Alaska State Study

AlaskaOil, tundra, and 24 hours of light, welcome to our Alaska State Study.

A Bit of Alaska History

Alaska’s natives are Eskimos and are believed to have crossed the Bering Sea from Asia thousands of years ago.

The first Europeans to visit Alaska were the Russians who crossed the Bering Sea in search of new land and furs, especially sea otters.  They found furs and many grew wealthy.  Meanwhile, the natives suffered greatly from exposure to outsiders, partly from attacks though most Russians were peaceful, but mostly from diseases against which they had no immunity.
For this reason, entire villages were wiped out.

In 1784 the Russians first settled Kodiak Island.  The Russians established many more permanent settlements and trading posts over the next decade.

Europeans in Alaska

Later, in the late 1700s, Spain also tried to establish Alaska and the Pacific Northwest as colonies.  They explored much of the coastline, but the Spanish were a bit overextended at that period and were unsuccessful.  Meanwhile, the British, including Captain James Cook, also explored the Alaska coastline.

Wonder Lake with Mt. McKinley in the background. Denali National Park. CC license, Wikimedia.

Seward’s Folly

On April 9, 1867 Russia sold Alaska to the United States for $7,200,000.  Alaska was a poor investment for Russia (I bet they regretted it later when first gold and then oil were discovered), Russia was hurting for cash, and they sure didn’t want to sell it to the British.  The purchase became known as Seward’s Folly, Seward being the Secretary of state who pushed for the purchase of Alaska.  Accordingly to people in the U.S., Alaska was a worthless frozen wasteland.

In 1899 discovered gold near Nome, and Americans flooded northward into the territory.  Seward’s naysayers had to eat their words.  The city of Fairbanks began as a gold prospecting town.    In the early 1900’s Alaska expanded its commercial interests to timber and fishing.

Nome, Alaska.  Photo by Sir Mildred Pierce, CC license, Wikimedia.

Statehood

In 1959 Alaska finally became a state, after the discovery of oil made it clear that the area was economically viable and independent.  In 1968 the north slope oil fields near Prudhoe bay were discovered and explored.  Alaska is the only state that actually turns a profit from its natural resources and instead of taxing its citizens, pays them.  In 1977, the Trans-Alaska pipeline was completed.

Here is the 49 star flag of the United States that flew when Alaska became the 49th state. I took this picture on a recent trip to Alaska.

Fabulous Facts

  • The Alaska capital, Juneau, cannot be reached by road, only by air or by sea.
This is Juneau, Alaska. No roads connect it directly to anyplace because those sheer mountains you see in the background of this picture surround the city on all sides. Also, the airport has one of the shortest runways of any major airport, and when you combine that with the weather it makes for some harrowing landings. Photo by Alan Wu, CC license, Wikimedia.
  • The state sport is dog mushing.
  • A thirteen year old boy, Benny Benson designed Alaska’s flag which shows the big dipper and the northern star.

  • The tallest mountain in North America is Mt. McKinley in Alaska.
  • In terms of land area Alaska is by far the largest state, about 1/5 as large as the rest of the states combined.
  • Alaska is only 51 miles from Russia, closer than to the rest of the U.S.
This is a satellite image of the Bering Strait, which separates Alaska (right) from Russian Siberia (left) by only 51 miles (82 km). Image by NASA, public domain.
  • Barrow, Alaska is the northern most city in the U.S. and is completely dark for 2 months of the year.
  • The long daylight hours make it possible to grow some of the largest vegetables in the world there.
  • Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska makes up the path of the 800 mile long trans-Alaska pipeline.
  • A “sourdough” is someone who is sour on Alaska, but without the “dough” to get out.
  • Alaska doesn’t have counties like other states, but instead boroughs of populated areas and areas that are unincorporated.
  • Alaska’s motto is North to the Future, meaning that the future of America can be found in this northern state, with its still open territory and vast oil fields.

Map Exploration

We place Alaska and Hawaii in a little box down in the corner of our United States maps.  Even on world maps, which show Alaska in its proper place, the distortion at the far northern latitudes is great.  If you possibly can, use a globe when teaching about Alaska to find its true position and size.  To find details for mapping, though, you will also need a student atlas.  First, print out this Alaska Map and use the atlas to label these points.

Alaska web

Cities:

Salmon Catch
  • Anchorage
  • Juneau (capitol)
  • Fairbanks
  • Barrow
  • Valdez
  • Prudhoe Bay

Waters:

  • Gulf of Alaska
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Bristol Bay
  • Bering Sea
  • Bering Strait
  • Norton Sound
  • Beaufort Sea
  • Yukon River

Islands:

  • Kodiak Island
  • Alexander Archipelago
  • Aleutian Islands
  • Saint Lawrence Island

Landforms:

  • Alaska Peninsula
  • Mt. McKinley
  • Alaska Range
  • Brooks Range
  • Kuskokwim Mtns.

Other:

  • Trans-Alaska Pipeline

Explorations

  • Dog sledding is big in Alaska.  Pretend to go mushing.  Build a sled from a chair placed backward and have traces forward to your stuffed animal collection.  Learn these musher terms: basket = body of the sled, booties = slippers for dogs worn when conditions are too rough for their paws, Easy! = command for dogs to slow down, Gee = turn right, Haw = turn left, Hike! = go, Whoa = stop, rigging = lines and traces in dog harnesses.
  • Make an Alaska flag from construction paper and yellow paints.  Then go outside at night and find the Alaska constellations in the northern skies.
  • Make a northern lights painting
  • Try one of these Alaska Crafts.
  • Read Call of the Wild by Jack London, a story of the Alaska gold rush and the sled dogs that made it possible.

Additional Layers

  • What are the northern lights?  Where do they come from?
  • The northern part of Alaska is permanently frozen.  This is known as permafrost.  Learn more about it.  Read One Small Square: Arctic Tundra, by Donald Silver.
  • Learn about an Alaska animal like otters, polar bears, timber wolves, bald eagles, salmon, or whales.
My husband, Bob, with one of the salmon he caught on the Kenai River in Alaska.
  • Some of the interesting Alaska landforms include archipelagos, learn what an archipelago is and where else in the world they can be found.
  • Alaska is part of the Ring of Fire and experiences earthquakes and volcanic activity regularly, especially in the Aleutian islands.  Learn more about the Ring of Fire.  Watch Ring of Fire from IMAX.
  • Learn about the Alaska Natives.  You could learn about igloos, canoes, hunting, and totem poles, plus much more.
  • Look up some information about glaciers.

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3 Comments

  1. Heather

    Hi! I am so thrilled to find this!! I want to prepare my children (5) for our cruise through Alaska this coming summer. Is this Alaska State Study available as a download or did I miss it?
    Thanks!

    1. Our state studies were done as a series of blog posts with information and learning ideas. Most also include a free printable map. They are all available for free on our website, no need to purchase a unit. Our Year 4 curriculum (coming out beginning in the summer of 2016) will also include more in depth state studies. Our family traveled to Alaska for a beautiful vacation however, and I did write several other blog posts about it that you may find interesting. Check out this search query link to see several: http://layers-of-learning.com//?s=alaska. Hope you have a wonderful cruise! Sounds amazing!!
      Warmly,
      Karen

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