IMG_0905One of the rites of spring at Wildwood’s elementary campus is a real California adventure.

Each year, science teachers Christie Carter and Anna Boucher team up with Wildwood’s 4th grade teachers and give students a chance to make some authentic discoveries in the spirit of Gold Rush prospectors.

Panning for gold

Panning for gold

The goal: re-create that moment of discovery in California history when James. W. Marshall first struck gold at Sutter’s Mill, while reinforcing some of the essential principles of earth science that students study this year.

On the day of my visit, students from 4th grade teacher Colleen McGee’s class are searching for pay dirt: panning, sluicing, and looking through a magnifying scope as they try out different techniques to find gold in their own cup.

Sieving pay dirt

Examining sifted pay dirt

And this pay dirt is real. Wildwood 4th grade teacher Will Shaer has a passion for California history and started purchasing it for Wildwood several years ago from real miners up in California’s Gold Country, northeast of Sacramento.

“The trace amounts of gold in the dirt tested to a purity of 22 karats, which is pretty high,” Will tells me. Getting more California pay dirt from the miners has become more difficult, however, due to new and prohibitive dredging regulations. So, anything that the kids find today will be recycled back into the pay dirt, which will be re-used by future classes.

Science teacher Anna gives the students some brief demonstrations at each station, while her teaching partner Christie hands each student their own cup filled with the dirt. The kids work in small groups and try their hand at striking it rich.

Looking through a scope to find gold

Looking through the scope for gold

It turns out that there’s gold and silver in them thar cups. Soon, the science classroom resounds with shouts of “Eureka!” as students make their discoveries.

But it turns out that all that glitters is not gold (or silver). The pay dirt is also replete with pyrite, better known as fool’s gold—an eventuality for which Anna and Christie prepare their students. “If it looks like gold but it crumbles when you poke it with your tweezers, then it’s pyrite,” Anna tells her students.

The day's haul

The day’s haul

An occasional disappointment with finding fool’s gold is no match, however, for the pure joy that overwhelms students when they find the real thing (check out the videos below for a taste of their discoveries).

And what about the gold and silver that they find? Well, these students happily practice the Life Skill of Flexibility—they turn in anything they find to Anna and Christie for them to use for next year’s students.  And with gold prices at record highs, today’s student haul would fetch well over $100.

For Wildwood 4th graders, this classroom experience is golden.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning <a href=”″><img src=”“></img></a><a href=””></a&gt;

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: