Classroom Culture Has Gone to the Dogs

If you’re like me, you’re happy as a dog with two tails to be on summer break! It’s a great opportunity to refresh and dream of how you will use the Iditarod in your classroom next year. While we teachers have hung up our dog tags for a few weeks, future sled dog champions are being born this month! Go ahead and follow all the mushers on social media and you will see lots of photos of adorable puppies. It’s an awesome and amazing thing to see how mama dogs bond with and care for their newborns. I never had the opportunity to raise puppies, so I missed out on that, but I get puppy-dog eyes every time I see photos and videos of sled dog puppies.  

Teacher on the Trail Linda Fenton cuddling a new puppy. Photo: Terrie Hanke

I’ve spoken of this many times before but it’s worth repeating: your students love to talk about their dogs.  Once a student knows you are interested in something that matters to them, they will begin to like and trust you—the first step in creating a safe environment for learning. Then they will want to tell you all their shaggy dog stories. 

We know that dogs are a huge connecting point for students. Even if they don’t have dogs, dogs are such a ubiquitous part of our culture in images, cartoons, and our language, that students most always know lots of things already about dogs, which makes the topic such a great one for all kinds of learning and connection. The minute students walk into my classroom they know that I love dogs, sled dogs in particular—Iditarod sled dogs especially!  

I’ll start with English Language Arts, because that’s my subject. If you look at an online dictionary, you’ll see that there are about 20 separate definitions for the word “dog.” Using some or all of these definitions is a great entry point into dictionary skills (which students still need) and multiple-meaning words. “Dog” is a great word to start with because you can teach the skills without confusing the students with a longer, more complicated word. In addition to discovering the multiple meanings and functions of the word dog, you can also explore idioms and expressions. As we head into the dog days of summer, we might read our favorite dog-eared novels, sleep like a dog, or do things we haven’t done in a dog’s age. Some of us might walk around our favorite vacation destinations so much that our dogs are barking at the end of the day, and we are dog-tired. Let students explore meanings or idioms and then create a drawing, poster, team presentation, skit, or short story using some of these different ways of using the word “dog.”  

Puppies first learn how to be sled dogs by free-roaming with older dogs. Photo: Terrie Hanke

Dog STEM! National Geographic Kids published a great book entitled “Dog Science Unleashed.”  In it, there are activities you can do with your dog, such as finding out what your dog’s favorite scent is. The linked article gives you two of those experiments to try, using proper safety precautions with your dog. Using these ideas is a great way to teach or review the scientific method with students, along with the protocols and guidelines for working with vertebrates. Math activities are also more fun with dogs. Use your imagination! Any subject can be taught through the lens of Iditarod puppies. My favorite math activity is probability. What is the probability of a mama dog having a certain number of babies, and what probability of having male vs. female puppies? You can also do many cross-curricular activities with dogs, learning how dogs have played important roles in history, learning different dog breeds and what their purpose is, or having a vet or Iditarod volunteer come talk to your class.  

Cuteness overload! Photo: Terrie Hanke

Finally, before you throw me into the doghouse, I wanted to remind you of doggedly using Iditarod themes in your classroom procedures, jobs, even attention-getting strategies. Whatever the level of wiggle-room in your curriculum is, finding ways to incorporate Iditarod sled dogs, puppies, and dog-themed activities will go a long way to making your classroom fun and a place where your students want to be–and they will think you are the top dog.  Thank you for going along on this Iditarod “classroom culture” journey with me! 

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