert units of time.  Then the teacher reviews the concept of elapsed time and models how to solve problems. Students complete a Student activity sheet to practice estimating and determining time in context.  Math/Measurement and Data, Grade 4

Lesson:  People of the Iditarod

Lesson Summary:  Students develop an understanding of what it means to be a notable person by investigating notable people of the Iditarod.  Students will read biographies with a focus on finding answers to open ended questioning. Students should be able to relay the person’s achievements/life accomplishments, challenges and other information that the student researched about. Students research variety of notable Iditarod competitors using teacher-selected websites and Internet databases. They will either print or record information on various individuals. The teacher will help students locate a relevant biography on their reading level. Students read their biography and gather important facts about their person.  Students use the answers to these written questions to complete about their person.  ELA, Grades 3 – 5

Lesson: Book Clubs 

Lesson Summary: Students will choose “just Right books” with a focus on the Iditarod race using personal interests and guided reading levels to find a text that will the best fit for them.  Students will read and discuss in small groups ultimately creating a culminating product that will showcase their knowledge.  ELA, Grades 4 – 6


Katie Kunze, MI:

I was born and raised in Metro Detroit where I attended Clawson Public Schools. During my time in high school I was extremely active including serving three years as drum major for the marching band. Upon high school graduation in 2004, I attended Oakland University graduating in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Because of graduating in the middle of the school year, I began a job working in my home district as a substitute teacher. During the next four years, I would substitute in all grades, specials (music, gym, technology, and band), as well as special education classes.

In January 2011, my mom and I took our first ride on a dog sled, beginning my journey into the world of Iditarod. Little did I know where this journey would take me. May 1, 2013, I left the world of substitute teaching and began working at Nature’s Kennel for Iditarod musher Ed Stielstra. My job entailed the care of the main race team as well as helping with preparing the touring and race kennels for the upcoming season. As summer passed, a job opening was posted for Three Lakes Academy in Curtis, just 30 minutes south of the kennel. After taking some time off from my kennel work to interview, I was offered a position teaching first grade.

This was not the end of my experiences with sled dogs as I have continued to run and race dogs. Each season, I use the experiences gained in these events to help teach my students the importance of dedication, perseverance, and team work. These lessons have evolved into an entire atmosphere used in my classroom all year round. The experiences gained on the trail impact how I teach all subjects as well as help my students develop into better citizens. My students have the chance to learn the science of sled dogs through hands on activities and experiences.  I now cannot imagine my life without these experiences and the lessons that I have learned to share with my students.

Katie’s video:

Katie’s reason for applying: 

“I am applying to be the Teacher on the Trail™ because it is my dream to help teachers bring experiential learning to their students.”

Sample Lessons:

Lesson:  Weather Comparison

Lesson Summary: Students will observe and document high and low temperatures in their town and compare them to temperatures in checkpoints along the trail. Science/Weather, Grade 4

Lesson: Native Fishing

Lesson Summary:  Students will learn about Native Alaskan culture and how those cultures incorporate fishing into their lives. Native Alaskan culture/Natural Resource collection, STEM, Social Studies, Kindergarten – 5th

Lesson:  Balto & Togo Study

Lesson Summary: Students will utilize a variety of resources to understand the events of the serum run of 1925.  Language Arts and Social Studies, 4th Grade


Lisa Lange, IL

My name is Lisa Lange. I have been teaching for 13 years.  I taught first grade in Tennessee for 6 years.  I am currently in my seventh year of teaching third grade in Central Illinois.  As a child, I always had the passion and desire to become a teacher.  I love to help people learn, and I’ve always loved working with kids and helping them grow as learners. 

I graduated from the University of Illinois with my Bachelor’s Degree in 2005.  Since then, I have acquired two Master’s Degrees; one in Curriculum and Instruction and one in Administration.

My husband, Shane, and I currently live in a rural community in Illinois.  We enjoy spending time together doing things such as attending Illini sporting events, hiking, doing home renovation projects, and taking adventures around the world.

