Tag Archives: Google Maps

Idita-Type™: Google Flight Simulator and the Iditarod Air Force

Iditarod Air Force Support

Okay, so if I open up the use of Google Earth to the students, I’m seriously thinking about incorporating the Flight Simulator tool into one of the positions. The role of the Pilot will be to provide air support for the team on the ground. Read about the function and importance of the Iditarod Air Force here.

The student who qualifies for Pilot will have to demonstrate the ability to perform touch-n-go skills at one of the airstrips along the Iditarod trail, such as Nikolai in the image above.

I will have one Pilot sit in the front of the room and deliver supplies at designated airports along the trail. The forward progress must be ahead of the ability of the teams to place each day’s pins and fill out the Trail Log.

The Pilot will be responsible for posting a screenshot of the trail topography on each day’s shared Trail Log in the Food Drop section and maintaining a Flight Log Book.

Screen shot 2016-03-24 at 9.00.50 PM
Piper J3 Cub at Rohn using Google Earth browser plugin

Trail Log

Pilot Log Book

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Pilot Log Book

Pilot Log Book Example



Google Earth Airport Layers

If you choose to incorporate Pilots into your teams, you can download a .KMZ layer of the airports and FAA sectionals along the trail here. If you want more detailed information from the FAA, check out these overlays:


Intermediate Skill Level Pilots

Intermediate pilots can use GEFS Online, but browser problems with the CesiumJS version and school district filters will have to be solved. The older Google Earth browser plugin through the old.gefs-online site actually has better terrain resolution for the remote sections of the Iditarod trail, but you’ll still have try different browsers for it to work right.

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Old gefs-online detail entering Rainy Pass
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New gefs-online entrance to Rainy Pass

Advanced Skill Level Pilots

What would really be nice would be to have X-Plane running for the students who really can fly a plane.  Here in Alaska, that’s not all that uncommon.

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X-Plane Piper Super Cub Cockpit

Idita-Type™: Incorporating Google Earth

Depending on the sophistication of your students’ skill, they can incorporate Google Earth 3D topography images into their Google MyMap of the race.  The header of this article is an image of the entrance to Rainy Pass, looking northeast toward Denali with the KMZ file showing the trail. (This is also a great place to show Aliy Zirkle’s You-Tube video of her team entering the Alaska Range.)

To be able to use the image on the map, your students will need a place to upload it on the internet. My sixth-graders have accounts on a Piwigo site that I moderate. They’ve used it for other projects, and it would be fantastic on this one. If you don’t want to set up a Piwigo site, your Team, Wheel, and Swing dogs can upload images directly from Google Earth into your shared Google Doc Trail Log.

Google Earth image incorporated in MyMaps
Google Earth image
Google Earth image uploaded to Team shared Google Doc file

You can also use the Weather layer and Sunlight functions in Google Earth for advanced possibilities of time-of-day calculations for trail position.

Google Earth Weather and Daylight function

Of course, if you allow your students to use Google Earth, somebody is going to start having too much educational fun and be using the flight simulator tool instead of mushing.  Maybe that’s a job for a position that has not been incorporated: Team Support.

Google Earth Flight Simulator entering Rainy Pass

Idita-Type™: Adding You-Tube Videos

A great feature of the online Google map is the ability to add You-Tube videos of mushers’ accounts along the trail. Students will be able to view actual race footage and interviews, thereby gaining an accurate sense of how beautiful, difficult, and dangerous the Iditarod race truly is.

I use a custom icon to show where videos are included on the map. Custom icons can be generated from an online image, or one that you create yourself and upload.


Idita-Type™ Grade 3

So…the 6th graders thought it was too hard for the 5th graders, who thought it was too hard for the 4th graders, who made it the farthest in one class session.  The 4th graders thought it was too hard for 3rd grade, who were offended.

I took extra time today and walked through every step of the process.  We even spent some time watching amazing You-Tube videos by Aliy Zirkle along the trail.

After an hour, 3rd grade did not officially start, but I really believe they can handle the technology skills necessary.  They may even be competitive with the other grades.


Idita-Type™ Grade 4


Absolutely awesome performance by both Grade 4 teams today! They listened well during the pre-race briefing, they found their official shared map in their Google My Maps account, Wheels got daily data and passed it on to Mushers, Mushers entered data in the Excel workbook and passed the info on to the Leads who measured trail miles, Swings edited daily position pins, and Team dogs placed pins with pictures and text.

