The Journey to Gold Country
The year is 1849 and you have just received confirmation from President Polk that gold has been discovered in the mountains of California. Swarms of people are moving West to strike it rich, well hopefully.
Read aloud John S. Tatchin's 1852 Letter. Have students think about the letter and discuss with a partner before whole group discussion.
The letter was written from John Tatchin to his mother on December 27, 1852. Discuss with the class what is apparent from the letter. Can you answer these questions after reading the letter:
Now that the students have been briefly introduced to the Gold Rush, create a KWL chart as a whole class. K--What do the students already know? What information or myths are they bringing to the lesson? W-- What questions so the students have about the subject, or what they would like to know about the Gold Rush. L--What the students have learned or answered, according to their questions. This chart will be used daily as we learn more about the Gold Rush. After creating the chart, teacher will briefly introduce the following websites. These sites have already been navigated by the teacher and lead to the information outlined in the lesson.
The Gold Rush web site contains information about the Gold Rush that students may have not seen before. Navigating the web site will help students build a large bank of knowledge for the unit.
Teacher will also go over some other helpful and factual web sites:
Students might ask similar but different questions than those listed here. The more students are guided to ask specific questions, the less inquiry-oriented the activity.
The goal of this project is for students to understand the excitement and hardships of the Gold Rush. Students will investigate and decide how daily lives were effected.
Students have just read the letter from John Tatchin to his mother, and have been given the opportunity to navigate the introduction Gold Rush web site.
There might be a list of sub-questions that will be asked as well. Here are some questions that students may ask.
After students have asked questions related to the topic, they will need to decide a number of things, including:
Type(s) of Data
Students will use the Gold Rush web site and other web sites that they were introduced to, to find basic information. They will also use technology and any other resources to find sources such as: letters, diary entries, pictures, government records, maps, and newspaper articles.
Defining Important Terms
Students should understand most of the terminology used in the sources, but because some of them were created in the late 1800s, there may be a few difficult words. Students will be instructed to use their resources to investigate the meanings of words or phrases that they do not understand.
Students will be held accountable for a large amount of information. Through the navigation they will have decide what information is useful to them and what can be pushed to the side. As a class, we will begin by filling in the KWL chart each day. This will get the students minds focused on the Gold Rush and ready to look for the data that they are still pondering about. Students will be using a concept map to organize their thoughts. Students will use the concept map daily to keep track of new leads and new thoughts. With this concept map, they will create a daily journal. The journal must be factual and consistent.
Each student will be responsible for their own concept map. They are doing the research from the point of view of a specific person (child, woman, father, etc.). All the research will be added to the map. Based upon this map the students will create a daily journal. This would mean that the students would have to have a thorough meaning of the information they are gathering. After the journals are complete, we will use the data to make presentations. The data is manipulated form concept map to journal to presentation. The presentation groups can be decided by the students, but every student must participate and a section of their journal must be included in the presentation.
There is often a giant leap from defining the type(s) of data desired and actually finding the data. Providing guidance to students in finding the necessary data may be necessary.
Students will be encouraged to use the Gold Rush web sites recommended by the teacher for this unit:
These are sites that have been thoroughly navigated by the teacher, and follow the format of the lesson.
In the hook, a letter was read with the students to create a background of the Gold Rush and to create a link between people from the past and themselves. We also navigated the web sites briefly to give the students an overall understanding and to build upon background knowledge. Students will be examining all of these resources to create their concept maps and journals.
Here is an example of the beginning stages of the concept map:
The concept maps will be used/updated daily to record new information.
Raw data/information usually has to be manipulated before it can answer any questions. Students might be unaware of how data can best be manipulated, so teacher guidance may be appropriate.
Students will be able to analyze the data that they add to their concept map by making personal journals. Example analysis to questions is provided below, including concept maps and journal entires. You will be able to click on the final concept map to see the full version with working links.
the migrants know there was gold in
did they hear there was gold in
when the Mormons appeared seeking employment, Sutter's partner
word of the gold discovery spread, Sutter's and
was no accident that few of the immigrant "forty-eighters"
came from the
factors contributed to the rapid spread of the gold fever. The
Most important for triggering the migration were the extremely exaggerated press reports, creating the illusion that every gold digger would become a millionaire, unless he was too lazy to bend down and pick up the gold. According to these newspaper reports gold was literally lying on the ground and stories like the one of a woman who swept gold dust worth 500 dollars from a saloon´s floor within a day spurred people´s imagination and provided them with false expectations.
“How did they know it was true?”
a young Army officer named William Tecumseh Sherman, that situation would
soon change. At the end of June 1848,
the migrants to get to
“What modes of transportation did they use?”
traveling overland on the California Trail took only about 2 months, thus
offering Argonauts a time advantage of several months compared to the
the time advantage, the latter route had its flaws, since overland travel
across the Isthmus of Panama led them through fever-ridden swamp areas,
and even when the migrants arrived safely on Panama´s
Pacific Coast it was often difficult for them to obtain passage to California.
Thus, the stop-over in
“What preparations did they make before they left, if any?”
the supposed abundance of gold, there was no reason for the Argonauts
to prepare for an extended stay, so their rapid migration did not conform
to classic patterns. Traditionally in
“What routes did they take?”
departing gold-seekers faced an immediate problem.
were two miserable choices. The sea route around the tip of
The sea route was favored by gold seekers from the eastern states. Seasickness was rampant; food was full of bugs, or worse-rancid. Water stored for months
in a ship's hold was almost impossible to drink. And then there was the boredom--months and months at sea with nothing to do, except dream about gold. The wait was intolerable.
satisfy the growing thirst for speed, a quicker route was soon employed
For Americans who lived in the central states, there was another way west--a well-worn path carved out several years earlier: the Oregon-California Trail. The overland road was much shorter than the sea route, but it wasn't faster. Most had no idea how severe the overland journey would be.
they could think about was gold as they plodded westward alongside covered
wagons at two miles per hour--for up to six months. The first weeks on
the trail took the adventurers along the
“What drove them: money, opportunity, health, family, etc.?”
everyone who came to
the sudden expansion of population and accompanying exploitation of new
Californians by enterprising businessmen became hallmarks of
We chose these questions because they would be questions that students would be most likely to ask. They are broad questions that can easily be narrowed to descriptive topics. By using the broad topics, students will gain a holistic understanding of the topic. We included research from our collection as well as from the Internet so that students would have to use the Internet as a tool for research. It not only introduces the ideas of the Gold Rush and the movement westward, but also promotes use of technology to access the information.
No result is meaningful unless communicated appropriately. Discussion of findings should be supported. There may or may not be definitive answers to the questions students raised.
Students should probably keep a concept map, like those shown in the Analysis section, and possibly a journal from the perspective of a person living in the Gold Rush era (Woman, child, father, etc.). The information in the journal must be factual and relevant to the topic. Each day, the same question will be posed to the students for the journal, but all responses will be based on the role they have chosen to explain.
Students could then be grouped up and asked to present their journals to the class, creating the appropriate setting with costumes and realia, etc. Students will be evaluated on their map, journal and presentation. Their grade will be based upon their accuracy of the information they analyzed, their teamwork, concept map, journal, and effort.
After the journals are complete and the unit is coming to a close, the students could create presentations to sum up everything that they learned. The presentations are based upon the journals and students can be creative when forming their groups and their presentations.
Answers often lead to new questions, starting the inquiry cycle over again.
List here follow up questions students might have and wish to investigate at a later time.