Texas SBOE chair shares science behind fabled Iditarod race

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March 1, 2013


Texas SBOE chair shares science behind fabled Iditarod race 


State Board of Education Chair Barbara Cargill often must kept a firm hand on the reins during board meetings but tomorrow she’ll trade in her gavel for mittens and shout “mush” when she joins a dog-sled team for the ceremonial start of the fabled Iditarod race.

She will ride with mushers during the first 14 miles during the ceremonial launch of the 1,049-mile race across Alaska. The race starts in Anchorage.  Thousands of people are expected to line the streets for this iconic event Saturday. The official start of the race will occur Sunday from the town of Willow.

Cargill, an educator from The Woodlands who runs a science camp that attracts more than 1,300 children each summer, was invited to present Thursday at the 2013 Iditarod Winter Conference for Educators and will participate in the ceremonial start of the race.

Her presentation focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education and related the activities to the race. “For example,” she said, “we turned on a blow dryer, pointed it upward, and predicted what would happen if a ping pong ball was placed in the stream of air.  It floats and hovers over the blow dryer due to the low pressure created by the rushing air.  This applies to the lead dogs in the race, especially on windy days or during storms. Those two dogs push through the air first, thus creating lower pressure behind them.”

“With a teacher's creativity and knowledge, lessons in any subject can be adapted in a way that engages children and allows them to predict, engage in hands-on experimentation, and draw conclusions.  That makes it more real for the children and the room becomes alive with excitement about learning,” Cargill said.

Because of her support of STEM education, ExxonMobil, a race sponsor, invited her to participate in the kick-off to the race itself.

A number of race-related lesson ideas for the core subject areas are available at http://iditarod.com/teacher/educators-prepare-for-the-race-now/. Unique geography lessons are available because a GPS device is attached to each dog sled, which allows students to map the progress of each sled team as it travels across the state. The site also offers free lessons for math and other science topics.

Cargill also had the opportunity this week to meet with Jim Merriner, chair of the Alaska State Board of Education, and discuss educational issues.

Race photo courtesy of J.B. Brackin