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The Gold Rush--Computer Based Education for K-12 & Families

By Ric and Jody Hornor
19th Century Books
Electric Canvas

1001 Art Road
Pilot Hill, CA 95664

Primary source documents add much to a study of history, and I enjoy helping my children discover original photographs and writings to supplement our studies. 19th Century Books, an imprint of Electric Canvas, makes my search a lot easier when it comes to 19th Century California History. Their multimedia CD, The Gold Rush, contains dozens of photographs and first-person stories from miners and settlers. The material is presented in a series of narrated slides, with rolling text showing the dialogue. A woman's voice narrates the slides, and an older gentleman reads the original stories; his voice is a perfect addition to authenticate the quotes. External links are provided to add additional information to some sections, and definitions are given for potentially new words. Each slide presents its topic and then pauses until the user pushes a key. This feature is designed to encourage interaction between a student and teacher and to allow the teacher to control the pace of the presentation. A 21-page teacher's guide is included on the disk and downloadable from the website. The guide gives the complete text of each slide's narration as well as additional information to present to students and questions to ask.

The presentation is divided into seven modules that take you through the Gold Rush Era. After the introduction we learn about Early Explorers such as Johan Sutter of Sutter's Fort, including some of the science they used for navigation. Their method for determining elevation, noting the temperature at which water boiled, was especially fascinating and made very clear through the narration and graphics. The next section, "The Gold Rush," gives details on travel routes to California. One slide shows a screen with a globe, and students can click various routes and see the route appear on the globe. Photos show early settlements and photos of early mining operations. "Placer & Hydraulic Mining" explains the tools and methods needed for these types of mining operations, and the engaging photographs help students understand the descriptions much better than if they were just reading about them. Again, the first-person accounts interwoven with the photos really add to the experience. The next section, "Hard Rock Mining," talks about the danger of extracting gold from rocks and the process needed to do so. There is also a discussion of gold rush era crime. The section entitled "Occupations & Industry" gives a description of all the jobs and industries that developed to support the miners and settlers; there are intriguing photographs of many of these endeavors. Finally, the "Geography" section is filled with maps and descriptions of the cities, countries, mines, roads, and waterways where the gold rush took place. Each area also highlights important people.

Following each of the seven sections, students can choose to go on to the next segment, return to the main menu, or go to the flashcards. The flashcard slides are not narrated, but a question appears at the top of the screen. Students have time to think of the answer; and then when they push the space bar, the correct answer is revealed.

The primary drawback to this product is its dependence upon Microsoft's PowerPoint software. PC users will be able to run the CD with the included PowerPoint viewer, but MAC users have a more difficult time. MAC users can navigate the slides by bypassing the menu screen and opening files directly; however it makes for a less fluid operation and makes it more difficult for children to navigate on their own. My children use many software programs with ease, but the PowerPoint platform is a little awkward for them to maneuver. The developer's website says that a downloadable version is coming soon, and I hope these issue will be solved with that release.

I think this product is a valuable addition to a study of the gold rush era. While many books exist with good photographs, looking at fascinating photos while hearing primary-source quotes adds an entirely new dimension. The interactive slides and flashcard features all contribute to a well-rounded product that meets the needs of students with various learning styles.

Product review by Lisa Kjeldgaard, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, April 2009

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