Learn About California History & Geology, Via Literature

Being a native Californian, one thing I know about life in California — once every 10-years or so, the earth will move. I accept this as normal. For folks new to California, this fact often comes as a shock! As I was writing California Out of the Box, it’s my feeling I need to educate students — both incoming and natives — about the geologic history of the Golden State. This article gives a snapshot of how our California history homeschool curriculum uses historical fiction to teach an interdisciplinary approach for students in grades 3-6.

“It is early evening in San Francisco. Streetlights come on. People hurry home. No one knows about the danger below. Underneath their feet, the earth begins to stir.”

From The Earth Dragon Awakes by Laurence Yep

It is San Francisco, April 18, 1906. To understand what this time was like, students read The Earth Dragon Awakes by Laurence Yep. This story recounts the relationship of a young Chinese immigrant Chin, whose father is a houseboy, and a caucasian family named the Travises. On this fateful morning, Chin’s tenement house in Chinatown is destroyed and his father is trapped. In young Henry Travis’s house, bricks and boards are broken, but his house is still standing. In the context of this story, students will explore cultural and socio-economic differences through Yep’s book.

Using Google Images, students will search for historic photos of San Francisco like those captured above.

“Not a whisper of the earthquakes that formed these rocks millions of years ago, nor of the Shoshones who dwelt in the sand below amid the manzanita and juniper.”

From “Vasquez Rocks” by Sue Alexander in Stories from Where We Live: The California Coast

After students finish Yep’s book, using literature again, they will read a poem from Stories from Where We Live: California Coast edited by Sara St. Antoine, and learn an interesting history of rocks located near Los Angeles, Vazquez Rocks. These rocks have been used in numerous films, even Planet of the Apes.

Students will do more internet research on the layers of the earth and tectonic plates and write in answers in the handy “Plates” sheet below.

It’s Your Turn. Grab a Hammer and Your Safety Goggles!

Next, students will explore rock hardness, personally! After finding a few rock samples (not those prized gems, LOL!), using the fracture/cleavage chart below, students will figure out what a rock is made of by exploring how it crumbles. Does it crumble in sheets (cleavage), or break apart in chunks (fracture)? On the table below, students observations will be noted. Then, using the National Audubon Field Guide to California, students will try their hand at classifying some of their specimens.

Another rock test students will try is the Moh’s Hardness Test. (See Hardness Scale Above.) Using 5-8 rock samples and a steel nail sharpening file, students will scratch their rocks to discover how hard they are. When scratched with a steel file, is a groove made? If they are marked, they are softer than a hardness of 6.5 (the hardness of a steel file). This test will reveal if a rock is more like a diamond, the hardest material, or softer like talc or gypsum. Believe it or not, this test actually yields more accurate results in rock identification than merely looking at a rock.

california history curriculum

From this hands-on geologic exploration, students will move on to a deeper investigation of a marsh area, near San Francisco; they will study this one of eight California habitats.

California Out of the Box

This California history curriculum is an action-packed adventure students are sure to love. Check out a recent review of California Out of the Box on Cathy Duffy Reviews.

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