Historically Iditarod!

Sled Dog Ed

Howdy, Teachers!

So much has been going on in the world lately….so hard to keep up with it all! While resting the other day outside my kennel, I had the time to reflect on my accomplishments as a sled dog, my family, kennels, friends, etc. What will they remember about me in years to come? People always use the phrase, “Historically…”, when explaining past events in life.  What will be my history?

History is the whole series of events occurring in the past that are somehow connected to a person or thing.  As our former first lady, Michelle Obama, quoted, “History has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” Reflecting on the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, this seems to be so true.  The courage of men and women throughout the years to foster hope of preserving the tradition of dog sledding upon historic trails is evident.  What a great opportunity for your students to look back at the series of events that are connected to this awesome race of mankind and dog!

I had the opportunity to visit with Jon Van Zyle, Official Iditarod Artist, and hear him relate what the first Iditarod races were like in comparison to today.  If I had been on his team I would have rested on pine boughs versus straw.  The mushers would have had to chop their own wood to start the fires on which to cook my food.  Today, they use alcohol burners. The sled that I would have pulled would have weighed more as nowadays sleds are constructed from lighter materials.  Jon Van Zyle mentioned that because of new inventions and modern technology, the race has changed over the years affecting time, preparation, and communication throughout the race.

Jon Van Zyle, Official Artist for the Iditarod

What are some of the “historical” items your students could investigate? The list is endless, but here are a few.

Heidi Sloan, 2018 Teacher on the Trail™, has an article on the Iditarod Education website entitled, “Gold and the Iditarod”. The goal of her lesson is to teach the Gold Rush in the Klondike and Alaska while analyzing primary and secondary sources. The lesson allows students to understand what historians faced while studying various pieces of history and trying to put together those pieces to create a story.  As many know, the historic trail had been used for gold, mail, mining camps and trading posts in the past.  This is a great resource for your students to begin investigating the history of those events.

Heidi Sloan, 2018 Teacher on the Trail™, also wrote an article, “Then and Now”, comparing the Iditarod race from 1973 to present day.  Students can incorporate their writing skills by accumulating information about the history of the race and compiling a history paper called “Then and Now”.  More information about the history of the race can be located on the Iditarod Website at https://iditarod.com/about/history/.

Martha Dobson, 2011 Teacher on the Trail™, has a PDF excerpt from Champion of Alaskan Huskies, the Story of Joe Redington, written by Katie Manglesdorf, called “The History of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race”. This is a must read to obtain information on how did the race begin.  There have been many myths about the Iditarod’s origin, so this would be a great discussion starter for your students to further investigate.  Perhaps you and your students can read the book together.

Students can also investigate the “series of events” in the history of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race and incorporate them into a timeline.  Accompany that with mapping locations of the important places in its history. 

Erin Montgomery, 2015 Teacher on the Trail™, has a wonderful interactive timeline activity for students regarding the history of Alaska.  It is called “Alaska HSTRY Timeline”. She has a lesson plan, timeline sheet and history writing assignment for you to use with your students. Fantastic resource!

A helpful resource for basic background information on the Iditarod Sled Dog Race is an article by Diane Johnson , 2000 Teacher on the Trail™,  called “Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race”. She provides information about Who?, What is it?, When and Where does it start and end?, Where does the trail go?, Why did this race get started?, etc.  The article also contains links for further information.

Students may also investigate the mushing vocabulary used in the race. You can find a resource for this on our Education website entitled,  “What Those Mushing Words Mean”.  This article lists the terms used in the race along with lesson plan ideas for each. 

The Historic Iditarod Trail is another piece of the race’s history.  How did this trail become a historic trail?  Where is it located? What is it?  What is its significance?  What is the terrain like along the trail? A great resource for obtaining information on this trail is the Iditarod National Historic Program Bureau of Land Management found on the U.S. Department of Interior website at blm.gov.  Make sure as a teacher you check this information out thoroughly before allowing students to access things on their own as you would be leaving a secured website – not responsible for content. Perhaps you could develop a scavenger hunt centered around the information for students to investigate.

Fur trading was once considered to be Alaska’s third largest industry in the mid-1930’s. The week before the start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, one might find a 10-day event called the Fur Rendezvous in downtown Anchorage.  This event was started by Vern Johnson, a citizen of Anchorage, who wanted to create a festival taking place around the same time of year when historical miners and trappers would come into town with their goods. An important element of this festival is the sprint dog races.  Students can compare/contrast the sprint race and dogs to that of the Iditarod.  They may also investigate the historical nature of the fur trading industry in Alaska.

Fur Rendezvous – February, 2017

Another idea for teachers to incorporate history into the classroom is to talk about historical symbols for the state of Alaska and compare them to your state.  A great resource for you is already on the Education website written by Laura Wright, 2016 Teacher on the Trail™, and called, “Benny’s Flag”.  She has a lesson plan for your class to investigate the different flags and symbols of the state of Alaska and your own state. Check it out!!!

Teachers, as you can see there are so many opportunities for you to get involved with sharing the history of the Iditarod with your students.  Some of the ideas listed above may be springboards for your own extensions and ideas.  That’s what it is all about….courage to try something new and hopefully leave a lasting impression on your students.  Dive in!!!

Speaking of “dive in”….supper time and kibbles are awaiting.  See ya later!!!!

~Sled Dog Ed