It’s All In The Name

Puppies – like students – grow up so fast! Photo Credit: J.Westrich

With just a few more days left (7 to be exact, but who’s counting?) I am ready to close the door on this school-year and dive headfirst into summer. But before I know it, I will be prepping for the start of a new school year. Reflecting on my year as Iditarod Teacher on the Trail – and looking forward to including Iditarod in my curriculum next year – my essential take-away is to employ the concept of using Iditarod as a through-line to connect all areas of instruction. Iditarod as a theme provides curriculum structure; returning to the race again and again allows students to add more layers to their knowledge. Once students possess an Iditarod background, educators can pull Iditarod into math, science, social studies, ELA, PE, art, music, and library – and Social Emotional Learning – all year long. Iditarod isn’t just one unit, or an “add-on” for fun; it embodies teaching with real life events and experiences, which improves the impact of curriculum instruction.  

Meeting a new litter of puppies at Turning Heads Kennel! Photo Credit: J.Westrich

Where to start on this journey?  A good sled dog team is years in the making and often starts with puppies. Kick off your school year with a lesson about puppy naming! At first you might be skeptical. How does puppy naming connect to the curriculum? This lesson is perfect to establish relationships with students, make connections, provide a welcoming environment, and encourage learners to share perspectives and home cultures.

Many dogsled mushers name their litters by theme – it helps them remember who was born when, to whom, who is related, and how old they are. A musher might name a whole litter after gemstones, or spices, rock bands, or types of precipitation! The Denali National Park Kennel named their 2016 litter in honor of the 100th birthday of the US National Park Service, with names like Party, Cupcake, and Pinata.

Can you guess the theme of this group of dogs?

They are all from Iditarod legend Martin Buser’s Kennel.

I can’t help but love

the Coffee Collection!

Photo Credit: J.Westrich

Cuddles and kisses are always welcome. Photo Credit: J.Westrich

Ask students to name a litter of puppies using a theme that represents who they are. It will provide a window into their lives, giving you important information to make connections. Early in the year it can be hard to build trust with your students, to get them to open up and share.  Puppy naming seems harmless, but it can provide significant information for teachers ensuring a Culturally Responsive classroom. The theme your students select reflects what they care about, what they believe, and where they come from. This lesson helps teachers get to know our students and builds a welcoming and affirming environment. It provides students the opportunity to share their personal perspective and their stories early on in the year, setting a tone that the classroom values student voice and is a supportive multicultural environment.

Can you name these Sled Dog Puppies? What Theme would you choose? Photo Credit: Iditarod

The best part? This lesson provides an opportunity to assess student skills in writing early in the year – and kick-off a full Iditarod theme that weaves in and out of your curriculum content all year long. It is also easily adaptable for all grade levels. My elementary kids provided their themes and a short explanation. Right away I can see how they respond to a short prompt in writing.  Older grades can do the same activity but write a multi-paragraph personal essay describing each name and the reason for its selection in their puppy litter. Check out some examples below and CLICK HERE for the FULL LESSON and CLICK HERE for the WORKSHEET TEMPLATE.

This student selected a sports theme!  Use this information to connect about their activities outside of school, games they watch on TV, or curriculum connections through athletics that can make their learning more personal and meaningful.
This student clearly has a strong love for cats!  Use this information to connect with this animal lover by encouraging reading in both fiction and non-fiction that connects to their interest.
This student shares the importance of movie night in their family.  Connect on a Monday morning by asking which movie they watched over the weekend!  

Library Learnings: I can’t stop recommending Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story by David Uluadluak because I think that it is just a great representation of Indigenous Arctic culture and connects authentically to the history and heritage of dog mushing. Did you know Kamik means “one skin boot” in Inuit? It describes the type of footwear the Yup’ik in Alaska call mukluks! Wondering why Jake chose this name and what other puppies in the litter may have been called? Check out the Inhabit Media website for other words/pronunciations of Inuit Npingit words and create your own themed litter from this list!