MiddleSchoolPortal/Rocks Minerals Technology and Society

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Rocks, Minerals, Technology, and Society - Introduction

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What do you think of when someone says “natural resources”? Perhaps forest products, agriculture, and water resources? What about ores, rocks and minerals? These don't seem to get the spotlight in classroom discussions of natural resources the way other resources do, even though the world economy, community infrastructure and health technologies, to name only a few, rely on the availability of all kinds of naturally occurring ores, rocks and minerals.

Did you know chromium forms the ore chromite, from which most manganese steel and stainless steel castings are made? These are important components of the multibillion-dollar automobile industry. What single mineral is used for such diverse purposes as water purification, optical lens grinding, semiconductor preparation, and sand blasting? Give up? Garnet. And you thought it was just a pretty, red gem! It's not always red, by the way. The list is almost endless. So how do we give our students an understanding of these important substances' scientific aspects as well as the related technologies that capitalize on the scientific knowledge of rocks, ores, and minerals?

The National Science Education Standards for grades 5-8 encourages a holistic approach to study of the four earth system components — geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and the biosphere. A study of ores and minerals provides an appropriate context. Obviously these compounds are formed in and are part of the geosphere. In addition, their formation depends on the action of water, on atmospheric phenomena, and on biotic phenomena.



This publication is designed to assist you in going beyond the traditional "identify the rocks" unit. If your students already have knowledge of the geochemical cycles, use that as a bridge. An analogy can be seen in the way the geochemical cycles explain how naturally occurring elements from the earth enter the biosphere and the way ores, rocks and minerals enter man-made constructions, in the sense there are some intervening activities that accomplish the transition from "within" the earth in a raw form to "outside" the earth in a changed form.

Pedagogically speaking, consider beginning with an exploration phase by exposing students to a few minerals by way of: (1) physical specimens for which students can record physical and chemical properties and generate hypotheses regarding origin, content, and usefulness; and (2) exposure to processes, such as water purification, that use particular minerals or result in the extraction of the purified mineral. Students can speculate on how the process is accomplished, what is necessary, and why does it work? Such exercises serve as pre-assessments as well as prior knowledge activators, paving the way for subsequent student learning.

Together these two strategies touch on, first, the science, and, second, the technology of mining and using ores and minerals. An inductive approach of starting with acquiring knowledge of minerals enables understanding of rock origins and types. For example, the minerals quartz and feldspar combine to form granite; similar by way of analogy to elements combining to form compounds.

In the next section of this publication, Background Information for Teachers you can review (a) your knowledge of basic minerals, (b) the rock cycle, (c) the roles of water and living things in mineral formation, and (d) technologies related to minerals.

In other sections of the publication we highlight resources featuring animations, simulations, articles, lessons and activities you can use with your students to facilitate their conceptual understanding of minerals and rocks and their properties which confer usefulness in a variety of technological contexts. In addition we present some resources designed to raise awareness of how these minerals are mined and the environmental impacts of mining.

Finally, we suggest how the study of ores, rocks, and minerals is aligned with the content standards of the National Science Education Standards for grades 5-8.

Background Information for Teachers

You may not be an earth science major, yet you must teach it. Fortunately, many students find the study of rocks and minerals intrinsically interesting, especially when they can see samples, virtual and real, large and small. However, if made to simply classify and memorize specific minerals and rocks, students quickly become turned off. Resources here can help you gain the background information you need to decide which aspects of rocks, minerals and earth systems you want to emphasize with your students, beyond classification.

First, we present you with some concept maps that show you several relationship among the various concepts. The NSDL Strand Map Service maps illustrate connections between concepts and across grade levels. An image of the middle grades (6-8) only part of the Use of Earth's Resources map appears below. Clicking on a concept within the maps will show NSDL resources relevant to the concept, as well as information about related AAAS Project 2061 Benchmarks and National Science Education Standards. Move the pink box in the lower right hand corner of the page to see the grades 6-8 learning goals. We've also included the grade 6-8 band of the Technology and Science Map since mining requires technology and science enables knowledge of the rocks and minerals worthy of mining for human use.

Use of Earth's Resources

View individual map Printable view of map

The Periodic Table of Elements Because minerals are compounds of elements, you might want to refer to this interactive table of the elements to learn more about the elements contained within a given mineral. This table gives you more than the standard periodic table. For example, chromium, mentioned in the introduction, is described as being "produced commercially by heating its ore in the presence of silicon or aluminum. Chromium is used to make stainless steel; it gives the colour to rubies and emeralds. Iron-nickel-chromium alloys in various percentages yield an incredible variety of the most important metals in modern technology." The crystal structure and physical properties are also presented.

