Iditarod Excitement Is Building!

By Ruth Manna on February 16, 2011
  • Grades: 1–2

Every spring my group of excited 2nd graders and their enthusiastic parents prepare for the Iditarod, a 1,100 mile sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. There’s so much I want to share with you about the Iditarod and what we study and learn that I’m planning to write several posts about the race.

For ten years I've studied the Iditarod with my class as a way to teach standards for media literacy, language arts, and character education. Students learn how to navigate a complex Web site independently and follow links under my supervision. Students write musher profiles and sled dog poetry. Everyone picks a musher to root for and follow for the duration of the race. They graph Alaska’s daily temperature and wind speed and compare Alaska's weather to our own. As students follow mushers’ progress, they learn about perseverance, practice, courage, and hard work. They sing, dance, and shout about the Iditarod. Students even pull one another around the gym on carpet-square "sleds"!

Read on to find out more. . . .   


Kalina as Musher

This year’s Iditarod will begin with a ceremonial opening and parade on Saturday, March 5. The real race begins Sunday, March 6. In odd numbered years Iditarod mushers, or sled dog racers, follow the southern trail from Anchorage to Nome, a distance of about 1,131 miles. The winning musher usually crosses the finish line around the ninth day of the race.

Get Ready for the Race!

Beginning this week, familiarize yourself with the official Iditarod Web site. Explore the whole site and be sure to visit the teachers’ page, where you’ll find a menu of resources.

Be Sure to Check Out:

Target Teacher on the Trail — Each year there’s a new Target Teacher on the Trail, an educator who takes part in the race and creates lesson plans, blogging along the way. This year’s Target Teacher on the Trail is Martha Dobson, a 6th grade teacher from Mount Pleasant, North Carolina. In particular, check out her math lesson about tracking the temperature, which includes modifications for elementary, middle, and high school students.

Musher profiles — The musher profiles will become a main source of information for students and a way to link to individual musher's Web sites and blogs.

Route & checkpoints — Get to know Alaska geography and terrain. Learn the names of checkpoints along the southern route.

Iditarod rules — Depending on the grade you teach, you may want to make copies of the rules for your students or learn the rules so you can interpret them for your students.

Iditarod photos — There are countless photos on the site and more will be added daily. You can use photos to illustrate stories and reports and to create bulletin boards.

Iditarod Insider — Iditarod Insider is a subscription part of the Web site that entitles you to see constantly updated video clips of the Iditarod. It’s a valuable resource and well worth the investment. You can view free samples from the Web site's home page.

Collect Lots of Books

There are many super books about the Iditarod. Here are a few your students might enjoy:

Libby%20Riddles%20-%20Storm%20Run Storm Run: The Story of the First Woman to Win the Iditarod Sled Dog Race by Libby Riddles and Shannon Cartwright




Iditaroddream Iditarod Dream: Dusty and His Sled Dogs Compete in Alaska's Jr. Iditarod by Ted Wood




Dogteam Dogteam by Gary Paulsen





Winterdance Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen







10156-t Alaska Sled Dog Puppy Coloring Book by Gina Soltis and Wendy Brown (I make copies of the pages for my students.)



Cover105519 The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto (Step Into Reading Series) by Natalie Standiford






TheGreatSerumRace_300x The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie S. Miller





And Videos!

Idita-Rock n' Roll — We dance to this short video every morning during the Iditarod. And here are the outtakes. Your students will love Idita-Rock n' Roll!

51TH56R02ZL._SL500_AA300_[1] Balto — Students like this inaccurate, romanticized version of Balto's story. It makes for a great compare/contrast discussion.

Check the store on the official Web site for additional videos for sale.


Order Maps

Look for maps of Alaska. I like Maps for the Classroom. You can purchase large, desktop-size maps for $1.00. When labeled, colored, and laminated, they're beautiful and a great reference for students. You'll need to draw the Iditarod Trail and checkpoints. If students partner up for this activity, it will go twice as fast and you'll need fewer maps. There are plenty of smaller outline maps you can download free.

Set Up for an IditaRead

In our school’s hallway we create an IditaRead Trail, posting official IditaRead start (by the office) and finish lines (at the farthest point in school), as well as checkpoints. This read-a-thon lasts for the month of March. The object is for all students to increase and record their reading so, collectively, we race from Anchorage to Nome. Combining our efforts makes this activity cooperative rather than competitive. For more details about IditaRead, go to the IditaRead page.

Iditarod-39-logo[1] Next week I'll have more information about the history of the race as well as Iditarod activities. To be continued . . .


i am trying to do my first unit on the Iditarod I really don't have much time or know where to start. i would be thankful for any help

Kim, Thanks for your comments. If you go to my post for this week, The Powerful Pull of Sled Dogs, you'll be able to download Jen's lesson ideas. Have fun with the Iditarod!

I can't wait to see what Jen has to offer. I have implemented the Iditarod in my classroom for 15 years and each year it just as exciting as the first. Jen-would you be interested in your 2nd graders communicating with my 2nds? I'd love to have a group we can email and write letters to. Maybe we could even skype.

Here's my email: Thanks, Jen!

Sure, email me your email address and I'll send a good one.

Hi Jen, I would love to have any of your activities, lesson ideas, etc., that you can share with me! Here's my address: Ruth Manna, 83 Hopkins Place, Longmeadow, MA 01106. If you have one favorite lesson you can email me, I'll try to work it into my blog and of course give you credit. :)

Hey Ruth- I'm a 2nd grade teacher in Juneau, AK and Alaska Studies is part of our Social Studies curriculum. So, I have a ton of stuff for the unit I did with 4th graders. If you send me your address, I'd be more than happy to send you a few things in the mail (it's too many documents to email). Let me know if this is something you're interested in. -Jen

Melissa, Maybe this is the year to begin studying the Iditarod! You still have plenty of time to plan. Next week I'll have more specific ideas for writing, etc., so come back next week! Meanwhile go to the official website and start to familiarize yourself with the site and all it has to offer. Students and parents love this unit. Kids have so much fun that they don't even realize they're learning. :)

I have always wanted to do a unit on this, but have never been able to fit it in. Maybe this year i can.

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