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Mineral Activities for High School

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

When teaching about rocks and minerals, it's easy to let your lesson become a bit dull. To give your unit a fresh polish, try a few of the activities found in this lesson. Students will engage with minerals in meaningful, hands-on ways.

Minerals: No Need to be Dull

Don't get me wrong: Some minerals are inherently dull. That's because their luster (a scientific property of minerals) is actually referred to as 'dull' by geologists. There is no need for your unit on minerals to be dull, though! Minerals are actually quite fascinating and can engage students with their beauty and complexity. They are certainly more than just rocks! The activities that follow will have students engage with minerals in ways that will help them understand their unique properties more deeply.

Mineral Identification

As basic as it is, it is often best to start with a standard mineral identification activity when teaching students about minerals. Give them the common tools (streak plates, iron nails, files, magnifying lenses, etc.) and a guide to help them determine which minerals you provide to them. Alternatively, you can teach them the basics of mineral identification and have them seek out the information they need online. This can be as cursory or in-depth as you wish.

To further promote deep learning, have students create a mineral chart that lists common minerals and their properties. This can either be done individually or as a class. If you choose to go with the whole-class option, be sure to photocopy the chart for everyone or post it where every student can see it and use it as a reference. This will give students the added bonus of creating an incredibly useful study tool!

Mineral Streak Drawings

One common way that geologists determine the identity of a mineral is by checking its streak color and consistency. To do this, they simply take an unglazed porcelain plate and run a mineral across it. The reason this works is because the powder form of many minerals has a distinctive color. To show students this property and make learning about it fun, have them create streak drawings. You will need unglazed porcelain plates for each student, as well as a variety of minerals that produce different streak colors. The chart below will help you as you plan, but it might be fun to just let students discover different streak colors on their own in an inquiry-style activity.

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