As an educator, it’s my passion to find topics and subjects that leave students hungry for more.  I started teaching about the Iditarod when I began teaching third grade in 2012.  It started out small, but I have added more each year and implemented the race into all subject areas.  As I have grown my Iditarod unit bigger each year, I see the students become hungrier and more passionate about their learning.  When they love something, I fuel their fire to make learning fun.  Because the kids love it, I have grown to love it even more, almost to an obsession. 

As the field of education becomes more rigorous and stressful each year, the Iditarod has renewed my passion as a teacher.  It’s the one topic that keeps me excited about teaching day after day.  Every week as I’m lesson planning, my mind can’t help but drift to new ideas and activities to implement the Iditarod into that week’s learning skills.  It’s a passion that has me excited about teaching again and that passion and excitement has fueled my desire to learn more about the Iditarod and become immersed in the race.  My curiosity for the race and my drive to include it in my curriculum led me to Alaska in 2018 for Iditarod Summer Teacher Camp, which solidified my decision to apply for Teacher on the Trail™ 2020.

View Lisa’s video by clicking HERE!

Lisa’s reason for applying:

“I am applying for Teacher on the Trail™ because I am very passionate about teaching topics that all students grow to love, and I would love the opportunity to extend my scope of teaching and my passion for the Iditarod to teachers and students all over the world.”

Sample Lessons:

Lesson: Incredible Iditarod Rescue Lesson Plan

Incredible Iditarod Rescue! Packet

Lesson Summary: 

Summary:  Students will use  facts about mushers, checkpoints, and Iditarod rules to help solve a series of challenges to escape.  Students will use problem solving and critical thinking skills to solve five challenges.  Students will use teamwork and work together to solve the challenges and move throughout the escape box. STEAM, Social Studies, Math, Grades 3 – 8

Lesson:  Elapsed Time Task Cards Lesson Plan

Iditarod Elapsed Time Packet


For Third and Fourth Grade:  Students will use the real times of 2018 Iditarod Champion, Joar Leifseth Ulsom,  to calculate elapsed time from checkpoint to checkpoint.  Students will calculate elapsed times using one of two methods: hours and minutes, or total minutes.  Students will calculate start times and finish times based on the amount of time elapsed.

For Third Grade:  Students will use real times from 2018 Iditarod Champion, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, to tell time to the nearest minute.

For First and Second Grade:  Students will use rounded times from 2018 Iditarod Champion, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, to tell time to the nearest five minutes.

**This lesson was written with several different options for teachers.  This allows teachers options for modifications for specific students or groups of students.  Teachers would choose the set of task cards appropriate for their students.

Elapsed Time; Telling Time-Math, Grades 1 – 4

Lesson:  Iditarod Text Features Lesson Plan

Text Features Packet

Lesson Summary:  Students will use the theme of the Iditarod to create a nonfiction text-feature pamphlet.  Students will add different text features to their pamphlets, including photographs, captions, maps, graphs, timelines, glossary, and more.  Students will use the internet to research and find the different components to complete each text feature. Reading, Nonfiction Text Features , Grades 1 – 3

Mary Lynn Roush, OR:

Growing up in Southern California,  Mary Lynn’s friends and family  wouldn’t have predicted her passion for Alaska and the Iditarod.  Unless they noticed her gazing longingly at mountains and hiking the Sierra Nevada. Perhaps it was her family roots in Wisconsin, summers spent in the Northwoods, or a winter drive after an ice storm, mesmerized by crystallized trees. 

It may seem equally unlikely that Mary Lynn would teach elementary school, although those who know her had suspicions.  Drawn to science and art, Mary Lynn’s education led to a PhD in plant ecology, and assistant professorship in Forest Science.  Elementary school?   There were those years as camp counselor.  Then, after she had her own children, there were years volunteering in schools.  She rediscovered that learning with children is the best kind of learning, found her true path, returned to school, and is now in her 20th year teaching 5th grade. 

