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LPIE Brings the Gold Rush to Fourth Grade

Fourth graders at Springhill Elementary all came down with the same mysterious illness last week – a case of Gold Fever.

The cause? The students contracted the highly contagious virus while they were panning for gold during an LPIE lesson on the Gold Rush. LPIE instructor Michelle Chan supervised students in Debbie Dietch’s 4th grade class as they dipped their pans into a shallow rock bed and picked out small pieces of the precious substance, which in this case, were small pebbles painted a sparkly gold.

After the students got their valuable haul, they then negotiated with their classmates to earn more gold by offering to wash clothes, draw pictures, write stories or put on skits for each other.

Not satisfied with her take, Elena Russo asked classmate Ethan Lee if he would pay her five pieces of gold to do his laundry. Ethan contemplated the offer, eying the wooden washboard and tub of soapy water that held a pair of dirty jeans and a button-down shirt waiting to be scrubbed.

Meanwhile, Ian Salmon got to work doing laundry for another classmate for the price of two pieces of gold.

LPIE instructor Michelle Chan pans for gold with Sprinhill 4th graders.

Students could also earn money in the classroom’s “saloon” by playing cards or doing a three shell game where their classmates had to guess which shell a piece of gold was hiding under.

This activity was part of LPIE’s unit on the Gold Rush that is presented to all 4th graders across the district when they are studying this important era in California’s history. The LPIE lesson is an interactive one and includes opportunities to pan for and trade gold, see artifacts from the time period and learn all about the important historical figures that shaped the era.

“There’s a lot of hands-on activities for them and that makes it more real for them,” says Debbie Dietch. “And they’ll remember it.”

LPIE instructors Michelle Chan and Kim Curiel both teach the Gold Rush lessons, which have been held for many years. Chan taught students at Springhill last week and will be teaching the lessons at Happy Valley in May. Curiel, who has been an LPIE instructor for 15 years, will be giving the lessons at Burton Valley and Lafayette Elementary in April.

“A lot of students describe the day as their favorite day of 4th grade,” says Curiel. “I've had students in middle school recognize me as "the Gold Rush lady" and be able to tell me which character they were during the day.”

Doing laundry during the Gold Rush era was hard work!

A large part of the Gold Rush lesson involves learning about the people who shaped this era and what they are known for. While some people were fortunate enough to make money from finding gold, countless others made their mark on history by writing books, setting up hotels and restaurants, doing laundry and entertaining all of the new settlers to California.

“We're trying to get the students to understand who the people were who came during the Gold Rush, the challenges they faced, and how they contributed to what California is today,” says Chan.

One of the class’ activities also included a “race to California,” where teams of students compete to reach San Francisco first using different modes of transportation, such as a covered wagon or a clipper ship. Picking cards with different scenarios written on them, student teams move forward or backward on the trip depending on the situation they’re given.

Since the arduous journey took 6 months at the time, the students get a real sense of how difficult it was to make the trek across the country to start a new life. And the winning team got to pan for gold first.

“By the time they pan for gold themselves, the students get a glimpse of what "gold fever" was all about,” says Chan.


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