Great job, students!

Idita-Type: All of the excitement of two dog teams in one room

The “second-ever in the history of the world” Iditarod typing race took place today at Eagle Academy Charter School.  Today’s contestants were two teams of 6th graders.

The similarities between the racers’ positions and a real dog team were amazing.

  • The Musher has to keep track of all of the team members, making sure that they are completing their tasks.
  • The Wheel dogs are responsible for getting the team going on each new day’s run.
  • The Team dogs keep track of all of the sights along the trail.
  • The Swing dogs back up and assist the Leader
  • The Lead dogs have to figure out where the trail is and how far the team is getting.
  • The Race Marshal makes sure all of the rules are being followed and verifying official team positions.

The refinements I discussed yesterday made the process much smoother today. I made a new document for the Team Dogs: every one of them had their own Trail Log to keep track of the pins they created on the shared map.

We still had the issue of one person losing the trail map, and it didn’t reappear even with a different browser. Don’t know what to think about that.

Other changes: have the Swing Dogs be in charge of providing pictures and text to each day’s position pin.  Make the text a journal entry of how their team performed.


Ahhh, the bleeding edge of technology…

The Iditarod Typing Race and the Risks of Innovation: What could possibly go wrong?

The first ever in the history of mankind Iditarod Typing Race took place this afternoon at Eagle Academy Charter School in Eagle River, Alaska.  Contestants were two teams of 5th grade technology students. After years of skill development and weeks of planning, the race was a tremendous learning experience in the “We Love Technology” department.


  1. The wireless keyboard for the main instructor’s workstation (which displays on the SMART board) runs on battery power.  Guess when the battery decided to go kaput.
  2. Files that contained crucial data for each day of the race were shared with each team’s Wheel Dogs via Google Apps. They did not show up when the students logged in to their accounts.
  3. No matter what we tried, one team’s official map also did not show up in one of the Swing Dog’s Google Apps account.
  4. Two students’ official map did not show the Common Trail.

I’ll do some troubleshooting and see if the issues are individual workstations, browsers, or sharing privileges. The battery for the keyboard is easy enough.

A parent volunteer who works as a structural engineer was there to help, so we eventually were able to make some forward progress.  He told me afterward that all-digital projects in his line of work are not trusted; hard copies are much more reliable and secure.

The next class to run the race will be the 6th grade tomorrow afternoon. Changes I’m going to make:

  1. Print hard copies pre-race of Daily Data for each team.
  2. Use only one online map for Swing and Lead dogs.
  3. Print hard copy Trail Logs for every Team and Wheel Dog.
  4. Assign specific sections of the trail to each level of the team.

I’m also going to spend more time for pre-race instruction going through a one-day round, showing demonstrating what I expect for every position on the team.

I’m looking forward to a more successful race tomorrow.

Iditarod Typing Race: Race Day Events


Setup: Race Marshal uses three terminals: one for Team 1, one for Team 2, and one for the Race Marshal’s predetermined team positions for each day of the race.

  1. All students gather in the instructional area for briefing.
  2. Display seating assignments as per Team Profile sheets.
  3. Review Team Position Roles and display Documents
    • Trail Log: Hard-copy to Wheels to Musher and through the Team to Lead
    • Excel Workbook: in Musher’s Google Drive
    • Official Google Map: Lead’s Google My Maps; editing privileges with whole team.
  4. Explain and demonstrate: Using the Ruler tool in Google Maps to measure exact distance from the last checkpoint. Display and use both teams’ actual numbers to show pins for Day 1. Wheels record data on Trail Log.
  5. Explain and demonstrate: Team members adding pins with text and photos to the shared map.
  6. Explain that once Musher okays Lead’s position on the map, Musher brings Trail Log to Race Marshal for approval.
  7. Explain that Race Marshal compares Team’s Google Map position  with Race Marshal’s own map. If they match, Race Marshal will release the data for Day 2, and so on throughout the race.


Race Marshal gives 10 second countdown.  Team members disperse to positions and begin. Race Marshal displays timer.


First team to Nome wins. Prizes to be determined.

