5 Quick and Important Pieces of Advice When Switching Grade Levels

I have to admit that switching or changing grade levels as the school year began was nerve racking and very stressful.  Although I'm starting my 31st year of teaching, change is always hard.  I've taught mostly third throughout those years, and for the past decade, it has been teaching third grade.  I've had combination classes along the way (mainly a 3rd-4th combination class), but we have a very unique way of instructing our combination classes, so it was never an issue.  But this year I was assigned a 2nd-3rd-grade combination class and now am teaching a class of just second graders.   So, I offer some advice if you have to switch or are changed grade levels.



We may be teachers, but we are also human beings.  Your first reaction is to panic!  You're thinking of all those great lesson plans and units you won't be able to teach this year.  You're thinking of how you're going to have to teach new units and new standards.  You're thinking about all the resources you're going to have to buy, borrow or find around the school.  You think so much it is overwhelming!  It's OK to feel overwhelmed, frustrated and a little sad about leaving your preferred grade.  But you shouldn't panic.  Why? It will lead you to inaction.  You'll waste valuable time that you could be using to make the transition smoother.


In my school, we have a particular way of handling combination classes.  Usually, a combination class in my school involves just having a few (4-8) kids from the one-grade level combine with another.  Because they are so few of that one-grade level, the other teachers from that grade level agree to take them for most if not all of the day.  That leaves the combination teacher with one grade level to teach.  Yes, it does increase the numbers for the other teachers.  But we look at it this way.  Eventually, every one of us will have to teach a combo class, and if we can help each other out, when our time comes we will also get help.  Think of it as paying it forward.

But this year was very different.  Our three combination classes had an even split between the two grades levels that were combined.  So the only solution was for me to take the second graders from the 1st-2nd-grade combo and combine them with my second graders to form a complete class. This meant sending my third graders to the other third grade teachers.  So here I am now teaching second grade!


When you're switching grade levels, the second thing you should do is find those pacing guides!  They will show you the entire year in a nutshell and will make your planning much easier.  In my district, grade level units were made by classroom teachers for each grade level and are shared in a Google Drive folder.  So it is straightforward to see what the units for the year are going to be.  In my district, these units are for English Langauge Arts and Math.


There are also unit binders that each grade level puts together with the resources that support each unit.  Knowing exactly which standards I am going to teach with each unit is invaluable.  Knowing which content area (social studies or science) is integrated into each unit is also invaluable.  Having both allows you to see how the entire year will flow.  Find your pacing guides.  Locate the unit binders.  If your district of school does not have these, another way is to ask a teacher at that grade level to see if you can look at last year's lesson plans (because we know every teacher keeps those old lesson plan books!).  


Even with the pacing guides and unit plans, you're going to have questions! You will have lots of them. The third thing to do is don't be afraid to ask for help from the grade level teachers.  I am lucky to work at a school in which everyone is friendly and works together as a team.  It is easy to ask for help.  We've developed a culture at my school in which it is not "my kids" but our kids.  Since we team teach for English Langauge Development (ELD) and RTI, it is natural to think of all the students as our students.  We have a stake in all classrooms being successful.


What if you don't have a friendly or helpful staff?  I've worked at those schools, too.  The best thing to do is to find a mentor.  Find that one friendly, helpful teacher (even if it's not the same grade level) and ask that teacher for help.  Don't feel intimidated to ask the principal for help!  That's a principal's job which is to support teachers.  Does your school or district have math or reading or some other type of instructional coach?  Ask them for help, too!  Don't add to your stress by isolating yourself and think you are showing weakness. It takes a professional to understand that help is needed.  Ask for it!


After teaching for 31 years, I have a lot of "stuff."  Yes, most of it is grade level specific, but I know I can adapt some of it to work in my new grade level assignment.  My fourth piece of advice is to figure out how you can repurpose all your read aloud books, unit resources, big books, digital resources, posters, etc., with your new grade level.  The Common Core State Standards from second grade and third grade have lots of overlap.  I'm not going to throw out everything and start over again!  Yes, I may need to borrow some resources or create new ones, but that's just part of teaching.  We're always on the lookout for new and useful resources.


I'm fortunate that some of the second-grade units in my district are very similar to the third-grade units when it comes to content.  That means I will be able to adapt my third-grade resources to use in second grade.  But when I do truly need something, I know I can go to my colleagues and borrow resources.  Also, just yesterday I went to the public library and found some read alouds to use with the current unit.  Don't forget to use your public library as a resource!


