Trail guide: Program gets kids out of classroom

Posted: Friday, November 19, 2010

When classrooms get hot and stuffy, Alaska's great outdoors beckons to teachers and restless students.

The U.S. National Forest Service, in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management, the Iditarod Historic Trail Alliance and Alaska Geographic have partnered to launch a program this year aimed at bringing the Iditarod Trail and the communities it winds through into classrooms.

Actually, Iditarod Trails to Every Classroom, as it's been dubbed, is really about making the trail itself the classroom.

Annette Hackart, the program coordinator with the Chugach National Forest in Anchorage, said the idea is to connect K-12 classroom teachers with their colleagues from Seward to Nome, as well as with the program's partners in federal, state and non-profit agencies.

So far, Hackart said they have 15 teachers involved from schools in Seward, Girdwood, Anchorage, the Matanuska and Susitna valleys, Galena, Cordova and Nome.

The involved teachers partake in workshops that focus on place-based education and service learning.

"What we hope teachers will do is take that training and combine it with local knowledge and resources along the trail, and develop a curriculum they can bring back into their classroom," Hackart said.

What makes the program unique from others like it, Hackart explained, is that instead of providing a prepackaged curriculum that may not work for every teacher or classroom, teachers develop their own and can adjust the material to their needs.

This gives the program wide flexibility and allows them to incorporate the trail into everything from language arts to science lessons.

While the program is still developing, she said some of the involved teachers have had their classes do projects that included studying streams, monitoring water quality and helping to mark the trail.

Hackart said research has shown that place-based learning, which seeks to use the local environment to teach a range of subjects, motivates students that might not do so as well in classroom settings to do better in outdoor hands-on activities.

"The idea is to roll this into a longer deeper experience for the kids so it's not a one time field trip," she said.

"Sometimes field trips tend to be isolated experiences for kids, but when you look at the curriculum through iTREC, it's a prolonged experience and it's richer for them."

Hackart said that they expect the program to gain traction in schools and develop interest this year. Next year they plan to send out an application to schools and let teachers apply.

"We're hearing back from our teachers that there's a lot of interest," Hackart said.

Dante Petri can be reached at

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