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Chinese and the California Gold Rush- Multiple Perspectives

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Cynthia Stults
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Chinese and the California Gold Rush- Multiple Perspectives

Cynthia Stults

Chinese and the California Gold Rush- Multiple Perspectives


1. A rationale for the proposed unit


This series of lessons will be taught as part of a larger integrated language arts, social studies, and performing arts unit on the California Gold Rush. This is a major focus of fourth grade social studies, and at the end of the year, students will take an extended field trip to Sacramento, and will visit Sutter’s Fort to experience some of the life of a California miner. These three lessons will fall midway through this unit. Prior to these lessons, the class will have finished studying the novel, By the Great Horn Spoon: Fleischman, Sid. Little, Brown  And Company, New York: 1963. Also at this point in the year, students have had experience with researching topics on their Chromebooks, the basic format of debates, and are in the middle of a series of dance lessons with the school’s resident performing arts teacher. Throughout the year, we teach using the Depth and Complexity Icons created by Dr. Sandra Kaplan, and the focus of this lesson series will be the icon of Multiple Perspectives. Additionally, both their textbook and the core lit novel focus more on the perspective of white Americans, but they were not the only major players during the California Gold Rush. 


2. Skill and Content Objectives


·     Students will compare and contrast two fictionalized accounts of the same historical event and discuss why their respective authors may have written them from a particular perspective and made other creative choices that affected the overall tone of their novel.

·     Students will research, prepare, and debate the Foreign Miners Tax of 1852 from the perspective of an affected Chinese miner, and the American Congressmen who enacted the tax.

·     Students will collaboratively create and present a short movement piece that depicts one or more aspects of the Gold Rush incorporating two or more perspectives.  


California Language Arts Standards

·     CCSS.ELA-Literacy. RL.3. Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions). 

·     CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9. Compare and contrast the treatment of similar themes and topics (e.g., opposition of good and evil) and patterns of events (e.g., the quest) in stories, myths, and traditional literature from different cultures. 


California Social Studies Standards

·     CCSS.Social Studies.4.4.2 Explain how the Gold Rush transformed the economy of California, including the types of products produced and consumed, changes in towns (e.g., Sacramento, San Francisco), and economic conflicts between diverse groups of people. 

·     CCSS.Social Studies.4.4.3 Discuss immigration and migration to California between 1850 and 1900, including the diverse composition of those who came; the countries of origin and their relative locations; and conflicts and accords among the diverse groups (e.g., the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act). 

California Performing Arts Standards (Dance)

·     CCSS.Dance.4. DA.Cr.1 a. Identify ideas for choreography generated from a variety of stimuli (e.g., music/sound, text, objects, images, notation, observed dance, experiences).


3. Detailed Lesson Plans

Day 1- One Event, Two Boys, Two Very Different Perspectives

Hook (10 minutes)

·      I will begin by activating students’ background knowledge with a familiar novel, By the Great Horn Spoon,and then push their thinking by introducing a novel with similar themes, but told from a different perspective. 

·      I will ask students to briefly summarize the plot of By the Great Horn Spoon,and then have them focus on the characters and where they are from (students will have access to their novels to look back). I will chart their list, and then ask if they notice any similarities between all the characters (they are almost all American, come from English-speaking countries, all male) and then ask if this type of person was the only person who came seeking their fortune in the Gold Rush (no). 

·      I will explain that today they will explore excerpts from another historical fiction work about the Gold Rush, but told from the perspective of another boy with a very different background.  

Small Group Work (20 minutes)

·     Students will be divided into groups of three or four. Each group member will be given an excerpt from The Journal of Wong Ming-Chung: Yep, Laurence. Scholastic Inc. New York: 2000. (I have excerpts of By the Great Horn Spoon for use if that novel is not studied as part of the curriculum, however, the file was too large to upload with this post) 

·     Each student will read their excerpts silently, looking for similarities and differences in the characters of Jack and Wong and their experiences.

·     After 10 minutes, group members will discuss and chart the similarities and differences between the characters and the stories onto individual recording sheets (which will be turned in to help me determine their understanding of the day’s learning)

Individual Work (20 minutes)

·     Students will be provided the names of both authors (Laurence Yep and Sid Fleischmann) and told to research them on their Chromebooks (each student has a Chromebook to use during class time) to see why they think that each author wrote the book the way they did and the perspective they used. They should consider: When the book was written; The authors’ family and their ancestors’ country(ies) of origin; Does their book seem designed to entertain, teach, or both?

·     Once students have researched, they should write 3-5 sentences about the factors that they think contributed to each author writing their story the way they did. (This will also be turned in to help determine their understandings)

Closing (10 minutes)

·     3-5 Students who wish can share what they wrote during the individual work time.

·     We will end with a discussion about why they think it would be important to read about multiple perspectives about the same event and chart those on a separate sheet of paper.