You might as well enjoy it! You're going to be teaching that new grade level for an entire school year.  You owe those students the best teaching and lessons you can deliver.  I am almost sure that next year I will be returning to third grade again (we have real solid numbers now coming up).  So this year I look at it as an opportunity to see how second graders are prepared for third grade.  It will give me invaluable insight as a third-grade teacher next year knowing what I taught the second graders.  Also knowing what third graders are going to be learning in third grade, will help me prepare and challenge these second graders to be ready for the challenges of third grade.


Also, it will give me an opportunity to create many new resources (both print and paperless/digital) to share with others in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 

Be sure to come back regularly so you can read more about this switch to second grade!

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Setting Up Google Classroom

It's Back to School season and one of the newest duties teachers have to do to set up a new classroom is setting up Google Classroom to accommodate the new students for the new school year.  When I set up my first Google Classroom three years ago, I made some rookie mistakes that I avoided the next year and beyond.  In this post, I will show you how to set up Google Classroom right the first time so you can have smooth sailing all year long. 


You don't want to make these mistakes when you first set up Google Classroom for the new year:


In this post, get a few tips to set up Google Classroom right the first time so you can have smooth sailing all year long.  You'll be shown how to set up different classes or subjects.  You'll be shown how to turn off student commenting.  You'll be shown why it's important to use a naming convention.  You'll be shown how to keep guardians in the loop with the student's assignments.  You'll be shown how to turn off and on notifications.


Log into Google Classroom. Find the plus symbol (+) located in the upper right-hand side.  You'll be given a pop-up window that you will fill in with the name of the class, section, and subject.  One mistake I made my first year was to create just one class for all my students and all their assignments.  It became a nightmare trying to find assignments and became unwieldy to manage.  Instead, make a new class for EVERY subject (English Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, etc.). If you teach periods, make a class for every period.  You might also want to create special classes for students you share with other teachers.  For example, in my school, we switch students around for Response to Intervention (RtI) and English Language Development (ELD).  So I created special classes just for the students in that group.



Develop a way in which you will name each class or subject or period.  This makes it much easier for students to find the correct class and therefore the assignment.  If you look at the example below, I have used the following naming convention for my classes or subject areas:

  • subject (use abbreviations when you can)
  • grade (especially important if you teach a combination class or multi-age class)
  • school year (once the school year is over, you can archive a class)


Google automatically assigns the color and background of each class when you initially set up.  The newest feature of Google Classroom allows the teacher to change the order of the classes by just grabbing and dragging the classes around.  Before, the recent class would always be first.  If you need to add more classes during the year, just click the plus symbol (+) again and create it.

You can also customize the look of each classroom by clicking on a class name, then on the right side of the class header/banner click on SELECT THEME.  Once you do that, you'll be presented with the option to choose from pre-existing themes or patterns.  You also have the choice of uploading your own photo.  However, the dimensions of the picture need to be 2000 X 400 pixels.  You can upload any photo, but you'll have to drag it around inside the header to get it to show what you want.


Another important set-up feature is to make sure you add topics to each class.  Topics are essentially like subheadings within a class.  For example, I have an English Langauge Arts Class.   But in that class, I can assign spelling, comprehension, grammar or vocabulary assignments.  Without topics, students have to scroll around to find the exact assignment.  With topics, you can give each assignment a topic. That way students can filter assignments by topic.



One of the biggest mistakes I made that first year was NOT monitoring or turning off the comments.  Both teacher and students can add comments in Google Classroom.  That's a nice feature if the teacher needs to have more detailed instructions or add more information to an assignment.  There are lots of legitimate excuses and reasons to use the comment feature.  Unfortunately, some students see the comment section as a texting feature and start sending comments to each other that ALL students can see.


I had an incident in which two students were putting comments in the comments section writing about another student.  It was not nice compliments.  I had to take screen shots, email them to the parents and the students lost technology privileges for a week.  That is when our Technology Itinerant Teacher showed me how to prohibit students from commenting.  So I do that with every class. I turn off the ability for students to comment.  Only the teacher can comment!


