Using Dog Sled Racing to Teach Genetics and Nutrition

My mother, an elementary school teacher for 32 years, worked hard to connect her students to subject matter. Mom did this using real life, high interest events, one of these was the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. The Alaskan Race is held every March and covers 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome. The Iditarod was created to honor the mushers who carried Diptheria Serum overland to the town of Nome and follows the historic route used to deliver supplies and mail to the Alaska Interior.

You might wonder why I am not using food animal examples. Students come to my agriculture program with little background in Food and Fiber Animals. In order to add relevance for students, I use the Iditarod to add interest. The race has many connection to academic subjects, in order to share these connections, the race coordinators have created an educational website. The site contains items of interest to both teachers and students. Check it out here: www.iditarod.com/

I use the Iditarod to supplement my genetics and nutrition units. Student interest is created by following a musher, this leads them to want to investigate what that musher is doing and how the race operates. We then use the facts learned to create some relevance in later units.

I time genetics in conjunction with the race. While we study the race, we discuss how the dogs are bred to pull a sled of gear and an adult human almost 1,000 miles across Alaska. I create dog breeding problems combining the information students learn during the genetics unit with race information so students are working on authentic problem solving.

During the nutrition unit, taught later in the spring, we discuss rations and how to supply these athletes with up to 20,000 calories a day as they cross desolate wilderness areas. This huge nutritional need really makes the students think about an animals’ nutritional needs and how those can be supplied.

If you’re curious about the race, check out www.iditarod.com. The site is free, but I would recommend becoming an Insider at race time to enhance your students’ experience.

Do you use a high interest event as a hook in your program? Consider sharing it with us.

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