The 2012 Iditarod began yesterday at the starting point of Anchorage, Alaska. This yearly event, known as the “Last Great Race on Earth” is an amazing test of endurance that always begins on the first Saturday of March. There is a wealth of learning opportunities for students in following this event.

Note: As I post this, CNN has reported that the 2012 route is being altered due to weather concerns. Organizers use two different routes  to allow all (or most) of Alaska to participate.  In odd-numbered years, the race runs a southern course, while in even numbers they take the northern route.

At the official Iditarod site, you can get information about the route and the teams. You can also register to be an Insider and you definitely want to do that to watch some videos related to the race and its history. You can register at the free level, and see some videos not available to unregistered users like race documentaries, articles, and more. Registered users also get to choose a favorite musher to track and get email alerts based on their activity. Of course there are paid subscriptions as well, such as

  • Insider single individual subscription for 19.95 with access to special content and videos
  • Insider GPS Tracker for 19.95 with access to live race tracking
  • Insider Ultimate for 33.95 for single individual special content, videos, and live race tracking
  • Insider Classroom for 67.95 that may be shared by teacher and students in a single classroom with access to special content, videos, live race tracking and educational content
  • Insider School for 169.95 for entire school access to all special content.

Now, if you are like me and do not have funds available for a subscription, never fear. There are plenty of free resources available.

The first place to start is none other than Discovery.  A few years ago the Discovery Channel had a great special on Iditarod: Toughest Race on Earth.  This 2008 in-depth look at the race features inside information on some of the best athletes in the world – the dogs who pull the sleds over treacherous paths in harsh environments for 1,150 miles! There are interviews with “mushers”,  a map of the route, and so much more in this amazing production.

As for the 2012 race, educators are represented by “Teacher on the Trail” Blynne Froke. Target is the official sponsor of the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail. Blynne’s motto is: Challenge yourself and never give up! Follow her adventures as she blogs about being an Iditarider!

In addition, the official Iditarod site also has resources for teachers and students alike. Students can follow along on Zuma’s Paw Prints. Zuma is the official K-9 reporter for the Iditarod. Check out Zuma’s Facebook page (her image is at the left) where she lists (no surprise) her favorite books as Dogsong and Woodsong by Gary Paulsen. Zuma has way more Facebook friends than I do!  Sanka, Libby, and Gypsy are other dogs who blog and according to Libby, they use their noses, paws, and special keyboards. There are even places where students can respond with comments such as Libby’s post on what makes a good leader.  By the way, Libby always signs off with “Just Spinning De’Tails”. Love it! Under the category of Messages to Teachers, teachers can share K-9 posts with their students about how mushers get their bib numbers, the Junior Iditarod, preparing the “drop bags” (You will have to read to find out what that is!) and so much more. I became more fascinated by the minute as I hopped from one post to another.

Visit the student page on the Iditarod site for quizzes, scavenger hunts, word searches, and more. Older students may enjoy the Serum Run game, an Oregon Trail type of activity where you need to pick your team and resources in order to be able to deliver the diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska, in 1925. That true event of bringing the serum 674 miles in 27.5 hours is what the Iditarod race actually commemorates. Why is it called the “Iditarod”? According to  In Libby Riddles’ book Race Across Alaska, she reports that the early Athabascan Indians called their inland hunting ground Haiditarod, “the distant place.” Later when gold was discovered in the same area the miners founded the town at the Indians’ hunting camp, which they spelled Iditarod. In 1910 the Alaska Roads Commission brushed out and marked a trail from Nome through Iditarod and on to Seward, the major seaport in south central Alaska. Originally called the Seward Trail, it later became known as the Iditarod Trail.

Also on the student page are a variety of videocasts such as the dogs’ trip to the vets, a virtual field trip, a PowerPoint Jeopardy game based on the race, and a link to an Iditarod glog by Nancy Carroll, a 4th grade teacher from Massachusetts.

I had heard of this race of course, but I became especially interested when a student of mine decided to blog her journey across country early in the school year as her family headed for a two month stay in Alaska where her father was stationed at a military base. She wrote about all the scenery and amazing experiences she had such as visiting the Alaska State Fair, Calving Glaciers and Sunbathing Otters, and Musk Ox and Puppies: More Adventures Outside Anchorage.  She brought me earrings with jade in them (official gemstone of Alaska) and also gave me handsoap in the shape of a Husky paw print in an authentic dog bootie like the ones worn by Iditarod dogs. I paralleled her blog posts with my own highlighting the places she went and adding educational information.

I wonder if any of our Alaska DEN members experienced the opening ceremonies for this event first hand. How do your students get involved in this historic event? Please share thoughts if you can.

By the way, “mushing” comes from the French word “marchons” meaning “to move”.  Just one of the many interesting things I learned. As Libby would say, ” Just Spinning De’Tails”!

Image credits:
Lead photo of 2010 start by Frank Kovalchek under CC License
Dogs with Booties 2011 by Mel Green under CC License


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  1. RJ Stangherlin said:

    What a unique and utterly brilliant post. I love how you tie information to the event and a student’s journey, her blogs and yours. Wonderful information and rock solid research we have come to expect of your posts. Bravo, Patti. Great job!

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