Learning Core Subjects While Preparing for the Iditarod Dog Race

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It’s still two months away, but fourth grade students are learning core subjects while preparing for the Iditarod Dog race.The Iditarod, billed as “The Last Great Race,” is a 1,000-mile trek from Anchorage to Nome.

The race is an annual learning tool in Sandy Overholt’s Malabar Ohio classroom and for Mary Ann Hallabrin’s special needs fourth-graders at Lexington’s Eastern Elementary School. Both women participated in a summer camp for teachers in Anchorage in June and, at their own expense, they and retired teacher Jan Johnson will be part of the Iditarod Winter Conference in February.

Core Subjects Built Into Study of the Iditarod

“Math, social studies, science, geography — all of the state curriculum standards — are built into our studies of the Iditarod,” Overholt said. “It’s a fun way of learning.”

Hallabrin said classroom activity designed around the Iditarod has made a “dramatic difference” for her students.

“It has changed my classroom forever,” she said. “I use the Iditarod every which way I can. It’s (academic) standards-based. It’s working. The kids are lit up. They are on fire for learning.”

Overholt and Hallabrin each designed a square for one of the 16 Iditarod Traveling Quilts created by teachers who have participated in the Anchorage training conferences. Their 12-square quilt has been on display this month at Malabar; next week it will move to Eastern Elementary.

A national network of educators shares lesson plans developed around the sled dog race. Iditarod officials and individual mushers also support the work of teachers.

“The Iditarod is a huge, sharing community,” Hallabrin said.

Math problems may include calculating the distances between checkpoints along the race route or multiplying the number of dogs times the number of booties they will need during the race.

Science lessons may involve charting the temperature differences between Alaska and Ohio, while language arts skills are used in writing messages of encouragement to mushers. Students learn about the history of Alaska and the traditions and customs of its native inhabitants.

Those are but a few of many examples, Overholt and Hallabrin said.

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