As all proud Alaskans know, Alaska is big. As a matter of fact, it is huge. Alaska is larger than the combined area of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and California. The state of Alaska has more coastline than the rest of the Lower 48 combined. Yes, Alaska is big.

High school students are required to take an Alaska Studies course as one of the graduation requirements to further the education and appreciation for Alaska. Delta High School Teacher Dave Schmidt is the one that leads students on their quest to understand more about the state we live in.

One of the annual exercises in Schmidt’s class is to create a map of the State of Alaska. The map that he is looking to see is not your average AAA road map. He encourages the students to delve into the many facets that define Alaska.

Land mass size is one thing, but the state curriculum goes way beyond size. Geography in Alaska is diverse, as is the climate. Alaska has an abundance of natural resources, whether it is in the form of minerals or creatures walking on land or swimming in the seas, lakes and rivers of our state. The resources are endless.

Alaska is much more than things that can be touched. Alaska has a proud and diverse culture including Alaska Natives, early settlers that came to a new frontier, immigrants that came from Russia, as well as newly arrived residents from the Lower 48.

This little bit only scratches the surface that the students seek to discover for this class.

When Schmidt hands out this assignment, he also clearly communicates that he expects impressive results from his students. He encourages them to research as many facets as they can and then display them on their maps showing how and where things are in the state. With any good map, a legend can oftentimes be more instructive than just the physical shape of the state. 

Schmidt highly encourages his students to deliver a high degree of accuracy, detail, creativity and neatness.

At the end of the map portion of the course, the students provide a presentation of their work and explain how their understanding of the state has been changed.

Student Emily Bevard commented that she learned that Alaska is much bigger than she anticipated. It was not the physical size, but the population, number of villages, and industries within the state. Bevard said, “I always thought of Alaska as this small place that probably nobody knew much about. It is much larger and significant than I ever imagined.”

Student Benjamin Bialik said that he was very compelled by the assigned project, which was intended to teach the different elements of the state. Bialik commented, “This project in my Alaska history class raised my awareness of the complexities and grandeur of the state of Alaska. The seemingly infinite number of towns and villages showed me just how vast the state really is.”  He continued, “The magnitude of every part of the state amazed me. It was truly an eye opening and realizing project, which will leave my view of our state changed.”

Tim Holoday can be reached at