A very nice feature of Google Classroom is the ability for parents and guardians to get updates about student assignments in each class.  I discovered this feature when my own child entered seventh grade, and several of his teachers used this feature.  Parents can opt in to receiving daily or even weekly updates via email.  This was an incredibly useful feature to me as a parent of a middle schooler trying to keep him on track with assignments, projects, and homework.  This feature also helps you to be proactive with parents whose children are not putting forth an effort or are not turning in assignments on time.



Your email in-box will be full of notifications when students turn in assignments, resubmit assignments, add comments, share docs with you, or a myriad of other things.  You can turn all of them off.  However, I caution against that because a student can say that he or she turned in an assignment that you didn't know about!  So it is better to leave ON all notifications so that all communication and notifications are given to you.

I would, however, change the profile picture because sometimes students will have several teachers who use Google Classroom.  They can instantly recognize whose Google Classroom it is with your custom profile picture.


Once you have all your classes in Google Classroom set up, it's straightforward to add the students to each class.  A new feature of Google Classroom 2017 is the ability to project the JOIN code in full-screen mode.  Before you more or less had to recopy it onto the whiteboard large enough for everyone to see.  Now, Google Classroom allows you to project the code in full screen.  Once a student has joined the class or subject or period, only YOU can delete the student from the class during the school year.  If you get a new student, no problem.  Just give the new student the code, and they will instantly be added.


Another important feature is the ability to invite other teachers to be an administrator of the class.  This is a fantastic feature if you co-teach or share students.

What features of Google Classroom do you like? Share in the comments below!

5 Essential No-Nonsense Apps Teachers Need Every Year

With the thousands of Apps available for the Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, and Windows how is a teacher supposed to narrow the field for the most essential and no-nonsense apps?  In this roundup post, I'll give you the run down on five important Apps and websites you can rely on year in and year out.  These Apps and websites have only improved with age.  Take a look at each video so you can learn the features of why these Apps and websites are so essential.


Essential App #1:  Google Classroom

Before you watch the video, there are some exciting new updates coming to Google Classroom and Google Forms!  Check out this link:  10 ways we’re making Classroom and Forms easier for teachers this school year.  

If you are in a 1:1 classroom environment or are heading in that direction, "get thee to Google Classroom," a modern Shakespeare my say.  Google Classroom is a platform that allows teachers to assign, distribute and grade assignments and projects in a paperless way.  Teachers can access Google Classroom on the desktop (classroom.google.com) or as an App on their tablet or phone (both iOS and Android).  I've blogged about how important it is to organize your Google Classroom in this post, and Google makes organization easy and convenient.

Check out this video tutorial for Google Classroom to get started:

Essential App #2:  ClassDojo

If you're looking for a great way to combine Growth Mindset, parent communication, student accountability and classroom management you've just found it.  ClassDojo is both a website (www.classdojo.com) and an App available for tablets and phones (both iOS and Android).  I've also blogged about using ClassDojo with my students.  Create a class roster and start rewarding students for good choices.  If students make bad choices, you can document that through ClassDojo as well.  But the best part is keeping parents informed not only about the student's behavior but also about the happenings in your classroom.  Parents download the App and join by a unique code provided to them.  Parents can keep track of their child's behavior, receive notices from you (including pictures and videos).  ClassDojo has now added a new feature called ToolKit which is viewable through the App.  The new ToolKit has eight new features including a timer, group maker, directions display and more.

Check out this video tutorial for ClassDojo to get started:

Essential App #3:  Remind

Everyone is busy.  Teachers and parents.  So what is a quick and sure fire way to make sure parents receive important school and classroom information?  Use Remind!  Sure, you can send messages through ClassDojo, but that means the parent has to open the app to see the message.  What if you could text the parent directly with relevant information?  That is what the Remind App (and website at www.remind.com) does for you.  When you sign up, you'll be given a random telephone number that will be used to text parents.  Parents sign up directly from their phone.  I like to use Back to School Night to have them all take out their phones and sign them up.  Sign up takes 30 seconds!  From them on, they'll receive text messages from you with your important announcements.  It has many other features, too.

Check out this video tutorial for Remind to get started:

Essential App #4:  EdPuzzle

This website is one of the coolest sites available to teachers.  Ever find a great video on YouTube or some other site and think how you could use it in a lesson?  This site allows you to not only assign a video (it communicates with Google Classroom so you can assign it through Google Classroom), but you can develop questions for the students to answer and interact with the video!  I've blogged about how I use EdPuzzle in my classroom.  You can trim videos or even add your narration.  A video is a powerful tool for teaching, and this website makes it easy to develop assignments and projects with the videos.

