5th grade letter carried by musher during Iditarod

As our year-long PE unit comes to a close, 4th and 5th grade students celebrated with an Iditarod Experience Party!  Throughout the year, students learned the true meaning of self-sacrifice, commitment, survival and endurance.  

At the beginning of the unit, students watched the Disney movie, Togo, which told the story of Leonhard Seppala and his dog, Togo, in their heroic effort to save the children of Nome from a diphtheria outbreak in early 1925.  Watching the movie built important historical knowledge and inspired students to learn more. Later lessons focused on the topography and expansive land of Alaska, sled dog adaptations, and learning about native Alaskans and how sled dogs have historically played an important role in their culture. 

In December, Coach Chandler’s daughter, an Alaska National Park Ranger, came to speak to the classes about the special role the Denali sled dogs play in fulfilling the mission of Denali National Park.  She also presented St. James with an Iditarod reference book for the library.  

After the new year, we started to “Train Like A Musher.” Students tallied 1049 laps (the mile distance of the Iditarod) as they ran around the outside track. Native Alaskan fitness activities challenged students to build upper and lower muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and cardio-respiratory strength. 

In March, as the start of the “Last Great Race” neared, students made a personal connection by using library to research the different mushers.  Each student selected a musher to follow. The mushers’ progress were tracked from Anchorage-Nome on a bulletin board displayed outside their classroom and on Iditarod.com. Students made a personal connection to a musher by sending encouraging messages in a MusherGram.  The notes were carried on dogsleds all the way to the finish line in Nome! After the race, the notes were sent back to St. James and were opened at our Iditarod Celebration. It was fun to see who carried our letters on the 1049 mile trek across the wilderness of Alaska’s interior. In other cross-curriculum classes, students read daily blogs in ELA, made a musher music playlist, and completed math equations based on altitude differences between checkpoints.  

From beginning to end, we hope that this project has allowed the 4th and 5th graders to learn important lifelong values of commitment, integrity, respect, responsibility, and fairness. We are so incredibly appreciative and proud of the students remarkable abilities and diverse personalities.  Like the Iditarod, the students drive us on!