Implementing the Iditarod Typing Race

I am currently using this project on grades 3 through 6. The technology skills required are:

  • logging into an online typing skills website and completing timed tests
  • navigating through a multi-sheet Microsoft Excel workbook and entering data in appropriate places
  • acquiring relevant Checkpoint and Milepost positions from the Excel workbook
  • opening and editing a shared online Google Apps Map
  • using the Ruler tool to pinpoint exact location of each day’s position
  • editing Checkpoints to include relevant pictures and text
  • placing relevant pictures on the online map as the team progresses
  • researching relevant trail, geography, and weather information in order to fill out a shared Google Doc trail log for each day of the race

The activity is divided unto different stages. This article will explain how to get ready for the race by Typing Tests, Team Selection, Team Positions, Position Responsibilities and Seating Assignments, Creation of Official Map and Workbook, Creation of Google Earth files, and Creation of Shared Daily Data files.

Setup: Day One Student Prep

  1. Students will need to have 14 one-minute typing tests; one for each day of the Iditarod.  Timed tests must be completed with at least 95% accuracy to be counted. All of the tests must be completed within a single class period.

Setup: Day Two Pre-Race Teacher and Student Prep

  1. I will pick equal teams based on students’ typing test scores. I will then create matched teams by splitting the two slowest typists, the next two faster typists, etc. The top typist of each team will be designated Musher. The second fastest typist will be Lead Dog. The next two fastest typists will be Swing Dogs, the two slowest will be Wheel Dogs, and the rest will be Team Dogs. The students will give themselves dog names. The team will be named after the musher.
  2. The Race Marshal will prepare and share read-only Daily Data sheets for Wheel Dogs after each day’s position on the official online map has been verified.
  3. The Musher will be responsible for the team’s Excel workbook. The Mushers will add their names and the dog names to the Data sheet.  The Musher will be in position 1, the Lead Dog in position 2, Swing Dogs in 3 and 4, Team Dogs in 5 through 14, and Wheel Dogs in 15 and 16. The Musher will assign seating positions as follows:
    Swing Lead Swing
    Team  Team Team
    Team  Team Team
    Team  Team Team
    Wheel  Musher Wheel
  4. The Lead Dog will be responsible for the official Google Map. The official map will be created in the Lead Dog’s Google Apps account, and shared with editing privileges with the other members on the team . The official map will be shared with the Race Marshal with viewing only privileges. The official map will also be shared with the opponents’ Musher, with viewing only privileges.
  5. The Swing Dogs will assist the Lead Dog in maintaining the accuracy of the Google Map.
  6. The Team Dogs will be responsible for determining the approximate position of the team after each day’s data has been entered. They will work in pairs on the online Google Map and pass that information on to Swing Dogs. The Team Dogs are also responsible for adding pins with embedded pictures and text as the race progresses.
  7. The Wheel Dogs will receive each day’s data in a read-only document from the Race Marshal. The data will be recorded on a hard-copy document and handed to the musher.
  8. The Musher will enter the daily data in the official Microsoft Excel workbook, then record on the hard copy the team’s exact position passed the last checkpoint. The Musher will return the document to the Wheel Dogs, who will pass it forward to the Team Dogs.
  9. When the daily data sheet makes it up to the Swing and Lead Dogs, the Musher will hand-carry it to the Race Marshall once the exact position of the team has been verified on the official online map.
  10. Additional rules and instructions will be discussed on Race Day by the Race Marshal.

A Summary of Team Responsibilities can be found here.

The Idita-Type Microsoft Excel workbook can be found here.

Iditarod Map followup

Since publishing the IditaRead KMZ map and the corresponding Microsoft Excel workbooks, I’ve had the opportunity to introduce them to several of my computer lab classes, and two teachers who are implementing them.

The 6th grade, 5th grade, and 4th grade classes learned how to download the KMZ file and save it in their Documents folder or flash drive.  They then uploaded the file into their Anchorage School District Google Apps accounts. and imported the file into a new Google map.

Generally the process was smooth, complicated only by glitches in the lab computers, which were of two types: dysfunctional browsers and restricted file-saving permissions. As is the case with all technology idiosyncrasies, we worked around the problems and the students all have their own version of the map.

The 3rd grade class is doing a little different project.  The classroom teacher downloaded his own KMZ file, uploaded it to his Google map, added individual student names to the Team icons and assigned them a checkpoint to research.  He then shared the map with me, I uploaded a copy to my Project Documents page, the students downloaded their own copy and imported the file into their own Google map.