Zoo Lights: the Challenge

When Sara Lamont, Iditarod.edu faculty and kinder-teacher-extraordinaire, revealed our challenge, I knew we were in for a treat.  Zoo Lights!  Best challenge EVER!  It was an awesome field trip, with math everywhere, and some literacy to wrap it up.  Come along on this adventure.  We will find some math lessons popping up along the way, then we will start writing Iditarod!

Since the zoo wouldn’t open until 6:30, Sara took us on a pre-adventure up into “the hillside” above Anchorage.  Math was already waiting there for us.  Moose math.  We had been talking about Sara’s uncanny ability to spot moose.  Sure enough, she spotted one as we headed up the hillside.  It was hiding behind some trees, chewing away.  We had to stop and back up and move forward to catch a good look.  Then, we all saw it: another moose.  This one looked like mom.  Suddenly, we were kindergarteners, and we were asking ourselves some moosey math questions.  We started with one moose, and then the mom came.  How many moose do we have now?   What if we kept going and there were two more moose around the corner, then how many would there be?  Now here’s the challenge:  we see more moose on our field trip, and when we get back home we tell everyone that we saw 7 moose altogether, how many more moose did we see after those first 4 moose?

This math challenge easily could be used in the Iditarod to add and subtract, as mushers drop dogs along the trail.  Imagine a musher arriving in 20190224_181817 Mountain with 9 dogs.  When the team leaves, we can explore fact families comparing before and after.

Before heading to the zoo, we were treated to an extraordinary view of Anchorage and Mt Susitna.

20190224_183948 When we got to the zoo, dusk had settled deeper, and we entered a fairyland of lights and animals.  Meandering the snowy paths, we found more mathy animals.

There was a sense of Christmas in the air, and when we were checking out the caribou, Sara shared the reason why the reindeer in the song “Up on the Rooftop”  go click click click.  They have tendons that click when they walk.  We tried to cajole them into walking around, but they wouldn’t comply.  So my third-grade math brain started imagining a herd of these caribou clicking across the tundra.  If a herd of fifty caribou is crossing a river, how many legs are click click clicking?  The sound would be amazing.

Of course, the 50 caribou could be 50 sled dogs at the start line, needing booties.  How many booties would be on the snow at the start?

At the bear exhibit, there were no bears to be seen, but Sara shared the history of bears that had come to the zoo, and we looked at the gravesite of one beloved bear.  There are interpretive signs20190224_185457 and kiosks all along the way, and the bear stop was impressive. One of my favorite parts of the exhibit was the display of models of paws from the polar, brown, and black bear.  Now, my mind became a curious high schooler who has been studying geometric solids.  How could I construct paws like those using solids? I could assemble the models using a variety of solids, calculate the volumes and surface areas of each, using formulae for the different kinds of solids, then compare them mathematically.  That would be pretty cool.  Of course, I could do the same with Iditarod dogs.  I even could construct an entire Iditarod dog from solids.  With a little research on dog-density (they are quite fit and dense), I could predict the mass of the dogs from their volume.

The big cats were amazing.  There were two spectacular20190224_192914 Amur tigers lounging in the golden glow of their  “cave”, one occasionally batting at the other (probably making sure the smaller understood who was boss).  At the snow leopards, the two cats were separated into two habitats.  They were stunning. They roamed their own areas, then occasionally climbed to the top of the rocky habitat, and confronted each other across a net.  A lot of posturing happened, and we could hear growly howls even after we left. The four big cats reminded me of middle school girls, and I started to look at them through the eyes of a 7th grader. 20190224_194054

I began wondering about the two habitats that are required to deal with the cats’ social issues.  The tigers shared one habitat, and the snow leopards needed two.  I wondered about the relative costs of the habitats.  For example, if the snow leopards got along better, they might not need the netting that separates them.  To compare the cost of the divided habitat with a habitat more like the lions’, I could start by calculating the cost of the netting.  I’d want to shop around to purchase the best deal on high-quality netting.  Of course, some would include percentage discounts, and I would have to calculate to compare.  It’s a good thing I like math.  And it’s a good thing I stay out of social drama so I don’t need my own separate habitat.

Mushers need to do the same kind of shopping.  Which sled costs more? Who has the best deals on booties?  Food costs involve both pricing them out and comparing the nutrition levels of each.  Supplying a sled dog team would be the perfect activity to get 7th graders solving multi-step, real-life mathematical problems.

Coming back to my 60-year-old brain (oh my!), we headed back to the Lakefront in Anchorage.  As we settled into comfy chairs by the fireplace, we got ready to start writing.  Back to the land of literacy and the Iditarod ahead.

Once again, my brain started to go back to earlier times, when the literacy expectations were less complex.  Daily language activities are intended to help us become better editors of our own writing.  If I were writing as a 2nd grader, my first draft about rookie musher Blair Braverman might read something like this:

my favrit musher is blair she is a good riter

After editing,  it might look like:

My favorite musher is Blair. She is a good writer.

As a 4th grader, I’d develop my internal punctuation, using compound sentences.  My practice sentences might look like this:

blair braverman is a rookie musher she also writes for outdoor magazins

which would become:

Blair Braverman is a rookie musher, and she also writes for outdoor magazines.

As a 6th grader, I’d need to master more capitalization rules, and I’d need to use more sophisticated punctuation to develop sentence fluency.  My teachers lament that many of us STILL are having trouble with the basic end of sentence punctuation and internal punctuation (according to the 6th grade teachers who have our former 5th graders).  I’m pretty good with that, but our teachers are giving us language practice like this:

Blair braverman lives in mountain wisconsin she has thirty two dogs and she will be a rookie in the 2020 iditarod which starts march 2 2019  when she isnt mushing she writes articles for Outdoor magazin 

Can you see what I’d need to change?

By 8th grade,  I’d need strong mastery of conventions, and I’d need to be able to handle longer pieces.  I might write a piece that includes a quote from one of Blair’s Twitter posts.   At this point, there are some stylistic things that might look different from Blairs, but they would need to be functionally correct. Try improving this, then check her actual Twitter feed (this is from her pinned post) to see how she crafts the language.

Blair Braverman is a rookie musher from mountain wisconsin.  she has 20 dogs in training and 14 of them will run the iditarod in march.  recently she described her dogs in a twitter thread. Blair said  we have many dogs who can led the team but our true Lead Dog the pup who make each run hapen who get us through every storm is Pepe. pepe is smarter then all of us She will run forever and keep running. she is basically everyones mother.

I can’t wait to bring the math and literacy of Iditarod back to my class of 5th graders!  We have some extraordinary writers who would be nicely challenged with my 8th grader’s paragraph about Blair.  Let’s keep mathing and writing down the trail!