Minerals This site provides an in-depth look at mineral properties and identification. An alphabetical listing of common minerals allows the user to see a picture and view physical properties of the particular mineral. Properties of minerals are explained, including cleavage, hardness, crystal form, and luster. There are also downloadable labs for crystal models and mineral data sheets. Dichotomous and hardness keys are given for easier mineral identification.

The major rock types and how they form Since minerals are embedded in rock formations, knowledge of rocks is good background for mineral study. This page presents a concise overview of the three rock types and is accompanied by photos.

Water Properties Water plays a role in mineral formation. Having knowledge of the fundamental properties of water allows clearer understandings of some mineral formation processes. This is a simple description of the chemical and physical properties of water produced by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Discovery may jump-start mine remediation efforts This article from November 30, 2000, describes how bacteria contribute to detoxify ground water by chemically altering lead and zinc compounds resulting in useful mineral deposits. It underscores the relationships between the hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere and points to bioremediation processes useful in controlling contaminations associated with mining.

Historical statistics for mineral and material commodities in the united states This page from the U.S. Geological Survey provides information to the public and to policymakers concerning the current use and flow of 90 minerals and materials in the U.S. economy. Scroll to the bottom of the page for a table of the minerals and materials. In the column End-Use Statistics, click on the pdf for Aluminum, for example. A table appears in which use of aluminum in metric tons per year is described in seven categories. The last column shows apparent consumption. The same data is presented on the next page in a stacked line graph. A rich resource for data relating to mineral use! Students can be asked to interpret the data — what does it say? In the case of aluminum, consumption has dropped off in recent years. Hypothesize, what might account for the reduction in consumption of aluminum? How could that hypothesis be tested?

Mineral Science Lessons

Though the term mineral has a specific meaning in geology, students may have a different conception of minerals. Resources in this section will help students develop scientifically accurate conceptions of minerals.

Minerals zone : colored stones optical properties Since gemstones are a concrete concept most middle school students can relate to, the stones can be the bridge to the larger world of minerals used widely in industry. This is a comprehensive site on tens of gemstones. The left navigation bar contains links to the alphabetically listed minerals, each a concise description with a photograph. A quick 15-20-minute activity could be designed in which students "hunt" for the gemstone of a given property as a segue into a unit on minerals and their uses.

Minerals in Our Environment Minerals are all around us — in our kitchens and bathrooms and in our cars and bicycles. This interactive feature lets students discover which minerals are found in objects they encounter every day. Rolling the cursor over items in illustrated rooms accesses pop-ups that describe what mineral products may be found in them. A background essay and list of discussion questions, which extend to questions of mining, are also provided. Free registration is required.

Geo Mysteries Students discover information about rocks, fossils, and minerals by solving geo mysteries. In the Mystery of the Floating Rock, they need to try to decide if a sedimentary, metamorphic, or igneous rock floats. They are given information about each of the rocks, they can see animated pictures of how each forms, and they can view a volcano erupting. In the Mystery of the Broken Necklace, students need to figure out what kind of fossils are the beads of a necklace. They are given information about crinoid fossils and can see a piece of the ancient Borden Sea. By clicking on each of the fossils, students can see what lived there long ago. They will also learn about the three kinds of fossils and how they are prepared. The Mystery of the Golden Cube has students deciding if a cube is a rock, mineral, or fossil. Information is provided about the cube's shape, hardness, color and streak, density, cleavage and fracture. Students are given the opportunity to test the cube's streak, hardness and density and the cube is compared to a gold nugget. Facts are given for 10 different rocks. Included in this site is a geologic timeline, questions and answers about rocks and fossils, and additional links.

Rock Lessons

As knowledge of the limited number of elements enables comprehension of the unlimited number of compounds possible, knowledge of minerals enables comprehension of the variety of rocks. Resources in this section take a step up from the level of minerals, looking now at the broader picture of rocks.

Rock Cycle Animation The rock cycle is an ongoing process in which rock, driven by tectonic processes such as volcanoes and earthquakes, the surface processes of weathering and erosion, and compaction, is created, destroyed, and recycled. This interactive feature introduces viewers to the processes which come into play as rock proceeds through the various portions of the cycle. Free registration is required.

Identify rocks game This introduction to the rock cycle features an introduction to the three major rock types (igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic) and a simplified diagram of the rock cycle. Links provide access to more detailed information, featuring examples, descriptions, and photographs of each type. Igneous rocks are described on the basis of method of formation and mineral composition. Sedimentary rocks are classified as clastic or nonclastic. The metamorphic rocks section describes their formation and has links for foliated and nonfoliated textures.