So, why Iditarod? In 2008, Mary Lynn and her class read Akiak, a sweet story about an Iditarod sleddog.  Researching to enrich the story, she discovered the world of Iditarod. Her students watched video of Iditarods-gone-by, subscribed to the Insider, and began following the race. Mary Lynn explored the Iditarod Education Portal, and curriculum began showing up throughout the year.  Her students have adopted mushers, drafted and outfitted fantasy teams, learned about the science of sleddogs, solved sleddog math problems, read thousands of minutes, then written about it from the eyes of a sleddog.  Mary Lynn immerses herself and her students in Iditarod, and sleddogs are etched in their hearts.

Mary Lynn is in the last stretch of her teaching career, heading toward Nome.   At a time when many educators might feel the urge to slow down, she still is running with passion.   Fueled with the spirit of the Iditarod, she is determined to say “yes” to challenges, stay out of her comfort zone, and encourage others to do the same.  She is determined to use her enthusiasm for all things sleddog to inspire teachers and students to explore their own joy in learning with Iditarod.

Mary Lynn’s Video

Mary Lynn’s reason for applying:

“I am applying to be the Iditarod 2020 Teacher on the Trail™  because I know that a teacher’s passions can ignite a passion for learning in students.  I want to share my experience and enthusiasm for Iditarod and Alaska with educators everywhere, and I want to share the Spirit of Iditarod.”

Sample Lessons:

Mary Lynn’s Lesson Packet, contains 3 Lessons, summary below.


Lesson: Sleddog Life Skills

Summary:  Students watch video and read stories about sleddogs, and are encouraged to look for examples of social-emotional lifeskills.   Then, they create inspirational posters, presentations, and movies that teach others to Learn Like a Sleddog.  As the year progresses, our school focuses on one or two lifeskills at a time.  With each new lifeskill, we look for sleddogs inspiration. English Language Arts: Writing, Speaking, Language, Technology/Arts:  Using internet , visual arts, and digital presentation tools, Service Learning: sponsorship, Grades K – 12

Lesson:  Adopt a Rookie

Summary:  Students adopt a musher who will be a rookie in the 2020 Iditarod.  We select a musher from the musher profiles, then we use the internet to connect with them, through email and social media, as well as “snail mail”.  After researching their blog and other social meda, students write letters to introduce themselves and to ask “informed” questions.  Students will follow their progress in training and preparing for the Iditarod, and continue communication through mail, email, and social media, including Facetime/Skype .  Students will write informative articles about them, to post on our classroom blog.  As a class, we raise funds and/or buy/create items to send to our musher.  English Language Arts: Writing, Speaking, Language, Technology:  Using the internet and presentation tools, Service Learning: sponsorship.  Grades 3 – 12, Any with modifications.

Lesson: Science of Super Sled Dogs

Adapted from:     Denali National Park  Science of Sled Dogsn- Jen Reiter Mushing to Learn Nonfiction Text Features

Sled dog Science

Summary:  Students use electronic & traditional media to research about sled dogs, including their physical adaptations and the ways humans work with sled dogs to create sled dog teams.  Then, they create presentations, in both written essay and in visual/electronic media.  English Language Arts: Reading Informational Text, Writing, Speaking, Language, Life Science:  Evolution and Adaptation, Technology/Visual Arts:  Multimedia presentation tools, Grade


Meghan Morrow, MN

Meet Meghan Morrow from Duluth, MN! Meghan is the founder and lead teacher at Secret Forest Playschool. Secret Forest Playschool is a play-based nature preschool that values fresh air, experience, trust and wholeness. In the fall of 2012 Meghan’s dream of creating a place where childhood is protected and play is the priority became a reality. Ever since then Meghan has been building a strong community, with children and their families, under a canopy of Maples trees and surrounded by Mother Nature.

