Pan for Gold




Projects For You
Just for Teachers



A California Gold Rush Unit


Goal -- to expose students to the excitement of the Gold Rush era and to learn about placer mining. Students will also realize that gold mining is cold, dirty, wet, hard work. They will also come to understand that very few of the miners struck it rich while it was the merchants or shopkeepers who made the most money.


Literature Connection -Prior to this study, read By the Great Horn Spoon with your students.

Science Connection - learn about the geology of the California's Sierra Nevadas.

Math Connection - Study the economy of the 1850's in California

English Connection - Journal writing


Preparation -

A week before -

· Locate an area where you can pan for gold. We keep using the kindergarten playground because it has a nice self-contained sand box area and a close faucet for water. They have tables for the stores.

· Have the students make gold pouches out of muslin to tie on their belts.

· Send letter to parents asking for donations of cookies and soda for the saloon and to help during the Gold Rush.

· Select "roles to play" at Coyote Gulch

Roles -

Gold Miner - The majority of the class will be miners

General Storekeepers - 2

Saloonkeepers - 2

County Recorder/Assayer - 2

Sheriff - 1

· Make Signs

"Mule Lip Saloon" "Assay Office" "Katie's Mercantile" "Coyote Gulch Population: 32 Elevation: 3200"

· Collect a free bag of "lead tire balancing weights" from a tire shop. Place a handful of lead pieces on top of a pile of sand in a metal bucket. Melt them down using a hand held propane torch. The pieces melt into very interesting shapes. Later color them with gold spray paint.

· Find a large rock or brick (or two) and paint it gold to be the Mother Lode.

· Design, Copy, and Cut Out Sutter Silver Dollars to used as a Grub Stake for each student

· Collect Gold Mining Equipment - gold pans, shovels, trowels, 6 home made long toms, several homemade rockers, long hoses

· Cut lengths of yarn or colored string (8 - 10 ft) that will serve as mining claims. Students will lay the string in a circle on the ground to mark a claim. (Students may join together to make larger claims, but it's fun to let them discover that idea.)


Gold Mining Day

· Dig a trench in the sand box to serve as a "river" and fill with water. Keep water running so the students can pan.

· Salt the area with the gold colored lead pieces. Bury the Mother Lode(s).

· For fun, sprinkle areas with gold glitter to serve as "Fools Gold"

· Students arrive at school dressed in gold mining clothes.

· Give each student 10 Sutter Silver Dollars to serve as a Grub Stake. (The prices of items to buy in Coyote Gulch - Claim = $4 Gold Pan = $4 Leaving $2 to buy other equipment or food.)

· Students write a journal entry describing the excitement of arriving in the Gold Country.

· Have the shopkeepers go out to gold mining area with a parent or teacher to set up their "stores". Students set up the saloon with drinks, cookies, cups, and a trash can. They set the prices for food according to supply and demand. The mercantile owners set up their store with shovels, trowels, gold pans, and the other equipment. They set their own prices for the tools. The County Recorder/Assayer sets up shop with the string to be used to mark claims and with lots of extra Sutter Silver Dollars. The sheriff wears a badge and sets up a jail.

· Have shopkeepers in place at Coyote Gulch. A student runs into class and yells "Eureka! I found gold at Coyote Gulch." The class then "runs" to Coyote Gulch.

During the Gold Mining

· Students arrive at Coyote Gulch. They have a number of choices: They may:

· Go directly to the stream and look for gold.

· Go to store and buy gold mining equipment,

· Go to the Saloon and buy food and drink.

· Go to the County Recorder/Assayer to buy a claim


· If they buy a claim they lay the string in a large circle and they are the only ones that can look for gold inside the circle.

· If they do not have a claim, then anyone can grab the gold where they are mining. The sheriff looks for people who are claim jumpers. When gold is discovered, students put the pieces in their gold pouch.

· When they want to buy something, they go to the Assayer, turn in their gold pieces, and the Assayer gives them Sutter Silver Dollars in return. Students may then buy more claims, buy bigger gold mining equipment, go to the saloon. When the Mother Lode is discovered and turned into the Assayer they earn about 100 Sutter Silver Dollars.

· The Gold Mining Adventure continues for about an hour and a half with students mining, buying, and eating. When you end the event, students clean up the area….rake the area clean, pick up trash, have students carry all of the gold mining equipment back to class.


After the Gold Rush


· Students debrief about their experiences. Students often realize that along with the hard work of mining, there was a great deal of luck involved in finding the Mother Lode. They also come to the conclusion that the people with the most money are usually the shopkeepers.

· The students write another journal entry about their gold rush experiences.