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Name: Anita F.
Status:  educator
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2001 - 2002


Question:
Are there any science experiments directly related to the fourth grade social studies curriculum that focus on The Gold Rush?


Replies:
This would be a great opportunity to talk about density, because the prospectors who panned for gold depended on this concept to separate the denser gold from the less dense sand. You could use chunks of iron painted with waterproof gold paint instead of gold, and pan for gold. To introduce the idea of density, you could have the students observe different types of materials of similar size but different masses-wood, rocks, metal, a paper memo cube, a book (a chunky baby book might be the right size), etc. The idea that you want to get across is that density is related to both mass and volume (probably too abstract for them--perhaps use "how heavy it is compared to its size"). Students should also directly observe the difference between sand and your "gold." You could use two small jars to do that-fill one with sand, and the other with your "gold." Students can see that they are the same size but do not weigh the same. You could put a mixture of sand and gold in another jar and shake it until the heavier gold separates itself to the bottom. Now comes the fun part-let the students pan for gold-I suspect pie pans would do it. I think you would want have basins with water, sand and "gold" that the students separate (could be messy, but I bet it would be fun. I do not know if anyone has a developed lesson plan for this--I have not done it and I am making it up now--make sure you try this in advance!!!!

Pat Rowe


I do not know of any prepared curriculum, but a couple of experiments come to mind:

1. You could mimic, panning for gold by swirling a mixture of some metal filings and some light powder, say corn starch or flour, in a pan and illustrating how the lighter powder can be separated from the heavier by the swirling action. It would be nice to be able to do the real thing, but Oh Well!

2. See if you can obtain some iron pyrite (iron sulfide) from a local "rock shop". It is called "fools gold" because it has the luster of gold ore, but is very hard.

Vince Calder


You will undoubtedly get suggestions from the physicists to separate dense water-insoluble material (like gold) from lighter insoluble material (like gravel) by panning or by constructing and operating a sluicebox.

For a chemistry exercise, I recall that the California gold rush started with the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill. If I recall the story correctly, a young man working at the mill in 1848 found a nugget in or along the mill stream. Nearly everyone he showed it to dismissed it as pyrite, (FeS2) aka fool's gold. According to the legend, a woman making soap (by cooking lye with fat) declared that if the specimen was fool's gold, then lye would consume it, and plopped it into the kettle. She returned the nugget the next day unaffected by the hot alkaline solution, and from that point, the word travelled fast. The story is probably on the Internet somewhere. This may be a little dangerous for fourth grade. Lye is very corrosive to living tissues before it is warmed. Processing pyrite may release noxious sulfide gases, and few elementary classrooms have fume hoods. You could also look at properties of metals (malleable, ductile, conduct heat and electricity, shiny luster, etc.)

Tim Spry



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