The most powerful Iditarod activity my classes and I use is adopting a musher.  I suspect it doesn’t really matter which musher you choose, because once you start getting to know them, you will find all sorts of connections.

This year, we chose Blair Braverman, a young woman from Mountain, Wisconsin. In addition to being a musher, Blair is a writer.  She has written many pieces about outdoor adventure, for magazines or in anthologies, and she has written a novel.  Looking around the social media, I found her on Twitter, and discovered she has a following of thousands of people. Her followers call themselves the #UglyDogs.  We decided that we would become #UglyDogs.

The fact that she is a writer helped me choose her to sponsor.  My students need to know that writers go on grand adventures, and that adventurers and dog lovers can be great writers. We also learned that Blair was not a reader until second grade, encouraging struggling readers to believe that they can master and love literacy.  I was already certain that she was the musher for us when I found something incredible: her parents live in our town!  Blair didn’t grow up in Corvallis, but her parents moved here for the university. 

Witing letters to mushers is super rewarding for a class.  Mushers are quite busy, so there are a couple ways to not cause problems. First, students should research first and use what they know to ask their questions.  It’s frustrating when students ask questions that are easily answered by the musher profile on iditarod.com

Second, the closer it gets to racing season the busier they are, so it’s best to time the letter writing so it doesn’t interfere with serious training and race preparation.  They will be training all fall, but they really get going when the snows start.  I aim to get letters written in October or November, before the snows are deep enough for mushing. 

We hit the jackpot with Blair.  She writes sweet, even tender stories (long threads in Twitter) about her dogs and about life with dogs. The more we read, the better we get to know her.  Our class has learned fun and quirky things about all her dogs, and students all have chosen favorites.  They’ve drawn pictures of her dogs, and told stories about them. Blair also posted video about preparing for the Iditarod, and responded to questions.

With her parents living in Corvallis, I reached out to see if Blair’s mom would come visit.  One of Blair’s dogs, Glory, had come to Corvallis to live because she wasn’t a big fan of pulling.  In her Twitter feed, Blair calls this #GloryGoesWest.  I was thrilled Blair’s mom AND Glory came to visit our class.  For some of my students, this was the most engaged they have been all year.  If they weren’t excited about Blair and sleddogs before, they sure were after the visit. 

When I went to Alaska to be part of the Iditarod education program, I was hoping to meet up with Blair.  First, I found her at the vet check.  Then, it turns out, she was invited to present at the Iditarod Educators Conference, and it was wonderful.  I also saw her at the meet and greet, and she sent a surprise for me to take back to my students (shhhhh!).  During the Restart, I was able to “handle” and help get her team to the start line.  I spent time with Blair’s mom and dad, and was thrilled to be able to walk along with her and her famous dogs.

Beyond literacy and research skills, adopting a musher grows empathy and compassion.  By incorporating service projects, raising money or creating things to send, students learn to think beyond themselves.

Mushers can be outstanding role models, and they can speak to the heart.  So far, our adopted mushers have been perfect.  I don’t think we’re just lucky, I think rookie mushers are good people. As soon as you take a look at the people who are challenging Iditarod for the first time, you will see connections that will spark your class. 

Lesson Plan:  Adopt A Rookie 

Developed by:  Mary Lynn Roush

 English Language Arts: Writing, Speaking, Language

     Technology:  Using the internet and presentation tools

     Service Learning: sponsorship

Topic:  Select, contact, communicate with, and support a musher who will be a rookie in the  Iditarod.
Grade Level: 4-8 (any grade with modifications)
Resources/References/Materials Teacher Needs:   Internet access, Facebook, WordPress, Facetime/Skype.
Lesson Summary:  Students adopt a musher who will be a rookie in the upcoming Iditarod.  We use the internet to connect with them, through email, snail mail, and social media.  After researching the musher’s website/blog or social media, students write letters to introduce themselves and to ask “informed” questions.  They  follow their progress in training and preparing for the Iditarod, and continue communication through mail, email, social media, and Skype or Facetime.  Students write informative articles about her, to post on our classroom blog.
Standards Addressed:  CCSS

1. CCSS.ELA-Reading Informational Text RI.4.1, 4.2, 4.4, 4.7.  Read and comprehend informational text and interpret information presented visually; refer to details, determine main idea, explain concepts in multiple contexts, and determine meaning of academic words;  integrate, compare, and contrast information from different sources.

2. CCSS.ELA-Writing  W 4.4, 4.5, 4.6.  Produce clear and coherent writing; use technology to interact with others.

3. CCSS.ELA-Speaking and Listening SL.4.1.  Engage effectively and collaboratively

4. CCSS.ELA-Language  L.4.1-5. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English, in writing and speaking; determine and use appropriate vocabulary.

5. Oregon  Educational Technology   ET.3 ET.6. Select, use, and troubleshoot tools effectively; Locate, organize, and use information from a variety of sources and media.

Learning Objectives

1. TLW use internet to gather information about our rookie musher.

2. TLW work with a partner to produce a well-crafted personal letter, which demonstrates meaningful knowledge about the audience.

3. TLW use written and internet media to continue correspondence with their rookie musher, and to share news about them in class publiacations (SeeSaw/blog)

4. TLW work collaboratively with the classroom to brainstorm, discuss, choose, and conduct service projects for their musher.



1. Reading standards will be assessed by evaluating concrete knowledge that has been incorporated into personal letters (1-4 rubric).

2. Writing and language standards will be assessed with the student letters (1-4 rubrics).

3. Educational technology will be assessed by informal observation, and by the information included in letters.

4. Speaking and listening standards will be assessed by informal observation of discussions and teamwork, as well as finished products.

Procedural Activities:

1. Select a rookie from the musher list on Iditarod.com.  Either make the selection, or give students a short list to choose from.  Introduce students to their rookie musher,  invite students to access their blog, website, and social media.  Preview and preteach appropriate use of social media, and work with the district technology team to manage resources that can be accessed by students.  Discuss the reasons why the musher is an excellent choice for the class, and how they might interact and support the musher.

2. With partners, students research the rookie musher’s background, interests, career, mushing, and other information, so that they can ask thoughtful and knowledgeable questions.

3. With their partner, students write a personal letter to Heidi.  After writing and editing a rough draft (with some assistance), they compose the final letter.

4. Students can choose to work alone or in teams to write and produce informative news about the rookie musher, in writing and video for a class blog/Seesaw/FlipGrid.

5. Students continue to follow and correspond with the musher, and brainstorm ways to support them, choosing feasible and appropriate projects.  Some examples: booties, dog blankets, hand warmers, socks, or ask the musher.

Materials Students Need:

Access to the internet, including social media that is managed to allow teacher access to a wide range of musher resources and media.  Also, appropriate student access for them to do independent research.  Start with Iditarod.com, and check the mushers’ kennel or personal websites.

Paper and pencils.

Media of any kind to create and publish news about the musher.


1:1 student tablets/laptops/stations with internet, managed social media, apps for word processing, presentations, video/movies.

Workflow/digital portfolios for sharing: Seesaw, Flipgrid, Google Slides, etc.