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Unit 4: By the Great Horn Spoon

Beyond the Great Horn Spoon

This interdisciplinary and comprehensive unit begins following the reading of By the Great Horn Spoon, by Sid Fleishman.  The characters from the book find themselves involved in the economic, social and political life of San Francisco at the time of the Gold Rush!  They work to solve some of the challenges this colorful time in history presents, just as California becomes part of the United States.  Students in the classroom “become” these characters and work to apply the principles of the state and federal Constitutions to protect freedoms.  The unit concludes with a mock trial in which students help to provide arguments for one of the problems they face ~ illuminating the role of the judiciary.  Note:  Several lessons are preceded by podcasts to assist in the advancement of the authentic scenario students are challenged to solve ~ these podcasts are critical to the unit of study.


Grade Levels

4th Grade

Stage 1: Desired Results

  • California History Social Science Content Standards

    4.3      Students explain the economic, social, and political life in California from the establishment of the Bear Flag Republic through the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush, and the granting of statehood. Compare how and why people traveled to California and the routes they traveled (e.g., James Beckwourth, John Bidwell, John C. Fremont, Pio Pico).

    1. Analyze the effects of the Gold Rush on settlements, daily life, politics, and the physical environment (e.g., using biographies of John Sutter, Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, Louise Clapp).
    2. Study the lives of women who helped build early California (e.g., Biddy Mason).
    3. Discuss how California became a state and how its new government differed from those during the Spanish and Mexican periods.

    4.5 Students understand the structures, functions, and powers of the local, state, and federal governments as described in the U.S. Constitution.

    1. Discuss what the U.S. Constitution is and why it is important (i.e., a written document that defines the structure and purpose of the U.S. government and describes the shared powers of federal, state, and local governments).
    2. Understand the purpose of the California Constitution, its key principles, and its relationship to the U.S. Constitution.
    3. Describe the similarities (e.g., written documents, rule of law, consent of the governed, three separate branches) and differences (e.g., scope of jurisdiction, limits on government powers, use of the military) among federal, state, and local governments.
    4. Explain the structures and functions of state governments, including the roles and responsibilities of their elected officials.
    5. Describe the components of California’s governance structure (e.g., cities and towns, Indian rancherias and reservations, counties, school districts).
  • Suggested K-12 Pathway for College, Career, and Civic Readiness

    Dimension 2, Civic and Political Institutions


    • D2.Civ.1.3-5.  Distinguish the responsibilities and powers of government officials at various levels and branches of government and in different times and places.
    • D2.Civ.2.3-5 Explain how a democracy relies on people’s responsible participation, and draw implications for how individuals should participate.
    • D.2 Civ.3.3-5: Examine the origins and purposes of rules, laws and key U. S. constitutional provisions
    • D2.Civ.4.3-5. Explain how groups of people make rules to create responsibilities and protect freedoms.
    • D2.Civ.5.3-5. Explain the origins, functions, and structure of different systems of government, including those created by the U.S. and state constitutions.
    • D2.Civ.6.3-5. Describe ways in which people benefit from and are challenged by working together, including through government, work- places, voluntary organizations, and families.

    Dimension 2, Participation and Deliberation

    • D2.Civ.8.3-5. Identify core civic virtues and democratic principles that guide government, society, and communities.
    • D2.Civ.9.3-5. Use deliberative processes when making decisions or reaching judgments as a group.
    • D2.Civ.10.3-5. Identify the beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and values that underlie their own and others’ points of view about civic issues.

    Dimension 2, Processes, Rules, and Laws

    • D2.Civ.10.3-5. Identify the beliefs, experiences, perspectives, and values that underlie their own and others’ points of view about civic issues.
  • California English Language Development Standards



    A. Collaborative

    P1.4.1 Exchanging information and and ideas with others through oral collaborative discussions on a range of social and academic topics

    Supporting opinions

    11.a. Support opinions by expressing appropriate/accurate reasons using textual evidence (e.g., referring to text) or relevant background knowledge about content, with substantial support.

    Selecting language resources

    12.a. Use a select number of general academic and domain-specific words to create precision while speaking and writing.

  • Common Core State Standards for Writing


    • Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
      1. Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
      2. Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details.
      3. Link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (e.g., for instance, in order to, in addition).
      4. Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.


