Real World Math: Project Based Learning - Iditarod Challenge

In this version of the legendary race, students get to mush a team of sled dogs 1049 miles across Alaska from the comfort of their computers. 

Using the distance formula and data found in the Iditarod Challenge Google Earth file, each student will calculate the time it takes for them to reach each of the 22 race checkpoints.  A set of Iditarod Fortune cards will personalize triumphs or tragedies along the way as each racer’s speeds increase or decrease.  Conversions between time in decimal hours to hours and minutes will be needed, as well as adding on elapsed time.  The included Master Iditarod Time Sheet will help the teacher keep track of students’ times and to check their work.  

The Iditarod Sled Dog Race alternates routes each year, between a northern route in even numbered years and a southern route during odd numbered years (i.e. 2015).  Whether you follow this or not, be sure to use the Kmz Download, Student Checkpoint Sheet, and Iditarod Time Sheets from the same section.

The activity is intended as a long term assignment that requires only 10 minutes each class time, but lesson extensions can make this an extensive project-based learning experience.  The Google Earth file contains several dozen links to experts of the race in online web content.  This information is incorporated in an Iditarod WebQuest that guides students to answers on topics such as The Anatomy of a Sled Dog Team and The Iditarod Air Force.  There is lots of information, links, and videos in this activity that your students should find interesting.

[Note: If you are unaware, there is a compatibility issue with YouTube videos in Google Earth on Mac computers.  It has to do with the version of Adobe Flash you are using.  If the videos don’t work for you, I’ve added links to them in the placemarks that may play in the main window, otherwise you can copy and paste the link into a browser.  There is a workaround for this problem, but it isn’t easy.]

This project could also be turned into a spreadsheet activity where students manage or construct a spreadsheet to keep track of their times.  The more I work with and format spreadsheets the more I feel this is a worthy endeavor for students.  Use your imagination and your colleagues, and you can come up with many cross-curricular lessons.

See you in Nome!


  • Calculate time using the distance formula
  • Convert elapsed time between decimals and minutes
  • Add elapsed time

Teacher Notes
Fortune Cards
Student Checkpoint Sheet
Sample Checkpoint Sheet

Iditarod Time Sheet – Google Doc
Iditarod Time Sheet – Excel

Technology Topics
GPS & Satellites, Online & Software Tools
Math Topics
Measurement & Time, Ratios, Rates & Percents
Social Studies Topics
American History, Geography
Middle School, High School, Educator
6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade

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