Eye on the Trail: Abundant Lessons and Color at Michigan Teacher’s Conference

Teachers had the opportunity to gather a sled full of lesson and activity ideas for their classrooms at the Midwest Sled Dog Symposium and Iditarod Teacher’s Conference in the colorful upper peninsula of Michigan. Nature’s Kennel owners Ed and Tasha Stielstra organized the sixth annual conference and symposium.

Opening the teacher’s conference was Nancy Wendt, a 5th grade teacher from Eau Claire, WI. Nancy has used the Iditarod as a yearlong theme for education in her classroom for many years. She uses the Last Great Race to give real life examples that apply to character education, literature, writing, math, science, geography and social studies. According to Nancy, there’s not a subject in the curriculum that can’t be made more interesting and meaningful with real life examples and problems based on Iditarod. Wendt has aligned activities that employ the theme of Iditarod with common core standards across the curriculum. In her presentation, she shared some of her best practices including an open house showcasing the many real life projects sparked by Iditarod produced by her students. Another example was creating news broadcasts based on researching aspects of Iditarod such as mushers, checkpoints, weather or geography. Wendt told educators who were just beginning to use Iditarod as a theme in their classrooms to start small and then add new activities each year and soon enough you’ll have dynamic activities covering the entire school year.

2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, Erin Montgomery from Iowa gave teachers a run down of what they might expect to see on Iditarod’s Education Portal this coming year. Montgomery teaches middle school Social Studies and uses a wide range of technology in her classroom. One of the lessons she’s created and has available on the education portal is a research activity with the final product being a movie trailer sharing the outcomes of the student research. Erin’s students have used Glogster to make comparisons between climbing Machu Picchu, running Iditarod and Climbing Denali. The students were asked what the three adventures have in common and which adventure would be most challenging. The students must defend their response. Montgomery will also be providing lessons and activities surrounding E-trading cards, an Alaska History Interactive Timeline, Alaska Native Games, Fantasy Iditarod, Mystery Skype, and Musher Mount Rushmore. Erin’s theme for the year is “The Many Journeys of Iditarod.” Click on this link to follow her lessons and her postings.  Come back and visit her web page often.

Sessions in the afternoon included both teachers and students. Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ shared stories from the trail and four of her many lesson ideas with participants and then sent the students to stations to accomplish the lessons. Teachers observed the lessons in action and asked questions while the students completed the activities. Activities included creating musher bibs, a study of angles using a dog harness, creating a pictorial form of data collection know as a glyph based on personality and study habits and a northern lights art project using water colors and kosher salt. Click on the link to see these and the many lessons Jen posted during her tenure as the 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.

Linda Fenton of Wisconsin who served as the 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ led a genetics activity. At the start of the lesson students discuss that traits and characteristics of sled dogs. The next step is to create a dog. Would the dog be male or female, what color fur, what color eyes, what kind of ears and what kind of personality – it was all determined by rolling dice. Once the trait wheel was finished, the students drew a picture of their dog. Linda created this lesson for her third graders after participating in an Iditarod Educator’s Conference where Sid Lucas, a high school biology teacher from Kiel, Wisconsin shared some of his Iditarod genetics lessons. Click on the link to see more of Linda’s lessons and messages posted during her tenure as the 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.

A group problem solving exercise wrapped the day up for the teachers as they observed students in an activity led by ISDRA Junior Sprint Mushing Champion, Mikayla VerKuilen. Bear, a large friendly looking stuffed husky was placed in the middle of an eight-foot circle. Bear appeared to be intently guarding three dogs treats placed near him in the circle. The problem was to capture Bear’s treats but Bear didn’t like anyone to enter his circle. Quite a bit of “stuff” was provided to accomplish the task. The teams went to work with the supplies – 5′ of rope, red solo cups, tape, a short piece of stiff wire, paper clips, a plastic fork, two bottle caps and a bunch of rubber bands. The first task was to capture the treats and bring them outside of the circle. The second task was to return the treats to Bear.

The Midwest Iditarod Teacher’s Conference provided teachers with lesson and activity ideas galore. At the same time, an Iditarod Teacher’s Conference was being facilitated in North Carolina by Iditarod Education Director Diane Johnson, Martha Dobson and Cathy Walters, all who’ve served as Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. The next lower 48 Iditarod Teacher’s Conference is scheduled for Baltimore on November 15th & 16TH.  Click on this link, More information for the B’more event, to see what’s happening at the Baltimore Iditarod Teacher’s Conference.