Welcome to Notebooking Across the USA, a series of unit studies covering each state in the U.S. in order of admission to the union. You can find the landing page for this series with links to each states unit study as they are published, along with tips, suggestions, and recommended resources for this series here: Notebooking Across the USA. These unit studies are written with homeschool students grades 3-8 in mind.
The most recommended resource for this series is the USA States Pack, and while I believe it will be very helpful if you will be studying all of the states, it is not required. If you do wish to purchase the pack, use the code benandmeUSA for a 25% discount.
Alaska Unit Study
Known as “America’s last frontier”, Alaska became the 49th state to join the union on January 3, 1959. It is the largest of the 50 states in the Union covering 656,425 square miles. The majority of Alaska’s borders are water. The Arctic Ocean is to the north; the Gulf of Alaska, the Pacific Ocean and Canada are to the south; Canada is also to the east, and the Bering Sea is to the west.
The climate of Alaska is dependent on where you are in the state. The most northern part of Alaska experiences and Arctic Climate year round. This means that their summers are cool and the winters are long and cold. It is not unusual to see snow year round. The Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian Island chain, and the Gulf of Alaska area are prone to the majority of the storms that come from the North Pacific. South central Alaska, as well as the interior of Alaska, has a subarctic climate with summers that that are cool and short. The capital city of Juneau and extending into the southeast panhandle is an Oceanic climate. The northern parts tend to see a subarctic oceanic climate.
The land across Alaska has various attributes. There are mountains across the south and southeast of the state. These are the Pacific Mountains. There are uplands and lowlands in the central part of Alaska between the Pacific Mountains and a portion Alaska’s Rocky Mountain range to the north. To the north, as far as you can go in Alaska, is the Arctic Coastal Plain. The land here reaches to the Arctic Ocean and is permanently frozen. In this permafrost land, no trees grow; however, in the spring the surface thaws just enough for grass and wildflowers to grow making it a short lived tundra.
Population: 739,818 (48th largest in the U.S.)
Nickname: The Last Frontier
Alaska is considered “The Last Frontier” of the United States due to the fact that is a considerable distance from the lower 48 states.
Motto: North to the Future
The motto of Alaska was made official in 1967 as the state was celebrating it’s centennial year. It was coined by newsman Richard Peter and represents the fact that Alaska was a land full of promise.
Agriculture: Milk, eggs, cattle, hogs, lambs, reindeer, nursery products, potatoes, oats, and timber.
Fishing Industry: Cod, pollock, rockfish, shrimp, snow crab, king crab, and salmon.
Industry: Fish product processing and petroleum.
Mining: Oil, gold, zinc, coal, and lead.
Have your students color and label an outline map of Alaska. Include the state capital of Juneau. Also include the largest city of Anchorage. Be sure to include Denali, Alaska’s highest point; Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in North America; and the Yukon River, the longest river in North America. Don’t forget the Aleutian Islands, consisting of 1,100 miles between the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
The state flag was adopted in 1927. The flag has a blue background that represents the state flower, the forget-me-not, and the vast sky seen over the state of Alaska. The north star represents Alaska being the northernmost state in the union. The dipper in the lower left corner is a symbol for the Great Bear and strength.
The state seal of Alaska was designed and adopted prior to statehood in 1910. The symbols shown in the seal are as follows: the Northern Lights are represented by rays above the mountains, the railroads are represented by a train, the transportation by sea is represented by ships, mining is symbolized by smelter, agriculture is represented by a farmer and his horse and wheat, the wealth of the forests in Alaska is symbolized by trees, fishing and wildlife are represented by fish and seals.
Alaska State Bird: Willow Ptarmigan
In 1955, the willow ptarmigan was designated as the state bird. The unique pheasant-like bird changes colors between seasons, light brown in the summer and snow white in the winter.
Alaska State Flower: Forget-Me-Not
The forget-me-not was adopted as the state flower in 1917.
Alaska State Tree: Sitka Spruce
The sitka spruce was adopted as the state tree in 1962.
State Song: Alaska’s Flag (click here to listen to the state song with the lyrics featured)
The words to the state song, adopted in 1955, were written by Marie Drake and the music was composed by Elinor Dusenbury.
Learn about Alaska’s state government here: Government
Flora and Fauna
Trees commonly found in Alaska are dependent on the climate and the geographical area of the state. White Spruce, Paper Birch, and Quaking Aspen are typically found in the interior. Black Spruce and Tamarack in wetlands. Red Alder and Black Cottonwood in the rain forests. In areas where the soil does not drain well, Mountain hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Alaska Yellow-Cedar, and the Shore Pine are typically found.