Day 2- The Foreign Miners Tax of 1850- A Debate

Hook (10 minutes)

·      I will begin today’s lesson by reminding students that yesterday they read excerpts from a historical novel that described the Gold Rush from a Chinese boy’s perspective. One of the struggles that Wong and his mining camp faced was they had to pay money that other camps did not have to pay. 

·      I will ask students what they think “tax” is or when they have heard that phrase used. I will chart their responses, and then have students look up the definition on on their Chromebooks (a sum of money demanded by a government for its support or for specific facilities or services, levied upon incomes, property, sales, etc.) and then discuss what that means and the various things that are still taxed in the United States.

·      I will then explain that Wong and his camp had to pay the Foreign Miners Tax of 1852, and today they will research what the tax was and why they had it. Then they will debate if it was necessary and/or fair.

Partner Work (30 minutes)

·     Students will work with a partner and will go to the website:

Where they will watch a 3 minute film describing its origins and then read about the background, and effects of the tax. 

·     Students will be told that they will need to put their personal feelings aside and pretend that first: they are someone who thinks this tax is necessary. Why should these foreign miners be taxed? How will the money raised be used? What do you hope this tax will do?

·     Students will be given 15 minutes to plan and note arguments in favor of the Foreign Miners Tax.

·     Students will then be given 15 minutes to plan and note arguments against the Foreign Miners Tax. They should consider: Is this tax fair? If not, why? What could some of the negative outcomes of this tax be? 

Debate (15 minutes)

·     The class will be divided into 2 groups with 14 in each group (7 partnerships)

·     Each partnership will draw a card that states For or Against

·     Opposing partnerships will take turns presenting arguments for 1 minute each, while the rest observe. 

·     Partnerships will rotate between debating and observing until all partnerships have had a chance to debate/share their perspective. If time permits, partnerships can take view opposite of the card they drew.

Closing (10 minutes)

·     As a class, we will discuss how it seems clear to us now that the Foreign Miners Tax was unfair, but I will then pose the question: Even if they suspected that what they were doing could be unfair, why did the other miners and law makers push for this tax? 

·     We will end with the final question: Why is it important for us to view this and other events in history through more than one perspective?



Day 3-5- Gold Rush Dance

Hook (10 minutes)

·      I will begin by reminding students that we have learned that movements in dances can tell a story. I will show a brief clip of Aaron Copland’s ballet, Rodeo, as presented by the American Ballet Theater in 1973:, Copland’s Appalachian Spring as choreographed by Martha Graham in 1954:

·      I will also show some examples of Chinese storytelling through dance: Ballet performed by Xinhua at Carnegie Hall January 2017) and from Twelve Chinese Zodiacs- Dance and Music- Chinese Stories, presented by CCTV)

·     Students will discuss and chart what contributes to telling stories without words (facial expressions, pantomime of objects, exaggerated movements)

Small Group Choreography Work (30 minutes today)

·     Students will work in groups of 4-6 to create a dance that depicts at least one event of the Gold Rush as told from the perspective of Jack and Wong and their friends.

o  Groups can select music from one or more of the following sources:

§ “Hoedown” by Aaron Copland

§ “Appalachian Spring” by Aaron Copland

§ “The River: Soil Erosion and Floods” from The Plow that Broke the Plains by Virgil Thomson

§ Suite for piano in A major, B. 184 (Op. 98) from Dvorák: Suite in A; Scottish Dances by Stefan Veselka

§ Music From Guangling by ZhenHe

§ Ambush From All Sides by Jiaju Shen

§ “Spring Snow” by Hwang Byungki

§ Flute and Drum at Sunset by The Silk String Quartet

(Students may select other instrumental music, with teacher approval)


Closing (10 minutes)

·     Students will notate the choreography they created during this session so that they will remember it when they rehearse on day 4 and 5

Day 6

·     Groups will perform their dances for each other. 

·     In between each dance, observers will answer the following questions:

o  Which event(s) of the Gold Rush did you see in the dance?

o  How did the music reflect what was happening?

o  What was the difference between the two perspectives?

o  How did the movements reflect each perspective and the music?





4. Plan for Assessment

·     Each activity will be assessed so that misunderstandings can be clarified to students through feedback as the series progresses

o  Day 1

§ Students will complete a Venn Diagram or Double Bubble Thinking Map.

·     They must have at least 5 differences and 5 similarities between the two stories/characters

§ Students will write a brief opinion piece about the factors they feel influenced Sid Fleischmann and Laurence Yep and their portrayal of Gold Rush events

·     5-8 sentences including introduction and conclusion

·     3 major factors with 1-2 sentences detailing each for each author

o  Day 2

§ Students will be assessed through observational notes to determine if they are active and contributing during planning and speaking during the debates.

·     Each partner must speak at least once during each debate

·     Debaters must refrain from personal attacks 

·     Debaters must refrain from yelling

o  Day 3

§ Dances must include:

·     Beginning and ending poses

·     Variety of levels (high, medium, low)

·     Moments of stillness

·     Two different perspectives on the same event(s)

·     All dancers must participate

·     Extensions would be if groups incorporated wardrobe