Iditarod Teacher: How to Connect and Learn from the Iditarod Race

Heidi Sloan is the Iditarod teacher for this year. It starts on March 3 – 18. Get free lesson plans, connect with a musher and get your kids excited.

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Iditarod Teacher: How to Connect and Learn from the Iditarod Race

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Date: February 21, 2018

Vicki: Today we’re talking with Heidi Sloan, a Virginia 5th grade teacher who has the privilege of reporting on the Iditarod this year, February 19-22, 2018.

So Heidi, tell us about this opportunity and what you’re going to be doing.

Heidi: The Iditarod is a dog sled race across Alaska commemorating the Iditarod trail and the sled dog tradition of Alaska. Every year I have incorporated the race into my classroom for a long time, and it just builds engagement and motivation with the kids.

They have a whole education department but they choose one teacher a year to go on the race. It’s been a dream of mine for years.

This has been a dream of mine for years

I applied, and I was chosen last April to be the 2018 teacher on the trail. I will be going out and speaking to schools and actually flying by bush plane to all that the mushers have to … and I’ll write that lesson plan, and what’s going on each day from Alaska.

Vicki: So how will people be able to follow these lesson plans and let their students follow along?

How can we follow along?

Heidi: If you go to, and then click on the Education tab, there’s just a boatload of wonderful lesson plans for every subject. Then my tab once your on the trail. I’ve been posting week for months. I have a lot of ideas and lesson plans for teachers, too. I just put one on. If you’re new to the Iditarod, just getting started, it’s a really good checklist of ways to just jump in with all that you need, just to start. So I would recommend that, too, if you’re new to it.

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Vicki: What do your students think about this opportunity?

How are your students feeling about you going?

Heidi: They’re very excited. They’re a little apprehensive that I’ll be gone for five weeks, because it’s actually March 22nd that I get back.

Vicki: Ohhhhh! So it’s February 19 through MARCH 22nd? Sorry, so they’re going to be following this for a while!

Heidi: The race actually begins on March 3rd. That will be the weekend to be watching, but they’re excited. They love learning about the Iditarod. It’s so new to kids, especially in the south. They just have no concept of the cold and snow and all the neat things that go into mushing dogs. They do get excited, and it really helps them want to read the articles and do the math problems and make the — that have to do with it. It just wraps rather easily into our curriculum.

Vicki: Heidi, what are some of the best things to teach, using the Iditarod as kind of a backdrop?

How does the Iditarod fit in with a regular curriculum?

Heidi: There’s a lot of character education that you can pull out of it — determination, loyalty, leadership, all that kind of stuff definitely can be pulled in. I do a lot with that.

Even in geometry, you can work with the dogs’ harnesses and measure the angles. There are a lot of fun things to do with math.

I do a STEM project where the kids have to come up with a little dog house that has a certain amount of volume in it, using crackers and frosting. There are just all kinds of neat things you can do with that.

There are a lot of articles that the mushers write at the EDU of Iditarod does. You can have your kids read the articles.

There are just so many fun things.

How can people reach you while you are there?

Vicki: So Heidi, will people be able to tweet you? Will classrooms be able to tweet you questions?

Heidi: My internet is sort of spotty, because I’ll be in the interior of Alaska…

Vicki: Ohhhh…

Heidi: Probably the best way to reach me would be and I will be able to email back sometimes and possibly even send a little Skype video or something to teachers. So if they want to see the dogs, or see what’s going on, I’ll do my best.

When and how can teachers apply to be able to do what you are doing?

Vicki: So when do applications open to apply for 2019? That’s going to be the first question that some folks ask after they take a look at all your lesson plans.

Heidi: They have actually selected some finalists for 2019, so the next up would be 2020. So they are due December 1st.

If you click on the “Teacher on the Trail” tab, it tells about how you can apply as well and what the requirements are. It’s the thrill of a lifetime, so if anybody is interested, I would just say, “Go for it!”

Vicki: And Alaska is just such a beautiful state. I’ve been there and spoken at their conference. So many beautiful, wonderful educators there. And it’s just… just… the beauty is tremendous.

Heidi: Yes, yes it is. It’s just pristine. I’ve been getting a lesson ready for the Alaskan schools, comparing Virginia kids to Alaskan kids. Things that Virginia kids never see, like snow machines or moose.

Vicki: Well, until this winter, right? (laughs)

Heidi: (laughs) That’s right!

Vicki: This winter’s been wild.

Where would teachers begin if they have no experience teaching this?

OK, so how does a teacher get started? You said you have posted a lesson plan on getting started with teaching about the Iditarod. But tell us again where to go and how you think that we should start.

Heidi: Go to and click on the “Teacher on the Trail” tab along the side. On there is “New to the Iditarod” is what I think I titled the post.

Basically, it gives some book ideas for read-alouds to get started and getting your kids familiar with the race.

It’s got some math activities. It’s got activities on researching the rules, which is good reading research practice, and that helps them understand.

I’ve got a packet in there that helps them find a musher that they can follow and cheer for, and what they can look for on the website once the race starts.

I’ve got ideas on graphing the temperature and things like that all along the race, and doing activities with the checkpoints. Those are some of the things that you can just get started, and then you can build from it as time goes on.

I always say, “Start small, and you can always add to it later.”

Vicki: So what is the most surprising thing that you’ve learned about the Iditarod?

What has surprised you the most?

Heidi: Hmmmm. I love the Alaskan people. A lot of the mushers are from Alaska or foreign countries like Norway and Sweden. I like their adventurous spirit.

I love how difficult the Iditarod is. People don’t realize. You’re going down mountain cliffs. You’re going over frozen rivers that sometimes have water on them.

Just the bitter cold and the “Do it yourself” type of attitude. I just love that, and how the mushers help each other along the trail.

All that has been a wonderful learning experience for me.

Vicki: So, the Iditarod is coming up, March 3 through March 22.

We will have all the resources for you. We can follow Heidi.

Heidi, thank you for coming on, so that we can have a voice and of course your picture that we

can include this exciting opportunity for teachers to be able to take some fun lesson plans and kind of get to know exactly what’s going on. This is just a great teaching opportunity.

And I love how this event has actually having a teacher to really engage teachers and students. I think it’s a fantastic model I hope a lot of events will follow this model.

Heidi: Thank you so much, Vicki, for the opportunity to share.

Contact us about the show:

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

I am a 5th grade teacher who loves to motivate and engage my students in February and March by using the Alaskan Iditarod sled dog race as a tool to help teach math, reading, science, writing, and geography. I want to make learning relevant and make sure my students learn something new each day. This year I was selected to be Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, the one teacher who gets to actually go on the race to be a reporter of sorts for teachers and students around the world. I love sharing motivating ideas with teachers!


Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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