Mammals native to Alaska include Brown Bear, Inland Grizzly, Lynx, Beaver, Grey Wolf, Red Squirrel, Dall Sheep (subarctic mountain ranges), Sitka Blacktail Deer (coastal rainforests of southeast Alaska), Marten, Elk (Southeast Alaska and the Kodiak Island), Porcupine, Moose, Red Fox, Musk Ox, Black Bear, Polar Bear (the Arctic Ice Pack), Coyote, Snowshoe Hare, North American River Otter, Wolverine, and the Muskrat.
It is believed that the first settlement in what is known today as Alaska came about when a group of Russians land there in 1648. During the 1700s several European explorers came into Alaska. Some were curious about the land, some were hunting sea otter pelts for fur trade. In 1784, a group of Europeans settled on the Aleutian Islands to set up a fur trading post. Spain also explored and laid claim to parts of Alaska in the late 1700s. Their fort was built in Nootka Sound. The Russian-American Company also built settlements in the 1800s to help expand southeast Alaska. The capital of the Russian-American territory was Sitka. Russian influence can be seen in city and town names and also in churches across modern-day Alaska.
In 1867 the United States, under the direction of Secretary of State William Seward, purchased Russian’s portion of Alaska. The total sale price was $7.2 million dollars, or roughly 2 cents an acre. In the beginning, Alaska was mostly governed by the U.S. military but in 1884, it became a district of the U.S. For approximately 10 years, Sitka was the only area that inhabited Americans. Other areas of Alaska still showed signs of the early settlements from Russia and Spain. Folks from Norway and Sweden also made their way to Alaska to settle. Gold was found in Alaska in the late 1800s – early 1900s. This discovery, like many other states in the western United States, brought many people into Alaska looking to find their fortune. In 1912, Alaska became an organized territory.
Three of the Aleutian Islands were invaded by the Japanese during World War II. For a little more than a year, the Japanese occupied these islands. There were fatalities at the hands of the Japanese for the citizens of the islands during this time.
As a result of the Japanese invasion, the U.S. built military bases in Alaska boosting the population. Alaska officially became a state on January 3, 1959. Five years later, in 1964, the 2nd most powerful earthquake hit Alaska causing devastating damage to the state and it’s people. Four year later, in 1968, oil was discovered in Alaska. This proved to be a huge economic boost for Alaska. Pipelines were built and the state continues to reap the benefits of this discovery today.
Other Uses for Notebooking Pages
dictation and copywork
draw and write
vocabulary and spelling words
recording reading lists
plant and animal classification
Road Trip Alaska
If you have a chance to visit the state of Alaska, be sure you don’t miss these sites. If you won’t be visiting, take a virtual field trip by clicking on the name of the site. Have your student create Travel Journal notebooking pages to record what they learn.
Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America. There are roughly six million acres of land in the Denali National Park. Visitors to Denali can hike, view wildlife, bike, backpack, and more.
Covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines and deep sheltered fjords, Glacier Bay National Park is a highlight of Alaska’s Inside Passage and part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site—one of the world’s largest international protected areas. From sea to summit, Glacier Bay offers limitless opportunities for adventure and inspiration.
America’s largest national park, Wrangell St. Elias is a vast national park that rises from the ocean all the way up to 18,008 ft. Mount St. Elias. At 13.2 million acres, it’s the same size as Yellowstone Nat. Park, Yosemite Nat. Park, and Switzerland combined! Within this wild landscape, people continue to live off the land as they have done for centuries. This is a rugged, beautiful area filled with opportunities for adventure.
At the edge of the Kenai Peninsula lies a land where the ice age lingers. Nearly 40 glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield, Kenai Fjords’ crowning feature. Wildlife thrives in icy waters and lush forests around this vast expanse of ice. Sugpiaq people relied on these resources to nurture a life entwined with the sea. Today, shrinking glaciers bear witness to the effects of our changing climate.
Katmai National Monument was established in 1918 to protect the volcanically devastated region surrounding Mount Katmai and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Today, Katmai National Park and Preserve remains an active volcanic landscape, but it also protects 9,000 years of human history as well as important habitat for salmon and thousands of brown bears.
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center preserves Alaska’s wildlife through research, education and animal care.
A 13.6 mile glacier located in Mendenhall Valley is worth the visit to Mendenhall Lake. The Mendenhall glacier is one of 38 glaciers in the Juneau Ice Field. Glaciers and icebergs are not the only site to see, there are trails to hike and wildlife that can be seen in its natural habitat.