Check out his video tutorial for EdPuzzle to get started:

Essential App #5:  Kahoot

What is Kahoot?  The Kahoot blog explains it well:

"A Kahoot is a collection of questions on specific topics.  Created by teachers, students, business-people and social users, they are asked in real-time, to an unlimited number of "players," creating a social, fun and game-like learning environment."

You can make up your own questions or pick from those made by others.  It's a great way to check for comprehension or use as an exit ticket quickly.

Check out this video tutorial for Kahoot to get started:

What Apps do you consider essential for teachers to use?  Let us know in the comment section!

25 Amazing Chrome Extensions Every Teacher Should Use

If you're new to using the Chrome web browser or a veteran user, here's a round-up of 25 Chrome Extensions that will help teachers save time and their sanity.  Rather than make a list, here are some informative videos to get you started with adding these amazing Chrome Extensions.  

Not sure what Chrome Extensions are or how to add them? No problem!  These videos will walk you through the process.  Just open up Chrome and get started!


In this 20 minute video, you'll be introduced to a variety of powerful and useful extensions every teacher should be using.  The extensions in this video are perfect if you're just now making the switch to Chrome.

Here are the extensions presented:
  • G Suite Training - great for learning everything Google
  • Google Tone - instantly share links with your class
  • Goo.gl - URL shortener
  • Bitly- another URL shortener with more options
  • Print Friendly  PDF - stop wasting paper and ink!
  • Extensity - turn extensions on and off as needed
  • Auto Text Expander - create shortcuts for oft repeated text
  • Awesome Screenshot - more than just a screenshot, lots of options including annotation!


In this 5 minute video made by a teacher, you'll be introduced to some handy Chrome Extensions that will help you be more productive.

Here are the extensions presented:
  • Save to Google Drive - You know you want to!
  • Eye Dropper - what color is that?
  • One Tab - get those opened tabs organized


Need even more Chrome Extensions? Then watch this 11-minute video for some more awesome and time-saving Chrome Extensions.

Here are the extensions presented:
  • Click Time - need a timer for your class? Get this one!
  • Google Dictionary - click on any word and instant definition
  • Tab Resize - want side by side tabs open? This will resize and split your screen.
  • Pin it Button - save all those great ideas to Pinterest


Can it get even more awesome? Yes, it can!  Here are five more incredible Chrome Extensions to add as explained in this 3-minute video.  

Here are the extensions presented:
  • Readability - Get rid of all the things you don't want to read on a page.
  • Tab Cloud - Save all your open tabs as a session to open again later
  • Edpuzzle - Integrate Edpuzzle.com right into Chrome!
  • World Data Finder - Need more statistics and charts? Then this for you.
  • Tab Scissors - Another tab resizer


This final round-up video will not disappoint.  Take a look at this 9-minute video and add these Chrome Extensions as well.

Here are the extensions presented:
  • Grammarly - Check your grammar and spelling 
  • Tab Glue - Glue all those tabs back together
  • YouTube Adblock - Get rid of those sometimes inappropriate ads on YouTube
  • Kami - Open and Annotate PDFs 
  • Drive Quick Create - Shortcut to create a Google Docs, Slides or Sheets

If those Chrome Extensions aren't enough, make sure you check out the Chrome Web Store accessible from Chrome (or just Google it).

Share your amazing Chrome Extensions for teachers below in the comments!

5 Tools That Will Make Your Students Google Docs Pros

Do your students use Google Docs® for writing and publishing? That's great! But now let's make them a Power User or Pro when working with Google Docs.  

Here are five Pro tools to teach your students so they can increase their efficiency and work when using Google Docs.


If you're unfamiliar with Google Docs, it is part of Google's free online apps which also include Google Slides and Google Sheets.  Think of it as the web version of Microsoft Office, but with one big difference! It's free!  All you and your students need to get going on using these apps is a Google Account.

I am fortunate to work in a 1:1 district and I have a cart full of Chromebooks.  Each of my students and myself have a district issued Google Account which we use to log into anything Google.  So what are these Pro tools?  I believe that these five tools are often overlooked, underused or teachers and students don't know they exist! 



If your class make up is anything like mine, you will have many English Language Learners, Resource students, and students with limited vocabulary.  In a 1:1 classroom, I can not be everywhere.  So if a student sees a word that is not understood, teach the student to use the Define Tool.  Directly to go to Tools, scroll down to Define.  Then type the word or term in the box.


