Last year, 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail ™, Linda Fenton issued a challenge to see how many students she could get to read Stone Fox (http://itcteacheronthetrail.com/2012/12/28/stone-fox/). The timing was perfect for me. The fourth grade had recently dropped the novel from their repertoire, so I was able to pick it up and tie it into my curriculum! I had never read the book before, and was soon just as hooked as Linda is! It’s a great novel which is a great choice to teach students about point of view. It also lends itself to discussion on an authors’ craft as you can discuss why the author made the story telling choices he did.
To begin our novel unit, we did a prediction activity by looking at the various illustrations that have graced covers of various editions of the book. The boys quickly decided that I chose the book because of the obvious dog sledding connection to the Iditarod! We discussed what it takes to be a responsible pet owner, as the boys predicted that the boy on the cover must own a dog. (Here are some ideas if your students need some help: http://www.loveyourdog.com/whatdogsneed.html). We also talked about whether or not those responsibilities would be different if we lived in a cold environment and/or if that dog was a working dog instead of a household pet.
As we had recently finished our unit on the fifty states, we spent a day looking at the setting of the novel. The students each had a map of Wyoming and we created symbols and a key to identify key locations from the novel: Jackson (the setting) and the Two Wind Indian Reservation (to represent Stone Fox’s tribe).
The students had predicted that there was a dog sled race involved from looking at the covers of the novels. I introduced the kids to the International Pedigree Stage Stop Race (http://www.wyomingstagestop.org/) which is a modern day race held in Wyoming each winter. This year’s race begins January 31st. The race is quite different from the Iditarod in that the mushers stop in towns after each leg. We added the race route to our Wyoming Map and realized that this contemporary race is held in the same area of the state that the novel is based. So by looking at photos of the race, we had some aids to help in our visualization of race scenes in the novel.
One of the covers we previewed also had a picture of a person whom my students identified as Native American. So I introduced them to the fact that this character is Shoshone, and that the Shoshone National Forest in also in the same area as the rest of the novel setting, so we added that to the map also! We also located and identified Yellowstone National Park, because it is also a key location in the northwest corner of Wyoming. If Yellowstone is new to your students, the Yellowstone Park Rangers do a distance learning program for students through Skype in the Classroom: https://education.skype.com/projects/2237-yellowstone-national-park-rangers-can-skype-with-classrooms
Since we had already participated in that program, I needed a new Junior Ranger program for my students to complete related to this novel, and I found a great one through Shoshone National Forest. The Forest Service offers a Junior Forest Ranger Badge program here: http://na.fs.fed.us/ceredirect/jfr/. The students complete the packet and send in the back page with an adult’s signature to demonstrate that they have completed the program. They are awarded a patch and pin and get a membership card that allows them access to a special kid’s only online clubhouse. The Forest Service also offers a Junior Snow Ranger Program that I am going to use with my guys to talk about winter safety in January: http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/conservationeducation/smokey-woodsy/junior-rangers
Once we were finally ready to start reading the novel, we Skyped with Linda Fenton’s class. I have never tried to simultaneously read and discuss a novel with another class, let alone another class in another state in another time zone… but it was really an amazing experience. We did a mini-mystery activity by coming up with a list of ten questions to ask the other class, and then using the answers to determine what state we were virtually visiting. Timing wise, it worked for us to Skype at the start of our Reading class which was at the end of Linda’s Reading class. So during our first Skype, after determining their location, her students introduce the novel to us and helped pique our interest in reading. In other Skype sessions throughout the next couple of weeks we discussed character traits for the main characters, shared our surprise at was happening, our feelings on the book vs. movie debate, and then finally shared our end of unit projects. It was so cool to discuss the book with Linda and her class. They had a different perspective on the novel and it was also neat for my kids to hear how different some things are between Wisconsin and Maryland!
Our final project, to tie together the race in the book, the Iditarod, the Wyoming Stage Stop Race, etc. was that each class designed a sled dog race for their state. Linda had her kids begin their race in their hometown of Waupaca and then decide where to go to make a one hundred mile race. They worked in partners to create a race course. My kids worked as a whole class to create a race across the state of Maryland. (We actually decided on a Northern Route and a Southern Route so we could visit Baltimore City and Washington, DC on alternating years!) We decided to start on the Eastern Shore and end in the mountains of Western Maryland. As a group we chose a series of towns to get us across the state and then they worked in partners to plan the checkpoints. The partners used online travel sources to determine a great location for their checkpoint, decided what assistance they would be able to provide the teams, and explained all of their thinking. We put the whole thing together in a Narrated Google Earth Tour, where we were able to fly over our race route and zoom into each checkpoint location and see the details that the boys had planned for each stop. We quickly discovered there are A LOT of golf courses in Maryland and determined they would make great checkpoints because of the amenities available and the amount of open space for parking teams.