7th Grade Problem-Based Learning

Madison Huber and Jonathen Schatz show off their Iditabits product during the STEM survival and Iditarod unit presentation at Cheney Middle School. Photos by David Samson

Cheney 7th-graders create innovations for Iditarod project

Students at Cheney Middle School in West Fargo had a tall task when they were given a week-and-a-half to research, design and test a new innovation to help Iditarod dog mushers during a fictitious race across North Dakota.

In the “I Will Survive!” project, 96 seventh-grade students in groups of two or three created a tangible invention to help the dogs or mushers complete and survive the long race across North Dakota. They presented their projects Friday in the school’s lunch commons.

Before students started their projects, they heard a presentation from a local veterinarian who discussed the problems and obstacles dogs and mushers face during an Iditarod race. The real Iditarod race began in Alaska in 1973, with a route from Anchorage to Nome. Mushers and dogs can face whiteout conditions and extremely cold temperatures.

Grace Planteen and Victoria Smith created a “doggy care kit” that includes a blanket with a heating system, a dog booty for paws and organic dog treats.

“We spent like a whole day thinking of many different designs and it just came to us,” Smith said.

“There was so much stuff that the mushers need that they can’t always fit all of their stuff they need for the dogs and so we thought, ‘Why can’t the dogs carry their own,’” Planteen added.

Items in the doggy care kit fit into a lightweight pack the girls designed to fit on the dogs. They even tested the packs on their own dogs.

Smith and Planteen said they both enjoyed working on the project. “I really liked creating the prototype,” Smith said. “I thought it was really fun to interact with it and just working with another person on making this happen.”

Two other students, Abigail Carlson and Elizabeth Lokosang, created a better braking system for sleds used in the Iditarod race that would make it safer for the mushers to slow down.

“We had a lot of ideas, but this is the one we really wanted to do because the mushers were falling off their sleds and getting hurt,” Lokosang said.

Carlson said she enjoyed the hands-on design part of the project and not the research, but said the project required her to become a better researcher.

Abigail Carlson and Elizabeth Lokosang talk about their Total Terrain project for the STEM survival, Iditarod unit. David Samson

Abigail Carlson and Elizabeth Lokosang talk about their Total Terrain project for the STEM survival, Iditarod unit. David Samson

The new braking system uses a hand brake to slow or stop the sled instead of the musher stepping on two brakes on the rear of the sled. Carlson said the current braking system leads to mushers falling off the sleds more easily.

Another pair of students created “Iditabars,” an energy bar snack for dogs to help them get the nutrients and energy they need to complete the race. Madison Huber and Jonny Schatz developed the recipe after extensive research. They also had to develop a way to keep the bars together after baking them proved impossible.

“Instead of baking them we froze them, so they’re like frozen dog treats,” Huber said.

Huber tested the treats on her own dog.

“He loved it,” she said. “He was just wagging his tail and he was running all night.”

Cheney Middle School seventh-grade teacher Karen Lietz said the project helps students prepare for future solution-based career fields.

“These kids when they graduate, they will have all of those 21st-century skills, with collaboration, creativity,” Lietz said. “They’ll be able to communicate effectively with others. They’ll have developed those soft skills as well as the problem-solving skills that are real-world.”

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