youth learning about the Gold Rush at Sutter's Mill, Coloma

Our California Gold Rush History Program covers a unique blend of Social Science curriculum topics, including: physical and human geography of California, Native American cultures and the economic, social and political effects of the California Gold Rush. Our Science curriculum topics include: earth structure, rock formation, erosion, plate tectonics, faulting, soil composition, formation and layering and the geological impacts of human activities. These topics will be covered in detail by our staff, but keep in mind that rather than educating students on this material for testing purposes, our staff will be encouraging students to review and understand the materials in a way that makes sense to them by promoting understanding through hands-on interaction.

Students can see a representation of the town of Coloma in the Gold Rush days at Marshall Gold Discovery Park, the site of gold discovery in 1848, which is located less than three miles from our camp. At Mother Lode River Center, students have the opportunity to pan for their own gold and make Dutch oven cornbread in the style of the old miners.

Click below to view a sample one-day Gold Rush History Program or to see the Science and Social Science Content Standards from which our program is derived. These content standards have been taken from the California Department of Education Science and Social Science Standards for the 4th Grade.

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Gold Rush History
Sample One-day Program Module

9:00-9:30 Welcome to Mother Lode River Center

Introductions of Staff
Safety Guidelines and Rules
Quick Site Tour


Geology – The miners of the 1880′s used their knowledge of rock formations to find gold. Exploring the beach of our camp, students will find their favorite rocks which instructors will help them learn to identify as being one of the three basic types of rocks (metamorphic, sedimentary and igneous). They will then play games that help them understand how such rocks are formed in the “rock cycle”. The three types of mining (placer, hard rock and hydraulic) will come alive with “Sutter Says”, a dynamic game that will help them understand the various methods the miners used to find gold.
Refer to Standards: Science 4a,b; 5a,b, c; 6a

Hydrology – The gold that the 49ers discovered was originally precipitated from seawater off of California’s coast in ages past by undersea volcanoes called “black smokers”. How this gold ended up in the miner’s pans is a mystery we will solve by engaging in activities that illustrate the water cycle, continental drift, erosion and finally applying our gold panning skills to find some “color”. Eureka!

Activities: Gold Panning, Rock Hound


Native Americans – The Nisenan (Southern Maidu) flourished in this area and achieved a sustainable, adaptive lifestyle for thousands of years before the arrival of the miners. Acorns gathered in the Fall were processed into meal in grinding holes in the granite bedrock such as the one pictured at right. Each quarter inch of depth in these holes represents one hundred years of such activity. This grinding hole is over 8 inches deep! Your students will do the math while they imagine the Nisenan fishing for salmon and hunting game that come to the river to drink. We will explore the banks of the river to gather and study some of the dozens of plants the Nisenan used for medicinal purposes. Students will hear the words of John Marshall who wrote admiringly about the peaceful and respectful way the Nisenan conducted their lives. They will understand why he feared that his discovery of gold would harm these gentle people who lived in harmony with their neighbors and had never waged war.

Refer to Standards: Social Science 4.2-1

Activity: native plant walk, acorn grinding

12:30-1:00 Lunch


Human Geography – The gold rush changed the face of the nation and the world and it rapidly increased the rate of settlement in the new West. How did these immigrants get to California and what challenges and hardships did they endure? Students will recreate this adventure with the “Race to California Obstacle Course” game in which they will choose one of the three major routes used by the miners to come to California. While traversing the land route across the Great Plains, the sea route around Cape Horn or the canal route across the Isthmus of Panama they will encounter malaria, ship crew desertions, hunger, thirst, mountain ranges and come to appreciate the challenges the miners faced in coming to California.

Refer to Standards: Social Science 4.1-3,4; 4.4-2,3,7; 4.3-1,3

Activity: “Race to California” game; paint, draw and/or write
about life during the gold rush.

2:30-4:00 Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park tour

4:00-4:30 Closing and Goodbye

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Science Content Standards

Covered in Our Gold Rush Program

Earth Sciences (4a, 4b, 5a, 5b and 5c); Investigation and Experimentation (6a)

Earth Sciences

4. The properties of rocks and minerals reflect the processes that formed them. As a basis for understanding this concept:

4a. Students know how to differentiate among igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks by referring to their properties and methods of formation (the rock cycle).

4b. Students know how to identify common rock-forming minerals (including quartz, calcite, feldspar, mica, and hornblende) and ore minerals by using a table of diagnostic properties.

5. Waves, wind, water and ice shape and reshape Earth’s land surface. As a basis for understanding this concept:

5a. Students know some changes in the earth are due to slow processes, such as erosion, and some changes are due to rapid processes, such as landslides, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.

5b. Students know natural processes, including freezing and thawing and the growth of roots, cause rocks to break down into smaller pieces.

5c. Students know moving water erodes landforms, reshaping the land by taking it away from some places and depositing it as pebbles, sand, silt and mud in other places (weathering, transport, and decomposition).

Investigation and Experimentation

6. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:

6a. Differentiate observation from inference (interpretation) and know scientists’ explanations come partly from what they observe and partly from how they interpret their observations.

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Social Science Content Standards

Covered in Our Gold Rush Program

Sections: 4.1 (3 and 4), 4.2 (1), 4.3 (1 and 3), and 4.4 (2, 3 and 7).

California: A Changing State

Students learn the story of their home state, uniqe in American history in terms of its vast and varied geography, its many waves of immigration beginning with pre-Columbian societies, its continuous diversity, economic energy, and rapid growth. In the addition to the specific treatment of milestones in California history, students examine the state in the context of the rest of the nation, with an emphasis on the U.S. Constitution and the relationship between state and federal government.

4.1 Students demonstrate an understanding of the physical and human geographic features that define places and regions in California.

3. Identify the state capital and describe the various regions of California, including how their characteristics and physical environments (e.g., water, landforms, vegetation, climate) affect human activity.

4. Identify the locations of the Pacific Ocean, rivers, valleys, and mountain passes and explain their effects on the growth of towns.

4.2 Students describe the social, political, cultural, and economic life and interactions among people of California from the pre-Columbian societies to the Spanish mission and Mexican rancho periods.

1. Discuss the major nations of California Indians, including the geographic distribution, economic activities, legends, and religious beliefs; and describe how they depended on, adapted to and modified the physical environment by cultivation of land and use of sea resources.

4.3 Students explain the economic, social, and political life in California from the establishment of the Bear Flag Republic through the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush, and the granting of statehood.

1. Identify the locations of Mexican settlements in California and those of other settlements, including Fort Ross and Sutter’s Fort.

3. Analyze the effects of the Gold Rush on settlements, daily life, politics, and the physical environment (e.g., using biographies of John Sutter, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, Louise Clapp).

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850′s.

2. Explain how the Gold Rush transormed the economy of California, including the types of products produced and consume, changes in towns (e.g. Sacramento, San Francisco), and economic conflicts between diverse groups of people.

3. Discuss immigration and migration to California between 1850 and 1900, including the diverse composition of those who came; the countries of origin and their relative locations’ and conflicts and accords among the diverse groups (e.g. the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act).

7. Describe the rapid American immigration, internal migration, settlement, growth of towns and cities (e.g., Los Angeles).