For the past several years Meghan and her preschooler stundents (ages 3-6 years old) have enjoyed learning about dog sledding. The children that attend Playschool spend a significant amount of time outdoor everyday, year-round, and have really embraced the idea that people use to use dogs to pull sleds in the winter as a means to carry mail and supplies along Lake Superior. No matter the season Playschool’s mini mushers can be found spending their days in The Forest calling out commands, pretending to be sled dogs, and stopping at “checkpoints” along the trail. Being able to bring mushing into (or more realistically out of) the classroom has provided Meghan with the opportunity to incorporate fun and educational activities to her young audience that she hopes to share with others as the next Iditarod Teacher on Trail ™.

When Meghan is not at Playschool, or thinking about Playschool, she enjoys spending time camping and paddling with her family in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, hanging out with friends, running long distance races (½ marathon and full marathons) often times without training, and eating ice cream topped with fudge!

Meghan has her AAS in Sign Language Interpreting and worked in the public schools with Deaf and hard of hearing students for seven years prior to opening Playschool. Meghan is a mother of two, Sawyer (8 yrs old) and Hazel (5yrs old) who share her love of the outdoors and who are learning to mush their own sled dog team. Meghan’s husband, Cody, is her biggest supporter and works as an engineer and pilot at Cirrus Aircraft.

Meghan’s Video

Meghan’s reason for applying:

“I want to have the most authentic experience there is in dog sled racing, so I can share it with young children and their families, and I believe the best way to do that is by being the 2020 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.”

Sample Lessons:

Lesson:  Hat, Parka, Snow-pants, Boots

Lesson Summary: 

The gear that mushers wear/use is important to their comfort and safety. Extreme temperatures can be dangerous for everyone. What do you think mushers use to stay warm? What happens if they get too cold?

Song: Hat, Parka, Snow-pants, Boots (sung to the tune Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes)

“Hat, Parka, Snow-pant, Boot

Snow-pants, Boots

Hat, Parka, Snow-pant, Boot

Snow-pants, Boots

Headlamp, mittens, scarf, and bib

Hat, Parka, Snow-pant, Boot

Snow-pants, Boots”

Music, Pre-K – K

Lesson:  Mini Musher Bib

Mini Musher Bib photos

Lesson Summary:

What is a bib? (babies wear bibs, but we are talking about a different kind of bib) Mushers wear race bibs to show what number they are. The number represents the order in which the mushers will start the race and allows people to track and identify them during their run- much like we know other athletes by their jersey numbers. What athlete’s jersey number do you know? (basketball and football players) When are others times that numbers are important for helping us identify things? (addresses, phone numbers, etc)


In the Iditarod mushers don’t get to pick their bib/starting number, their number is drawn from a Mukluk/boot. Have your students write their name on a piece of paper and put it in a boot. Then have the students draw their starting number (remembering to leave #1 for the honorary musher) from the boot. This is a good opportunity to look at letter and name recognition, number formation and sequencing. Write down the student’s bib numbers on a large piece of paper or board as you go for everyone to see! (For older students the process of elimination as numbers are drawn might be another thing to focus on)

After the bib numbers have been assigned it is time for your students to design their Mini Musher bib! This gives your students a chance to be creative!

Once their bibs have been completed it is time to play! Set up a course and have them get in starting order (sequencing from smallest to largest) and race or let them pretend to be mushers out on trail as they care for their “dog team” (there are often many peers that are eager to play the role of the sled dog).

Art, emergent reading and writing and dramatic play, Pre K but any grade level could do this lesson.

Lesson:  Whiteout_Blizzard

Lesson Summary:

When mushers are out on the trail they depend on their dog sled team to help them navigate the trail. Having a trusting relationship with their dogs but especially their lead dogs is important when they are navigating through snow storms.

Can you think of a time when you needed help with something? Who did you trust to ask for help? What things do we use to help us get from place to place? (Maps, compasses, GPS, etc)

At school we have become friends with each other over the year and we have learned to take care of each other, depend on each other and trust each other. We are now a team!

