8th Grade, Part III:

Gold Rush Technology and the Environment

by Donna Leary

Overview and Rationale:

When the Gold Rush began, thousands of people flocked to California in pursuit of fortune. This influx of gold seekers brought innumerable changes to the region, formerly inhabited primarily by Native Americans and Mexicans. 

As "the world rushed in" to California, miners developed and used a variety of technologies. Experts today look with amazement at the scale of technology during the Gold Rush. Some mining methods during the Gold Rush had a greater impact on the environment than others. For example, hydraulic mining exacted a great toll on the environment, contrasted with the use of the cradle or rocker. 

It is important that students look at advances in technology and realize that with advancements there are both positive and negative consequences. Our students need to be able to recognize these consequences in order to make informed decisions for the future. The Gold Rush is a good event to study in terms of technology's effect on the environment. It set a precedent for dealing with other, later environmental issues in California in such areas as agriculture, oil and water. 

Focus Questions:

How did mining technology advance as a result of the Gold Rush? What impact did this have on the environment and on how people lived and worked? 

Framework Connection:

"The Divergent Paths of the American People: 1800-1850" of the California Framework looks at the region of the West and its influence on the nation. "Students should be encouraged to view historical events empathetically as though they were there, working in places such as the mines." In addition, as a part of geographic literacy, teachers are encouraged to help students explore "the ways people and environments interact in the human modification of the landscape." 

Student Learnings:

a. Students will examine written and visual primary sources and gather information about various technologies used to mine gold during the Gold Rush. 

b. Students will assess which technologies had more impact on the environment. 

c. Students will simulate a city council meeting, discussing pros and cons of a large nearby mining project. They vote on whether to approve the project. 

A Brief Look at the Lesson:

Lesson 1 begins with students brainstorming about current advances in technologies. Student groups then mix and match primary source descriptions and visuals of various types of Gold Rush mining technologies. Students record their findings on a graphic organizer. The whole class then discusses possible impacts on the environment of the various technologies. 


Students simulate a city council meeting, discussing a large nearby mining project from various viewpoints. The "council" then votes on whether to approve the project. 

Part III, Overview 
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