Instantly you will get the definition AND synonyms if available.   Get students into the habit of using online dictionaries. Why? I'm here in California.  In our version of the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC), students have the ability to use the built-in glossary when working on the reading portion of the test.  How cool is that! But if you don't use it to your advantage, it's a wasted opportunity to improve your score.  So if you get students into this habit of using online dictionaries or glossaries, it will help them later while increasing their vocabulary.  They're also using technology as a tool, just like they would in college or in the workforce.


A critical Common Core Standard for English Language Arts in third grade is RI.3.5 which is about using text features.  Headers in an informational piece are crucial and used to locate information more efficiently.  When students use the Document Outline Tool, they create their own headers, and it helps them organize their writing.  At the same time, it's an added bonus that they learn how to use headers and how they are used in not only organizing information but helping the reader to find it.


While they are making headers, they are also learning basic word processing tools and skills that they will need for college and the workforce.



How many times do we tell our students now:  cite evidence!  Well, first you have to collect the evidence.  That's where Google Keep is handy.  If you're familiar with EverNote, then you'll be familiar with Google Keep.  They work in similar ways to capture information in one place that can then be accessed at a later time.  But the best part is that you can access your Google Keep notes DIRECTLY from Google Docs.


As with all Google sites, you will need to already have an account for Google Keep to save your information.  Google Keep is a website (keep.google.com), but you can also add the Google Keep Extension to your Chrome browser.  Click on the extension button anytime to bring up something to save. You can also highlight something and then right-click to bring up a contextual menu to let you save it to Google Keep.


You can see all your notes and organize them any way your want from the Google Keep website.  The key is to organize your notes by using labels. Create a label around a topic, and then anything you save related to that topic should be given that label.  That way, if you have a multitude of notes, you can search for the notes you need by the label.  Organization skills are valuable skills for college and the workforce.


How do you access your notes in Google Docs? Very simple! Go to Tools, then scroll down to Keep Notepad.  Now you can just drag text to your document.  It will automatically paste anything in that note, including web links.  But we don't want students to plagiarize! So Google Keep should be used as a research tool to gather information for which the student will rewrite in his/her own words.  This brings up the opportunity to discuss being a good digital citizen, plagiarism, and copyright infringement.



This past year I had two RSP students who really HATED to write.  I also had a few other non-RSP students who felt the same way about writing....even typing!  So that's why you want to use this handy tool with select students.  To access the Voice Typing tool, go to Tools then scroll down to Voice Typing.  You might have to test this feature to see if it actually works on the device the student is using.  Though it worked on my MacBook Pro, sometimes I could not get it to work on the Chromebooks.  You should speak to your Tech Department about how to make sure it will work.


By the way, a workaround for this is the iPad. If you have access to iPads, all the Google Apps are available for the iPad. iPads have built-in dictation, so all the student has to do is open a new Google Docs, then bring up the keyboard.  On the screen keyboard, click on the microphone key, and it will take dictation. Dictation on the iPad or Chromebook can be tricky as ambient noise can mess things up.  Also, you have to say PERIOD or QUESTION MARK or EXCLAMATION POINT if you want punctuation.  It's a nice feature to have for those students who struggle with just writing or typing.


This is not so much a tool as a feature of Google Docs.  With this feature, you can turn any Google Docs document into an online web page.  Why would this be important?  As I discovered when I went 1:1, a lot of my students' writing was not up on our writing wall but stored on their Google Drive. So how is anyone going to see it (especially district officials when they come on their yearly tours)?  So here's a way for anyone to see their published writing that's stored in their Google Drive.


First, go to File and then scroll down to Publish to the Web.  From there you will be presented with a window to ask how you want it posted (link or embed).  Choose link.

Then, click on Start Publishing.  Then you'll be given the link (which you can store on Google Keep).  You will have to have a Google Slide presentation template already set up to receive the link.


In Google Slides, you will create a small text box.  You will write a title such as, My Statue of Liberty Opinion Piece or whatever is the title of the writing.  Then you will insert a link in the text box.  This is where you paste in the link you already saved.  Now a student can keep adding text boxes with links to this Google Slide, and it can act as a homepage with links to all their writing.  Much more convenient than retrieving it from their Google Drive.  Even better, create a QR code for a link to the Google Slides presentation.  That way, anyone can scan the QR code with a phone or other device and quickly get to the slide and the links.


