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Geology Sleuths

In this hands-on science lab, students use the power of deduction, as well as their knowledge of minerals, to classify rock samples and record their observations in Pocket Excel.

Grade Level(s)

Curriculum Area

Time Required
1 class period

Standards Connections
Materials/Resources Needed
Necessary Technical Skills
Student Activities

Standards Connections
  • National Standards:
    • National Science Education Standards/Geologic Properties: The physical properties of compounds reflect the nature of the interactions among its molecules. Scientific Inquiry: Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
  • State Standards:
    • Maryland School Performance Program1.12.5 The student will analyze appropriate data in forming conclusions and apply what has been learned to evaluate the hypothesis.CLG 2.4.2 The student will identify common rock forming mineral groups using a key and the properties of Minerals (hardness, luster, specific gravity, streak, color, cleavage).
    • See www.explorasource.com for more state standards connections.
  • District Standards (fill in your own)
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Students will:
  • Identify different minerals by completing tests on their physical properties.
  • Use technology to organize and communicate their observations.
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Materials/Resources Needed
  • Mineral Test Kit containing magnifying lens, streak plate, copper penny, nail, and mirror.
  • Numbered mineral specimens such as quartz, mica, hematite, pyrite, and calcite (enough samples for each lab group to have at least one).
  • Electronic handouts:
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Necessary Technical Skills
  1. Students must be able to open a Pocket Excel worksheet, record information, and save the file.
  2. Students should be able to use Pocket Internet Explorer to visit websites and Pocket Word to create new documents.
  3. Students should be able to answer questions using Discourse.
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Student Activities
Step 1:

  1. Beam the electronic handouts to the first two students as they come through the door. Each student can beam the worksheets to two more students until everyone has the assignment on the handheld. Or you may want to email the documents to your entire class.
  2. In this activity, students will use color, streak, luster, hardness, cleavage, and specific gravity to identify the rock samples. Review how to identify minerals using these physical properties. (Note: Students can estimate the relative specific gravity of their samples by comparing them to one another.) You may want to refer to the following website for an explanation of how to identify minerals using physical properties: Mineral Identification (http://geology.csupomona.edu/alert/mineral/minerals.htm).
  3. Divide the class into lab groups and distribute the rock samples and Mineral Test Kits, then allow students time to investigate the minerals and record their observations. If you don't have many samples, consider having students pass their groups' minerals onto the next group as they complete their observations.
  4. When students are ready to classify their samples, use the following website's database of minerals and their physical and chemical properties as a resource: The Mineral and Gemstone Kingdom (http://www.minerals.net/index.htm).
  5. Ask the lab groups to save their observations using a unique filename and send them to you.

Discourse provides a convenient way for you to assess how your students classified each mineral during the lab. As you hold up an example of each mineral, students can enter how they classified it into Discourse so that you can quickly see how many groups identified it correctly.

  1. In order to use Discourse "on-the-fly" as you ask questions verbally, follow these tips during class:
    1. Open Discourse Teacher and create a new lesson. Make sure that students have opened Discourse and connected to your computer.
    2. In Discourse Teacher, click the Content button to make sure you are in the Content view. Select Question & Answer(s) from the pulldown menu.
    3. Now click the Response button to make sure you are in the Response view. You do not have to type in your question since you can ask students the question verbally as you hold up the mineral. Double-click inside the Answers box and enter the answer. If you want students to know whether they classified the mineral correctly immediately after they type in their answers, click the Final Letter Feedback button.
    4. Publish the frame as you ask students to identify the mineral.
    5. To assess students' responses to a question, click the Frame Responses button so that you can see everyone's answers at once.
    6. Advance to the next frame by clicking the arrow, then enter the next answer and publish the frame. Continue this process for each mineral you want the class to identify.

  1. You can extend this activity by asking students to research one of the minerals their group identified. Using websites provided in the Mineral Web Guide, students can collect information about the locations in which the mineral is commonly found, how to distinguish it from similar minerals, common uses of the mineral, and more.
  2. Ask students to create a Pocket Word document summarizing their findings to send to you via email or beaming. You can compile the class research into one document and turn it into a Mineral Reference eBook to send to everyone. To learn more about creating eBooks, visit Mindsurf Networks' Handheld Central eBook Tool Kit from your desktop computer.

*Lesson plan provided by Regina Hobbs, 9th grade Science teacher, River Hill High School in Howard County, Maryland.
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