Monday, April 22, 2013

Resources for Teaching about the Gold Rush

Remember that survey many of you took to identify the top ten events in Montana history? When I asked folks to take the survey, I promised that I would write up blog posts on resources for teaching some of our collective top tens. So, as promised, here's the second installment on teaching resources--this one on the discovery of gold, which tied with railroads, receiving sixty out of eighty votes. (More on the results here.)

As always, a good starting place for lesson plans is the Montana: Stories of the Land Companion Website and Teachers Guide, where we've not only posted free PDFs of every chapter of our award-winning middle school textbook, but have also posted worksheets and links to lesson plans and other interesting web resources. For the gold rush, you'll want to see Chapter 6: "Montana's Gold and Silver Boom."

I'm a big fan of the graphing worksheet we posted with this lesson, which asks students to graph population growth and to think about the reasons for why the boom occurred.

I also really like the Learning from Historical Documents Unit we've posted featuring Emily Meredith's 1863 letter from Bannack, describing life in the gold fields to her father. Among her other comments is this gem: "I don’t know how many deaths have occurred this winter but that there have not been twice as many, is entirely owing to the fact that drunken men do not shoot well."

If you are looking for a hands-on activity, try the lesson plan that involves panning for gold on page 35 of the user guide for the "Gold, Silver and Coal" footlocker. It's a bit complicated to set up, but it is definitely worth it.

I wrote in my last post about Chronicling America and our the gold-rush era focused lesson created by Billings elementary school librarian Ruth Ferris: "Thinking Like a Historian: Using Digital Newspapers in the Classroom."

I also mentioned the new educator guide we've created for Girl from the Gulches: The Story of Mary Ronan. This highly a readable memoir details Mary Sheehan Ronan’s journey across the Great Plains, her childhood on the Montana mining frontier, as well as her later life on the Flathead Reservation as the wife of Indian Agent Peter Ronan. The Girl from the Gulches Study Guide includes lesson plans, vocabulary, chapter summaries and questions, alignment to the Common Core, and other information to facilitate this book's use in the classroom. You can download a free PDF of the portion of Girl from the Gulches that contains Mary's memories about Bannack, Virginia City, and Helena.

Montana State Parks has created an Indian Education for All lesson focused on Bannack titled "Contradictory Worldviews: Placing Montana’s Gold Rush into a Tribal Historical Perspective" for grades 6-10. You can download it from their IEFA lesson plan web page.

There's also lots of good material on the Chinese who came to Montana during the gold rush, including an inquiry based lesson (that starts with a murder) created by Mark Johnson. Digitized primary sources used in his lesson, "The Chinese Experience in the American West," can be found on the "Richest Hills" website (you'll need to scroll down or search Mark Johnson to find the link).

Other good sources on Chinese placer miners include "No Need to Rush: The Chinese, Placer Mining, and the Western Environment," by Liping Zhu, published in Montana: The Magazine of Western History (posted with a discussion guide).

Finally, "German Gulch" is a website focused on the archaeological finds from German Gulch, a 19th and early 20th century mining area near Butte, Montana. The collection contains some of the most significant Chinese artifacts recovered in Montana. Look under "Education" for additional links to the history of Montana's Chinese.

Wow. Lots to choose from.

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