Today you are going back to the time of the Colorado Gold Rush. By the end of the day, some of you may be millionaires…and some of you may be dead.

Choose your mining identity. These are real prospectors and miners who were here in Colorado. You can see where you are from, what your previous job was, and how much money you have upon arrival. Introduce yourself to your fellow miners.

First you’ll choose a team leader to speak for your group. It’s important to find someone who will make sure everyone’s voice is heard. You’ll be facing three life and death decisions today, and it won’t be clear what is the right answer…or if there even is a right answer. You’ll need the combined thinking power of every member of your team if you hope to survive and maybe even get rich.

Take your pack mule and your belongings and walk up into the mountains – without roads, towns, phones, or a reliable map – to Oro City, 10,000 feet elevation. Let’s hear from some of the prospectors who also made the trip to find out what it was really like in Oro City, Colorado.

So begins our Time Travel Field Trip to 1859. It’s unlike any history lecture, textbook or presentation you’ve ever seen. Why?

First of all, it’s incredibly engaging. History is so often taught as a fait accompli, something where the conclusion is already known, something that happened a long time ago to other people.

This is different.


  • Students face real decisions from the time, and feel the effects of the consequences on themselves, their families, and their friends. It makes history immediate, urgent, and emotionally compelling.
  • Students are not hearing about events from someone else. They live it themselves, which makes it memorable.
  • There’s an element of chance. In addition to group decisions, every individual student experiences real events from the time, chosen after extensive historical research. Dice rolls determine if the student will experience the (usually horrible, because that’s just so much more interesting) consequences. They hold their breath, blow on the dice, and cheer or groan at their results.

Depth of knowledge:

  • Students hear directly from the past at appropriate points in the game. Primary sources are woven into letters from the past and shared both in writing, and in movie form (using pictures and images from the time). They are always linked to what the students are about to face. After all, you care a lot more about what it was like down in the deep rock mines when you are about to ride the ore bucket down to stand in the cold, wet, dark and drill holes in solid rock for 10 hours.
  • Someone once said the devil is in the details. I think the opposite is true. To feel like you are standing in the icy cold river, staking a claim and panning for gold 10 hours a day, you need the little details of daily life that make history a foreign country.
  • It’s what you have to teach anyway. Before beginning three months of historical research, I looked at the current Colorado standards, and built from there. The pre and post-test, the decisions and events in the game, everything directly teaches your history curriculum for you.
  • Higher-level thinking is engaged when students have to think through the ethics and opportunity costs of real and complex decisions.
  • Students learn essential background knowledge through Reader’s Theater using short comics and plays.


  • It’s a field trip that’s like a spa day for the teacher. When was the last time you had TWO HOURS of uninterrupted plan time? What’s that? Never?* I can tell you when the next time will be…when you schedule your next Time Travel Field Trip! You can book online at timetravelfieldtrips.com. Just hit the Schedule Appointment button and pick a day. (Two classrooms per day, 9-2)
  • I bring all the materials, and teach for 2 hours for you. Your kids are happy and engaged, and learning the heck out of your history curriculum. What’s not to love?
  • Oh, and did I mention that the KIDS pay for the trip? Just like any field trip. Just $7.50 per student carries them back in time for the adventure of their lives.

*(If your principal is anything like mine was, you have more meetings that you can shake a stick at.)

Colorado Gold Rush: Mining in Leadville focuses on:

  • How did mining change Colorado? Financial, political, geographical and environmental impacts
  • Panning for gold and choosing the best claim on the river
  • Frontier justice: punishments for crimes in the mining towns
  • Boom and bust cycles
  • Deep rock mining
  • Life in the Wild West town of Leadville (they drugged your drink, took all your money, and stole your boots!)
  • Opportunity cost of getting a loan to stake a deep rock claim
  • Choose to get rich through owning a shop or continuing to mine (three millionaires in Leadville earned their money by “mining the miners”)


All that standards-y stuff:

  • Individuals recognize important events and can put them in chronological in order to understand cause and effect such as discovery of gold and the Gold Rush. (S.1-GLE.1-RA.1)
  • Describe the impact of various technological developments. Topics to include but not limited to the state of Colorado, including changes in mining technology. (S.1-GLE.2-EO.d)
  • Technological developments continue to evolve and affect the present. For example, environmental issues have had an impact on Colorado from the Gold Rush to modern pollution. (S.1-GLE.2-RA.2)
  • How and why did Colorado become a state? What economic incentives brought people to Colorado? (S.3-GLE.1-EO.a)
  • The realities and impact of the Colorado Mining Industry (S.3-GLE.1-EO.b)
  • What advancements in Colorado’s mining technology have affected the economy? Why did settlements and large cities develop where they did in Colorado? (S.2-GLE.1-IQ.2)
  • The cause and effect relationship between the physical environment and the economy of Colorado (mining) (S.2-GLE.2-EO.c)

Photos courtesy of History Colorado