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March 2, 2011 10 Questions for Diane Johnson, Iditarod Dir. of Education By Ruth Manna

    Since 2005 Diane Johnson has been Director of Education for
    Even though it’s her busiest time of the year, Diane graciously answered questions about the Iditarod and her role on the web site.  She talked about teaching the Iditarod, and teaching in general.

    Read interview with Diane...

    1.    What’s your job like?

    Dianeingalena[1] Diane: I’m Director of Education for Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race®.  I work out of my home office in Aberdeen, South Dakota. I maintain the For Teachers section of the official Iditarod web site.  I work with schools, teachers, after-school programs, and summer camps in all 50 states and many foreign countries. It’s a full-time job!
    It amazes me that a hundred thousand plus students follow the race each year. We’ve improved the web site, tripled our teacher participation, and have recognized academic success with students in every state.

    Diane in Galina, AK.

    2.     Are you still teaching?

    Diane: I’m still teaching, but not in a school. Now I teach at teacher conferences and through the web site.  I like to say I’ve increased the size of my classroom and teach in all time zones! I’m inspired each week by incredible stories from teachers who share the positive academic impact using the race has on their students and on their own teaching style.

    3.    How’d you get started with the Iditarod?

    Diane: I was a fourth grade teacher in Aberdeen, SD. In 1999 I was picked to serve as the second Iditarod Target Teacher on the Trail. During the race I traveled from checkpoint to checkpoint in a small bush plane and shared my experiences with classrooms around the world. Now I travel to Alaska each year before the start of the Iditarod and in June for Iditarod’s Summer Camp for Teachers.
    In fall 2005, I became Director of Education for the web site. My goal is to provide content so teachers can use the race to meet their school district’s standards and objectives. 

    4.    Do you go to the Iditarod?
    Diane: I’ve been every year since 1999!

    5.    Do you raise sled dogs?

    Dianejohnson Diane: My husband, Mark, and our son, Michael, enter a few sled dog races each year with our 18 sled dogs.  Because there are no races in South Dakota, we travel to Minnesota or other states to participate.  I don’t race the dogs.  I’m the trail boss and chief dog yard scooper.  At age 14, Michael is considering racing in the Jr. Iditarod in a couple of years.  To keep that dream alive, he must set goals and work hard with his dogs.



    Diane with sled dog.

    6. How do you recommend teachers prepare their students for the Iditarod?

    Diane: First, I believe a teacher needs to prepare her students by showing them she’s interested in learning, that she’s a lifelong learner with many interests. When students see their teacher as a real person with real interests, who talks to them like they’re real people, they’re more apt to respond positively in a classroom.

    Start with an academic focus. You don’t have to be an Iditarod expert, read all the books, do all the research, or design a total unit in advance. There’s so much information that your learning will never be complete. Let your students’ needs and interests shape your unit of study.
    Design each lesson to align with standards and 21st century goals and objectives.  A focus on standards, goals, and objectives is crucial.  Teachers don’t “teach Iditarod,” they teach state and local curriculum.  Iditarod is a way to reach the curriculum. Using Iditarod results in academic success.

    If you use For Teachers, Zuma’s Paw Prints, and the Target® Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ on Iditarod’s web site, you’ll stay current with lesson plans, strategies, and project ideas.
         7. How does the Iditarod work for teachers and students?

    Iditarod.com2 Diane: The teaching strategies and content are engaging for students and teachers.  Using the race as a tool is sound educational practice and leads to academic success, interest development, and 21st century skill building. At the end of the day, this is less about the race and more about student achievement and motivation.

    Iditarod works for students because they’re inspired by what they read and discover. They find the stories and lessons applicable to real life.  Students can draw on what they’ve learned as they work to meet personal goals or overcome academic challenges. Students develop a desire to add to what they already know. 
    Iditarod works for teachers because it encourages teachers to be actively involved in curriculum development, which is essential to effective teaching.  Topics within the study allow teachers to continually learn and grow which makes them better teachers and helps them reach more students. 
    Teachers who’ve used the race with students have documented that their students read more, write more, solve more math problems, spend more time in self-directed research, and think more scientifically while studying the Iditarod. Students have a strong desire to want to be at school during the race, do more homework independently during the race, and develop technology skills while following the race.  Students discover the need to set personal goals and take steps to achieve those goals, lessons from the Iditarod. 

    Teachers, send me your results!  I want to hear about your successes. Other teachers can learn from you too!

    8.    Will you explain how IditaRead works?

    Diane: An IditaRead™ is a project designed to inspire students to read independently.  It can be as simple or complicated as a teacher wants it to be. Goals can be individualized so each student has a personal goal or guideline to follow.  Students read to achieve a reading goal that matches with miles or checkpoints along the trail.  Teachers can use the number of minutes or pages read, or students can read one book per checkpoint.  For the youngest students, it includes books that are read to them.

    9.    In your experience, what’s the down side of being an educator?

    Diane: Professional jealousy. Colleagues, instead of celebrating the success of a co-teacher, take it as an indication they’ve failed to make a positive impact on student success. I know there are teachers out there really making a difference. They need the support of programs like our Education Department’s programs to inspire them to do what’s best for students.

    Martha Dobson Summer Camp 10.    Diane, do you have any advice for teachers?

    Diane: Be the teacher you are and do what’s right for your students.  Students have to accept challenges, and you, as their teacher, need to show you can face challenges and move forward, despite those around you who say, “Teach to the test.”  Instead, do what’s best. I haven’t followed all the rules but hopefully I’ve made a difference in students’ learning and lives, and that’s the only test that really counts.

    Martha Dobson, 2011 Target Teacher on the Trail at Summer Camp for Teachers in AK.

    Thanks, Diane! You’re making a real difference in the lives of thousands of students and teachers!






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