Technology and Society-Related Lessons

With an understanding of minerals, rocks, and their properties, students can explore their applications. Technology can be defined as the application of science. How have humans capitalized on their knowledge of minerals and rocks acquired through the methods of science? The resources here represent just a small fraction of such applications.

Elements of Steel This resource from the American Experience web site, which contains both an interactive activity and illustrated text, looks at the composition of different types of steel and their impact on technology.

Explore More: Working Landscapes Using an example from Iowa, this page describes working landscapes: land used in accordance with best practices which balance preservation of the ecosystem with society's needs and economic growth. Click on Issues, then Natural Resources to see three issues addressed, including mining. Additional links under habitat destruction and pollution are provided.

Recycled cell phones : A treasure trove of valuable metals This four-page fact sheet begins by presenting data, both verbally and graphically, on the growth of cell phone use. Indications are that only one percent of used cell phones are recycled. That means valuable metals are being sent to landfills, where they may never be recovered. Information regarding the value of the metals involved is given. Presenting students the entire document is not recommended, due to the reading comprehension level required. However, you could paraphrase the introduction, present the graphic representations, and assist students in interpreting them. Then, distribute the section on the value of the metals with a guided reading and thinking activity and allow students to extract meaning and interpretations.

SMARTR: Virtual Learning Experiences for Students

Visit our student site SMARTR to find related virtual learning experiences for your students! The SMARTR learning experiences were designed both for and by middle school aged students. Students from around the country participated in every stage of SMARTR’s development and each of the learning experiences includes multimedia content including videos, simulations, games and virtual activities. Visit the virtual learning experience on Rocks & Minerals.


The FunWorks

Visit the FunWorks STEM career website for youth to browse science-related careers, including plasma physicist, meteorologist, and environmental scientist.

Latest Science News from the New York Times

NYT > Selenium (Element)

News about Selenium (Element), including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times.

National Science Education Standards

Study of minerals and rocks fits within the National Science Education Standards for Earth and Space Science, Physical Science, Science and Technology, and Personal and Social Perspectives.

Earth and Space Science Content Standard D:

Structure of the Earth System

  • The solid earth is layered with a lithosphere; hot, convecting mantle; and dense, metallic core.
  • Some changes in the solid earth can be described as the "rock cycle." Old rocks at the earth's surface weather, forming sediments that are buried, then compacted, heated, and often re-crystallized into new rock. Eventually, those new rocks may be brought to the surface by the forces that drive plate motions, and the rock cycle continues.
  • Water is a solvent. As it passes through the water cycle it dissolves minerals and gases and carries them to the oceans.
  • The atmosphere is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and trace gases that include water vapor. The atmosphere has different properties at different elevations.
  • Living organisms have played many roles in the earth system, including affecting the composition of the atmosphere, producing some types of rocks, and contributing to the weathering of rocks.

Physical Science Content Standard B:

Properties and Changes of Properties in Matter

  • A substance has characteristic properties, such as density, a boiling point, and solubility, all of which are independent of the amount of the sample. A mixture of substances often can be separated into the original substances using one or more of the characteristic properties.
  • Substances react chemically in characteristic ways with other substances to form new substances (compounds) with different characteristic properties. In chemical reactions, the total mass is conserved. Substances often are placed in categories or groups if they react in similar ways; metals is an example of such a group.
  • Chemical elements do not break down during normal laboratory reactions involving such treatments as heating, exposure to electric current, or reaction with acids. There are more than 100 known elements that combine in a multitude of ways to produce compounds, which account for the living and nonliving substances that we encounter.

Science and Technology in Society Content Standard E:

  • Technology influences society through its products and processes. Technology influences the quality of life and the ways people act and interact. Technological changes are often accompanied by social, political, and economic changes that can be beneficial or detrimental to individuals and to society. Social needs, attitudes, and values influence the direction of technological development.
  • Science and technology have advanced through contributions of many different people, in different cultures, at different times in history. Science and technology have contributed enormously to economic growth and productivity among societies and groups within societies.
  • Scientists and engineers work in many different settings, including colleges and universities, businesses and industries, specific research institutes, and government agencies.

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standard F:

Populations, Resources, and Environments

  • When an area becomes overpopulated, the environment will become degraded due to the increased use of resources.
  • Causes of environmental degradation and resource depletion vary from region to region and from country to country.

Read the entire National Science Education Standards online for free or register to download the free PDF. The content standards are found in Chapter 6.

Author and Copyright

Mary LeFever is a resource specialist for the Middle School Portal 2: Math & Science Pathways project and a doctoral candidate in science education at Ohio State University. She has taught middle school, high school and college science. She currently teaches high school biology.

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Copyright April 2008 - The Ohio State University. Last updated August 22, 2010. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0424671 and since September 1, 2009 Grant No. 0840824. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.