If you can teach your students to use these tools, not only do they become a Power User, but learn valuable tech skills and are becoming prepared for college and the workforce.  If you have a PRO or POWER USE tip, submit it below in the comments!

Think You Know all About California History? Surprise!

Could Southern California have been split off to join the Confederacy during the early part of California's history? Almost!  That's just one surprising fact I learned on my recent road trip with my kids to explore the history of California (and do some sightseeing!).  Since my youngest son is about to start the fourth grade here in California, I wanted to make sure he learned about and saw some important places in California (the fourth-grade history curriculum in California focuses only on California's history).  

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

Road Trip to Northern California

We drove to Northern California up Highway 101, which is the original path the Spanish established as El Camino Real (The Royal Road).  It was along this path that the Spanish, early in California's history, built 21 missions and four Presidios (forts).  Our first stop was the San Luis Obispo Mission which was Founded by Father Junípero Serra in 1772 as the fifth mission.  Learning about the Spanish Mission Era is an essential part of the curriculum in fourth grade.

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

For us, this was the sixth Spanish mission we have visited.  If you ever visit California, I highly recommend visiting at least one of the missions, including the missions at San Juan Capistrano and Santa Barbara.  They offer a detailed look into life before statehood while the Spanish colonized Alta California.  

Here's another surprising fact about California history.  Who was the President who signed the document to return the missions back to the Catholic Church?  After México became the ruler of Alta California, the missions were either abandoned or sold off.  Believe it or not, it was Abraham Lincoln!  Yes, after California achieved statehood and fought on the side of the Union during the Civil War, Lincoln wanted to actually visit California but was assassinated before he got the chance.  In one of the last documents he signed before his death, he upheld the 1855 decision by the US Land Commission to return the missions to the Catholic Church.

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

Capital of Spanish California

Monterey, located on the bay by the same name, was discovered by the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542.  He and other early California explorers mapped California for later expeditions.  Father Serra actually established a mission and presidio in Monterey.  The mission was moved to Carmel, but the Presidio stayed.  Monterey was also the capital of Mexican Alta California.  

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

Of course, you can't go to Monterey without visiting the world famous aquarium!  Monterey Bay was important to the Spanish, and later the Russians who started building forts and outposts in California.  Why were the Russians in Alta California?  Sea otter furs!  That is one reason the sea otter almost became extinct in California.  But with the help of the aquarium, their numbers are roaring back! We also visited Cannery Row made famous by the California Pulitzer Prize winner, John Steinbeck, who was born in nearby Salinas, California.  

San Francisco or Boomtown, California!

Did you know that after gold was discovered in California in 1848, San Francisco (originally called Yerba Buena by the Spanish), went from about 800 people in 1847 to 25,000 in 1849!  Talk about unrestricted growth.  But San Francisco has also played many other roles in California History. Did you know that San Francisco is home to the Ellis Island of the west coast?  Yes!  Angel Island, now a California State Park, was the place immigrants from China and many other nations passed through to a new life in the United States.  

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

San Francisco is also home to one the four Presidios the Spanish built to control Alta California.  The Presidio is now a national park with lots to see.  Though we didn't visit The Presidio on this visit, we did go to Chinatown, climb all they up Coit Tower and took a bay cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge.  By the way, the Spanish did NOT discover San Francisco Bay during the explorer period, but two hundred years later during the colonization period. Why? Fog of course!  The entrance to the bay was shrouded by fog each time the Spanish initially sailed by it.

California State Capital and Capitol

It was now time to head northwest towards Gold Country and the capital of California, Sacramento.  We stayed in nearby Folsom, which is about 20 minutes east of Sacramento.  This is where I learned something new about California History.

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

During a tour of the State Capitol Building, our tour guide had many interesting stories not only about the building but about early California History.  It seems that after California became a state, the two California senators (Gwin and Broderick) who served California before the Civil War, were on opposite sides of the slavery issue!  It had gotten to the point, in which Senator Gwin, who was pro-slavery and a southern sympathizer, thought it a good idea to split the state between the north and the south.  The north would continue as a free state, while the south would allow slavery.  Of course, it never came to fruition though it was surprising to me that this was even considered!  If that doesn't surprise you, then did you know the other Senator from California, Senator Broderick was killed in a duel with the California Chief Justice, David Terry!

