Natural Resources Mini-Research Project
In this activity, students are given a brief introduction to the breadth and diversity of natural resources, and then separated into small groups. Each group conducts literature research on a specific topic relating to natural resources, creates a five minute presentation on their topic, and then presents it to the class. Through their own research, students learn that we use more resources from the Earth than oil, that all resources we use are finite, and their extraction and use have a variety of impacts.
- Describe what non-fuel resources are mined from the Earth, and what they are used for
- Quantify the impact of mineral and rock resources on society and the environment
- Estimate the rate of loss in non-renewable resources on a human time-scale
Context for Use
This activity works best as a small group project (group sizes of 2 or 3), and so has limits on appropriate class sizes in which this is applicable. Larger groups or more topics can facilitate larger class sizes, but one must consider the amount of time that presentations will take, and how much each group member can contribute if the groups become too large.
The amount of class time that is dedicated to this assignment is also negotiable; it can be assigned as an out of class project, where presentations are the only in-class aspect, or students can have time within the class period to perform the research for their projects. The framework for this activity is quite flexible - it can be easily adapted to suit the needs of almost any class format.
This activity begins with a brief introduction by the professor - a kind of brainstorming session in which a working definition of natural resources is developed and students come up with as many different kinds of natural resources as they can think of (see Choreography document). The point is to establish the diversity of resources and the fact that every facet of our lives is dependent on natural resources. This discussion can be as long or short as the professor wishes, but will for the basis for the assignment.
Assignment handout (Microsoft Word 23kB Jul10 08)
The assignment handout describes what students will do and lists several potential topics. Students form small groups, each group will select a topic and will research it (internet research is fine). Depending on the length of class periods, later that day or at the next class, students will regroup and give short presentations to the class on what they learned. What is due is the powerpoint presentation and a list of references for their research.
Predicting amount of remaining metal resources using USGS data (Excel 516kB Jul10 08)
This is an excel spreadsheet with data from the USGS Minerals Information website. Using this spreadsheet, students can predict how many years are left before we run out of different metals given our average consumption rates. They can find out what these metals are used for at the USGS website.
Teaching Notes and Tips
Alternatively, the professor could provide a broad overview of these topics, and then assign students topics more relevant to where their from. For example in a version of this activity taught in Colorado, each of the topics students researched was related to a local natural resource issue.
How much students get out of this project varies. It depends mostly on how much effort they put into their research. In general, it seemed the more direction students had for their project, the more successful it was, so being available for questions, and making sure the topics you assign are appropriately focused, as well as being clear about what students should do with any data sets they are given, really helps them in getting something out of the activity, and effectively presenting what they learned to the rest of the class.