A renowned cultural center and museum where people can come to expand their understanding of Alaska’s first people. This cultural center is designed to enhance self-esteem among Native people and to encourage cross-cultural exchanges among all people.
The largest museum in Alaska, the Anchorage Museum is a community-based institution with exhibits and programs on the art, history, and cultures of Alaska. Over 20 exhibitions are presented each year to more than 200,000 visitors. The Museum also presents a full calendar of public programs and art classes.
There is a rainforest in Alaska. It is a 40 acre reserve that includes trees, wildflowers, wildlife,and marine life. Visitors can hike, visit a historic sawmill, see a native totem-pole carver, and more. The sanctuary is home to wildlife that includes bald eagles, seals, many types of birds, and black bears.
Located on the world’s largest seaplane base, Lake Hood, at Anchorage International Airport, the Alaska Aviation Museum celebrates Alaska’s rich aviation history. Click on the Explore Tab to learn more about exhibits, education, tours and the Hall of Fame.
The refuge headquarters houses a visitor center that depicts not only the wildlife that inhabit the region, but a historical perspective on the use of the USFWS refuge by the Yup’ik Eskimo population in the area. There is a small museum that exhibits wildlife, interprets the uniqueness of tundra and includes a relief map showcasing the expanse and ecological diversity of the refuge.
Famous People from Alaska
Wyatt Earp – thought not from AK, Earp lived in Alaska for many years during the Alaska gold rush. He is known for being the sheriff and deputy town marshal of Tombstone, AZ.
Jack London – author of classic novel The Call of The Wild
John Muir – explorer that studied the glaciers in Glacier Bay. His findings sparked tourism in Alaska.
Dorothy G. Page – known as the “Mother of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race”. The race is 1,049-mile dogsled race across Alaska.
Interesting Facts about Alaska
The northern lights, known as the Aurora borealis (northern lights) can be seen approximately 243 a year in Fairbanks, AK
Alaska is less about 50 miles from Russia across the Bering Strait.
Twenty-five percent of the oil produced in the U.S. comes from Alaska
Denali is the highest peak in North America.
Alaska has 3,000 rivers and approximately 3 million lakes.
Alaska has three coastlines on three different seas.
Alaska is home to the only World War II battle fought on American soil. This occurred after the Aleutian Islands were invaded by the Japanese.
The largest seal colony in the world is on the Pribilof Islands.
Approximately ⅓ of Alaska is within the Arctic Circle.
Arts and Crafts
Create a nightscape of the Aurora Borealis
Try these crafts and activities related to the Iditarod race
Here is a Totem Pole craft that will give you a little history of Alaska
Make an igloo out of sugar cubes and styrofoam balls
Try this activity to see how glacier movement affect the earth
Learn more about oil
Create your own Iditarod Race map
Make your own sled out of household items
Become a Glacier Bay Web Ranger
Alaska Resource List
Book Basket (Picture Books)
L is for Last Frontier: An Alaska Alphabet by Carol Crane
Under Alaska’s Midnight Sun by Deb Vanasse
Alaska by Shelley Gill
The Blizzard’s Robe by Robert Sabuda
Aurora: A Tale of the Northern Lights by Mindy Dwyer
Alaska’s Dog Heroes by Shelley Gill
The Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie S. Miller
Togo by Robert J. Blake
Akiak: A Tale from the Iditarod by Robert J. Blake
Salmon Stream by Carol Reed-Jones
A King Salmon Journey by Debbie S. Miller
Totem Tale by Deb Vanasse
Book Basket (Non-Fiction)
A Child’s Alaska by Claire Rudolf Murphy
Once Upon Alaska: A Kid’s Photo Book by Mark Kelley
Wildlife in Alaska by Maya Lee Shye
Northern Lights by Martha E.H. Rustad
Wyatt Earp: Wild West Lawman by Elaine Landau (this book is out of print but may be available at your library)
Book Basket (Chapter Books)
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
I suggest creating a “unit study book basket” (a laundry basket will do) to fill with books from the book basket lists. You can use these books in your instructional time, for reading aloud, or for reading time for your students. Some of the nonfiction books have activities, experiments, and other hands-on learning opportunities to enrich your unit study.
Experience Alaska through these videos
Tour Denali virtually
Learn more about the Aurora Borealis and what causes it
Learn about the Life Cycle of Salmon.
Visit this site to view virtual tours of some of the most beautiful spots in Alaska.
Did you see something important I missed? Share in the comments and I may add it!