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The 1925 Serum Run
From Anchorage to Nome

Teacher Lesson



  • Applied Math
  • Arithmetic
  • Measurement
  • Health
  • Our Bodies
  • Social Studies
  • Geography



Brief Description

The year is 1925. Serum must get to Nome within six days to save the community from diphtheria. An Iditarod problem-solving quest for students!


Students will

  • learn about the history of the Iditarod sled dog race; and
  • research facts related to biology, sled dogs, and geography in order to put that history in perspective.


diphtheria, great race, Iditarod, vaccine, serum

Materials Needed

Computer with Internet access

Lesson Plan

The year is 1925. Serum must get to Nome within six days to save the community from diphtheria. In the midst of a severe blizzard, the only mode of transportation is by dogsled. But just a second! What is diphtheria? What is serum? How fast do dog sleds travel? How far is it from Anchorage to Nome? By researching the answers to those questions and others, students will learn about the Iditarod sled dog race from an historic (and biological) perspective.

Arrange students into groups, or have them work on the assignment individually. They assignment can be completed in class (allow 3 class periods to solve the problem, and 5 additional days to complete and turn in the results), or the assign the problems as homework, to be completed during the 2-week span of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

You might want to provide some background so students will have some context at the start of their research. The 1925 Serum Run to Nome offers an overview.

Below are the 12 tasks and questions that students should complete. Successful completion will be based on a rubric. [See rubric in the Assessment section below.] Provide students with a copy of that rubric ahead of time.


  • The serum needs to arrive within 90 hours.
    -- How fast do dogsleds travel?
    -- How far will they have to travel?
    -- Can they make it in time? (Include a written plan.)
    -- Create a detailed map showing the route and the daily progress the sled dogs will need to make in order to accomplish their goal.
  • Learn about diphtheria.
    -- What is diphtheria?
    -- How does an outbreak of diphtheria affect humans?
    -- What is the incubation time for the disease?
    -- How does the serum affect the disease?
  • Learn about vaccines and serums. -- What is a vaccine?
    -- How does it affect the body?
    -- Why are vaccines so important?
    -- What is the difference between a serum and a vaccine?

Students must:

  • use a minimum of 3 Web resources to solve the problem. Sources must be documented.
  • include a written explanation of their plan to get the serum to Nome by the deadline.
  • include a map detailing the route, the speed, and the estimated journey time.
  • display information in a written format with appropriate graphic elements (for example, maps or graphs).

(Note: Be sure to make students aware that text cut-and-pasted from the Internet is not acceptable.)



Before students start the activity, provide a copy of the following rubric (or one adapted for your use/expectations). The maximum score a student can receive using this rubric is 28.


  • 0 points: Displayed and explained -- either by writing or illustrating -- a few of the criteria. (0 to- 3 criteria)
  • 4 points: Displayed and explained -- either by writing or illustrating -- some of the criteria. (4 to 7 criteria)
  • 8 points: Displayed and explained -- either by writing or illustrating -- most of the criteria. (8 to 10 criteria)
  • 12 points: Displayed and explained -- either by writing or illustrating -- all of the criteria. (11 or 12 criteria)


  • 0 points: Used and listed only one source
  • 2 points: Used and listed two sources
  • 4 points: Used and listed 3 sources

Group Work

  • 0 points -- needs improvement: Works toward group goals only when prompted; contributes to the group only when prompted; needs occasional reminders to be sensitive to the feelings of others; participates in needed changes when prompted and encouraged.
  • 2 points -- good understanding: Works toward group goals without prompting; accepts and fulfills individual responsibilities within the group; contributes knowledge, opinions, and skills without prompting; shows sensitivity to the feelings of others.
  • 4 points -- thorough understanding: Consistently and actively works toward group goals; is sensitive to the feelings and learning needs of all group members; willingly accepts and fulfills individual responsibilities within the group; consistently and actively contributes knowledge, opinions, and skills.


  • 0 points: Finding task responses in the report is confusing; pages can't be easily found and/or the sequence of material is out of order.
  • 2 points: Finding task responses is confusing in some places, or seems out of order.
  • 4 points: Task responses are in order; there is a logical order to the presentation.


  • 1 point: Few or no graphic elements; visual representations do not contribute to understanding of task responses; did not use word processing.
  • 2 points: Graphic elements sometimes, but not always, contribute to the understanding of task responses; used word processing.
  • 4 points: Appropriate and thematic graphic elements are used to make visual connections that contribute to the understanding of task responses, concepts; used word processing.


Submitted By

Patrick Nolden, Soldotna (Alaska) High School


Last updated 03/01/2012

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