Divide your team into pairs. Each pair will take turns being the “lead dog” and the “musher”. The lead dog will be responsible for taking the hand of the “musher” (who is blindfolded) and guiding them through the “whiteout/blizzard” to a designated checkpoint(s). After some time have your students change roles and maybe even partners.

After everyone has taken a turn being both the “lead dog” and the “musher” talk about their roles: what did it feel like to be the lead dog? How did you like being the musher? How did you communicate with each other?

*If you were to do this exercise as the beginning of the year it would be less successful, wait until the end of the year after relationships have been formed to get the most out of it.  Physical and motor development, language development, All Ages

Kelly Villar, CT

My name is Kelly Villar, and I live in Mansfield, Connecticut where my husband and I are parents of six children ages 7-22.  I began teaching in 2000 in Virginia Beach, Virginia.  In 2004, I moved to Mansfield, Connecticut, where I have taught grades 2-6, for the past 16 years.   I currently teach second grade at Southeast Elementary School.

When I am not teaching, I enjoy spending time with my family.   Together we enjoy amusement parks, kayaking, skiing, hiking, and camping.   I also love traveling to places such as Yellowstone National Park, the Outer Banks, North Carolina and the White Mountains, New Hampshire- where I have been able to mush several times!

I have been an active person my entire life.  I began skiing at age 3 and have enjoyed it ever since.  An avid swimmer, I worked as a lifeguard as a teen and performed as a synchronized swimmer. I also learned to climb and enjoyed high ropes courses. Several years ago I traveled to New Hampshire where I had my first mushing experience- it was great!  I am always open to trying new exciting things! 

In addition to outdoor activities, I volunteered with the American Lab Rescue and helped to find loving homes for 19 dogs. Currently, I have two rescue dogs living in my home, and I also sponsor a sled dog through the New Hampshire Sled Dog Rescue.

I have been an avid fan of the Iditarod since 2000.  I first learned about the race when my father called me one night to tell me about a “cool dog race” that he had seen online.  I looked up the Iditarod and was instantly hooked!  Twenty years later the Iditarod marks my favorite time of year. 

I have dreamed about becoming the Teacher on the Trail™ for a very long time.  I have been captivated by the Iditarod since my first introduction to the race.  Throughout the past twenty years, I have learned a great deal about the history and traditions surrounding the race and have taught these things to my family and my students.  I know I am ready to take on the challenge of becoming the Teacher on the Trail™!

Kelly’s Video

Kelly’s reason for applying;

“I am applying for the 2020 Teacher on the Trail™ because for the past 20 years I have been following the Iditarod both personally and in my classroom, and I now believe I have enough teaching experience to make a meaningful impact in the program.”

Sample Lessons:

Lesson Plans Packet – Includes 3 lessons

Lesson Summary:  Balto vs Togo

Students will be introduced to the Great Serum Race, then compare Balto and Togos experiences along the trail and after the serum was delivered to Nome. This lesson is designed to take several days.  ELA, Second grade and up.

Lesson Summary:  Musher on the Trail

Students will watch daily/ every other day updates of the mushers along the Iditarod trail and write daily journal entries as if they were a musher on the trail.  Students will include prizes they have won along the way, positioning in the race, care for their dogs, goals as a musher, feelings and challenges they encounter while on the trail.  Writing, Journal writing, Point of View, Second grade and higher

Lesson Summary:  Comparing Communities

Students will take a virtual tour of the communities along the Iditarod trail, then compare and contrast their hometown communities.   How are we alike how are we different?  Social Studies, Compare Contrast, Your Own Communities, Second Grade and Up

***Please note, the information on the applicants, their video, and the lessons included only represent a small picture of their application document.  You are only seeing a glance of what their application document tells the selection committee.

**** Good luck to the applicants for 2020 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail!  Stay tuned to find out which 3 educators will move on to our next level of the selection process.

Learn more about the application process by clicking here!

Start planning to send us your application for 2021!  It will be due in our office on or before December 1, 2019.