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Earth Resources in the Classroom

This page authored by Maureen Muldoon
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Geology
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This is a brief, in-class exercise designed to get introductory students in a large-lecture class to appreciate that many of the things in their life are made from earth resources. I have the students break into small groups and then list five items in the classroom that contain earth resources and five things that do not contain earth resources. Earth resources are defined as anything extracted from the ground.

Learning Goals

The primary goal is for students to gain an understanding that they are consumers of earth resources (most don't see themselves that way). By having students understand that each of us consumes many earth resources over our lifetime, we can then begin to discuss options for dealing with limited, non-renewable resources.

Context for Use

This exercise is used in a large-lecture (~180 students) introductory environmental geology class. I use this exercise at the beginning of the mineral resources chapter. It typically takes 5 to 10 minutes. I circulate around as the students are working in order to answer questions or clarify the definition of an earth resource. The only concept that students need to have mastered is a definition of earth resources. I give them a simple one -- "if it does not come from a plant or animal, it was extracted from the ground."

Description and Teaching Materials

This exercise appears as a slide in the PowerPoint on Mineral Resources. I start with a brief history of mining in Wisconsin, provide a definition of an earth resource and some examples of how earth resources are used in everyday products as well as a slide from the Mineral Information Institute that calculates the lifetime consumption of mineral resources by the average American.

In-class Mineral Resources Exercise (Acrobat (PDF) 23kB Jun28 12)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students generally have few problems completing this exercise. They can easily find five things in the classroom that contain earth resources. Where they have difficulty is finding five things that do not contain earth resources -- and that is one of the main points of the exercise. They can usually come up with the following as non-earth resources -- paper, wood, cotton clothing, wool clothing, leather in shoes or belts, food. Some students will mis-identify earth resources and include things like synthetic fabric or glass as not being an earth resource. After looking over their answers, I revisit the topic in the next lecture.


This exercise is used as part of a class participation points.

References and Resources

I use information from these web sites prior to giving the students the exercise.

Mineral Information Institute:

Minerals use "Around the House" USGS Open-file Report OFR-00-144

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