    • Produce clear and coherent writing (including multiple-paragraph texts) in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1–3 above.) CA
    • With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1–3 up to and including grade 4.)
    • With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.
    • Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.
    • Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes, paraphrase, and categorize information, and provide a list of sources. CA
  • Speaking and Listening Standards


    • Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
      1. Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.
      2. Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles.
      3. Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.
      4. Review the key ideas expressed and explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion.
    • Paraphrase portions of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.


    • Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
    • Plan and deliver a narrative presentation that: relates ideas, observations, or recollections; provides a clear context; and includes clear insight into why the event or experience is memorable.
    • Add audio recordings and visual displays to presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.
    • Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate (e.g., small-group discussion); use formal English when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 4 Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.)
  • Reading Standards


    • Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area. (See grade 4 Language standards 4–6 for additional expectations.) CA
  • English-Language Arts Standards for California Public Schools


    Students write compositions that describe and explain familiar objects, events, and experiences. Student writing demonstrates a command of standard American English and the drafting, research, and organizational strategies outlined in Writing Standard 1.0.

    Using the writing strategies of grade four outlined in Writing Standard 1.0, students:

    2.3  Write information reports:

    1. Frame a central question about an issue or situation.
    2. Include facts and details for focus.
    3. Draw from more than one source of information (e.g., speakers, books, newspapers, other media sources).
  • California State Standards for the Visual and Performing Arts
    Theatre, Creative Expression


    • 2.1  Participate in improvisational activities to explore complex ideas and universal themes in literature and life.
    • 2.2  Demonstrate the use of blocking (stage areas, levels, and actor’s position, such as full front, quarter, profile, and full back) in dramatizations.


    • 2.3 Collaborate as an actor, director, scriptwriter, or technical artist in creating formal or informal theatrical performances.


    • 2.7  Communicate values, opinions, or personal insights through an original work of art.


  • The government is responsible to its people
  • Citizenship calls for civic responsibility (the people are the government)
  • Democracy Calls for Equal Justice Under the Law
  • People Move to Improve Their Lives


  • How have the natural resources of the area affected the growth, and landscape of the area?
  • How has the growth of the area affected the economic, social and political life of the citizenry?
  • Is the Rule of Law necessary for peaceful coexistence? Explain.
  • Do rules protect freedoms?  If so, in what ways?
  • Does a democracy require the participation of the people?  Explain.
  • In what ways were people challenged to work together and how did the structure of the government help to solve issues?

Stage 2: End of Unit Authentic Assessment


  • Goal: To convince the jury that the Jackson family were free African Americans and were kidnapped by Cut Eye Higgins.
  • Role: Research assistants for the Prosecuting Attorney.
  • Audience: Jurors and public at the trial in San Francisco in 1850.
  • Situation: People in California do not understand the new government structure, they have only witnessed and lived under “vigilante” justice. They have joined the union as a “free state” and must also follow the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
  • Problem: A Slave-Catcher, or Bloodhound has kidnapped An African American family.  It must be proven in court that the family has legally been granted their freedom, and that the Slave-Catcher is guilty of kidnapping.
  • Standards for Success: The jury is convinced that the family has been kidnapped, by arguments that support the rule of law.  In addition, the jury is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of kidnapping due to the strong arguments that relate to evidence and the rule of law.

Download GRASPS as a printable, one-page PDF.

Quality Criteria Absolutely!  Almost! Not Yet!
  • Written opinion supports point of view with reasons and information
  • Clear intro, statement of opinion
  • Logically ordered reasons supported by facts and details
  • Effective use of words, phrases and clauses
  • Provides conclusion related to opinion presented
  •  Analysis of the effects of the Gold Rush evident: social, economic and political
  • Understanding of the structures and powers of state and federal government as they relate to the challenges of the effects of the Gold Rush
Speaking and Listening:
  • Collaborative discussions with clear expressions of ideas
  • Builds on other’s ideas, responds to others’ questions
  • Prepared, follows roles assigned
  • Reviews key ideas from discussion and draws conclusions
  • Shares at a reasonable pace using logical reasoning
  • Active participation in improvisation, exploring emotions, physical characteristics, developing character
  • Effective use of blocking for the “set” of the courtroom.

Stage 3: Planned Lessons

Lesson plans and the facts, knowledge, concepts, and skills within are described below. Please select a lesson to view complete lesson plans: