Rushing for Gold

I have a funny story for you! First, what style was your first computer? What was the first game you played on the computer?

Here's the funny part- our first family computer was a Gateway. We went to the Gateway store and picked out the components we wanted. They also talked us into buying the newest model of an HP printer. We still laugh about that printer being the HP 1. And, of course, we brought that computer home and hooked it up to dial-up internet.

And, we played Oregon Trail.

Do you remember that game? Oh, we loved it. Even with its really poor graphics, we loved buying supplies and heading out west and hoping we would survive those river crossings.

Which brings me to our latest adventures in the STEM Lab- crossing the country to grab some gold!

Upper elementary ideas for the California Gold Rush. This includes an Escape Room., a STEM Challenge, and a reading resource. #teachersareterrific #goldrush



Our Gold Rush adventure has three parts:

  • The Escape Room
  • Build a Raft STEM Challenge
  • Reading about the Gold Rush

The Gold Rush Escape Room

I knew this one had to have some maps. Of course, we also needed to find gold. And finally, I added some reading to the tasks to make sure we covered those skills. 

Take a look!

Task 1

This is the reading task. Students have a reading passage and a set of clue cards.

Upper elementary ideas for the California Gold Rush. This Escape Room includes 3 tasks featuring the gold rush trail map, mining for gold, and reading skills. #teachersareterrific #goldrush

They read the passage and then determine if facts are true or false. If this is completed correctly they find a clue which leads to the clue cards. This gives them the lock code to open the first box!

Task 2

Here we go finding gold!

Upper elementary ideas for the California Gold Rush. This Escape Room includes 3 tasks featuring the gold rush trail map, mining for gold, and reading skills. #teachersareterrific #goldrush

Students look at a graph that shows the amounts of gold that were found and they respond to questions about the graph. #mathskills This sends them to their clue cards and the lock code for Box 2.

Task 3

The ending features the map showing the path gold seekers followed to get to California.

Upper elementary ideas for the California Gold Rush. This Escape Room includes 3 tasks featuring the gold rush trail map, mining for gold, and reading skills. #teachersareterrific #goldrush

Students must identify places on the map by reading some clues. Eventually, they piece all the clues together to open that last box.

So much fun! The clip art I found for this set is spot-on in representing the gold rush tools, methods of travel, and people of the time. We loved learning about the stagecoach and forts that travelers found along the trail.

The Escape Room resource has all the parts you will need, including my very detailed teacher's guide. Y'all I am a direction-follower. I need the write-up for things. Like, when I open something new I read the directions first. So, just know that I am a little fanatical about adding those details in my resources for you!

Upper elementary ideas for the California Gold Rush. This Escape Room includes 3 tasks featuring the gold rush trail map, mining for gold, and reading skills. #teachersareterrific #goldrush

Each task has its own page of directions in 2 styles. My style is the written version- all words. If you are a picture style person I have you covered. There is also a set of directions with photos and arrows and tips. 

Students love these Escape Room events. Mine would seriously do these every week- if I could invent them fast enough!


Build a Raft

The perfect STEM Challenge to accompany the Escape Room was also amazingly full of problem-solving. We built rafts!

Upper elementary ideas for the California Gold Rush. This includes a STEM Challenge about building a raft. #teachersareterrific #goldrush

My test class helped refine the materials on this one. I originally only included straws, but the test class really wanted craft sticks so we added those. And we used a lot of tape.

Upper elementary ideas for the California Gold Rush. This includes a STEM Challenge about building a raft. #teachersareterrific #goldrush

As teams tested their raft they had to take it back to their work tables and improve it. This included pulling it apart to make it better. Guess what? Wet tape loses its stickiness. So, I gave each team a roll of the really cheap tape. (Wal Mart for 97 cents) 

In the end, we had a lot of clever solutions and a lot of rafts that would float. Only a few held weight. This was a challenge that was tested with 4th graders, but 3rd graders could complete this one easily. For 5th grade, I would add rules about the size of the raft to make it a little harder.

This Quick Challenge is available in two places:

Let's Read

I added a reading resource for the Gold Rush and loved creating it!

Upper elementary ideas for the California Gold Rush. This includes a Reading resource with four passages and a newspaper article page with text features. #teachersareterrific #goldrush

Students read about the discovery of gold in California, the hard life of a miner, the stagecoach, and the different mining methods. I also included a newspaper page with articles about the Pony Express, the town of San Francisco, and the role of women during the Gold Rush. The main selections have two reading levels and all have question sheets. The newspaper page is labeled with text features! Win-Win!

What a fun way to add some engaging activities to your study of the Gold Rush and Westward Expansion! Click on any of the images for more details!


Upper elementary ideas for the California Gold Rush. This includes an Escape Room., a STEM Challenge, and a reading resource. #teachersareterrific #goldrush


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