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

In the State Capitol Building, we were also given a tour of both the Assembly and Senator rooms.  They are completely different.  Surprisingly, they are modeled after the British Parliament.  The State Assembly room is green like the House of Commons, while the State Senate room is red like the House of Lords.  Also, the State Assembly is wired for the digital age with microphones, laptops and electronic voting screens.  The State Senate is a little more formal and does not have an electronic voting screen nor buttons for voting.  A State Assembly Person votes by touching a button on their desk which immediately shows up on the electronic voting screen.  A State Senator still has to vote with Yay or No and someone records the votes.   

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

In the State Assembly room hangs a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, who was very popular in California which helped elect him to the presidency.  In the State Senate room, hangs a picture of George Washington (a copy of a famous portrait and the oldest painting hanging in the Capitol building.  There's also a very interesting portrait of Governor Brown.  It is a state law that every California Governor must have his portrait painted after leaving office.  All the portraits hang in the building.  By modern times, the governors broke from tradition, including Governor Brown.  The tour guide said it took five sitting of three hours each for the artist, Don Bachardy, to get this expression.

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

By the way, here's another surprising fact about California's move to be split to support slavery.  One of California's earliest governors, John Bigler, later became a Southern sympathizer.  California's deepest lake was named in his honor while he served as governor for two terms.  But with his support for slavery and the South, Lake Bigler was erased from history and renamed Lake Tahoe. Surprise!

The California Gold Rush!

It's 1848 and gold is discovered in California (which had not attained statehood yet until 1850) near Sutter's Mill on the American River.  This area is about 45 minutes east of Sacramento up in the hills in what is the town of Coloma.   Coloma is not a Spanish name but was named after a southern Maidu village.   The Maidu were one of California's earliest inhabitants.

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

You can not talk about the Gold Rush without talking about the impact on California's Indians.  When the Spanish arrived in 1542, California was home to about 300,000 California Indians living very differently from each other.  California is divided into four regions:  Coastal, Central Valley, Mountain and Desert Regions.  Based on the region, California's Native Americans lived off the land and its resources.  California's Indians were for the most part hunters and gatherers, except for the desert tribes who were also farmers. 

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

When the Spanish began building the missions, they used Indian labor.  It was very much slave labor. The Spanish Mission Era and the Mexican Rancho Era (the time in which México owned California) contributed to the demise of 100,000 California Native Americans.  However, it was the Gold Rush that triggered a genocide of California's Tribes.  

In the first two years of the Gold Rush, over 100,000 California Indians were killed.  The survivors fought back and tried to hang on but with over 100,000 settlers and gold seekers, there was little chance of surviving.  

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

"A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct." - California Governor Peter H. Burnett, January 1851.

If these are the official words of our elected officials, I believe that we teachers who teach about California History must present these historical facts to our students.  The Gold Rush always invokes a feeling of excitement, but it must also be presented as something more serious for the original inhabitants of California. 

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

In Coloma is located California's Marshall Gold Discovery Site State Park. There you will see a replica of the sawmill James Marshall was building for John Sutter.  There are lots of other buildings and artifacts that show who came to find the gold:  there's a Chinese Store, the Chilean Mill, and the Mexican arrastre.  Most people think the mining was done with panning.  Not true.  Hydraulic mining was used in which a high-pressure hose literally tore off mountain tops (can you say strip mining). 

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

If you ever go to see this site, don't forget to see the Blacksmith. He will show you his skills and explain how blacksmithing was done back in the Gold Rush days.

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

California's Symbols

Finally, one of the most important details I pointed out to my soon to be fourth grader was California's symbols.  From the Golden Poppy to the Roman goddess Minerva, symbols of the state were all over the State Capitol building.  The symbols on the state seal represent all of the histories of California.  Fourth graders learn all about California's symbols as they learn about its history.  

California History is an amazing and sad story all at once.  Read about my road trip to Northern California to explore California's History from the original inhabitants to the Gold Rush.

Check out this Digital Interactive Notebook for Google Slides that helps students research the most iconic of California's symbols.  


The Digital Interactive Notebook for Google Slides is composed of 20 slides.  Students research using the web and video links embedded on the slides.  Students learn when the symbol was adopted, what it symbolizes and interesting facts about the symbols.  They also have an opportunity to write an opinion piece of which symbol best represents California.

If you're interested in more California History, follow my Pinterest Board,

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