Rock Cycle - Minerals (5B)
Pre Lab 

  • Exploring how minerals are useful.
  • Recognizing useful minerals.
  • mineral
  • prospect
  • valuable
  • Internet

Students write a creative essay on finding mineral wealth.

Early mining in California


The search for minerals that can generate money, that are economically useful, is called prospecting. Valuable minerals are recognized by their key characteristics. For example, gold is a heavy, malleable, yellow metal; galena (lead ore) is dark gray, heavy, and metallic; magnetite is black, heavy, and magnetic; diamond is clear and very hard; and silver is bright grey color in color. Gold and silver were very important in the settlement of the west in the 1800's. Easterners and Europeans heard of the unbelievable wealth west of the Mississippi. Dreams of instant wealth drove hundreds of thousands of people to the promised land to prospect for minerals.

  1. Students have learned that minerals have certain characteristics. Some of these are important for economic reasons. Ask students to list the objects in their classroom that they think were derived from minerals. Included on this list could be: the walls (sheet rock from gypsum), pencil lead (graphite), watches (quartz), pipes (copper), cement (calcite), and salt (halite). In addition, some objects, like the black boards (slate or shale), chalk (limestone), and plastics are obtained from rocks or oil.
  2. Using a map of the U.S., have students write a creative first person essay or journal on the excitement of prospecting for gold. They are to set the story in the East and write about traveling to California or Nevada in search of gold or silver. Point out to students the many obstacles like the Mississippi River, Sierra Nevada, rain, snow, and even thieves had to be overcome by the prospectors.
  3. The students may have to research the history of the United States in the 1800's to get a realistic look at the Gold Rush. You may want to use the Internet to help find information. Useful sites include:
    A general site created for the Gold Rush Sesquicentennial.
    Women in the California Gold Rush

    links related to a PBS documentary. Good material for student projects.
  4. If you are studying other historical eras you may want to see how minerals may have affected these societies. For example, the Mesopotamians (ancient Arabs) invented smelting and casting. Later, around 3000 BC, bronze was developed by adding tin to copper. Production of iron began around 500 BC.

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