Building Blocks

Cynthia Fadem, Earlham College
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In association with rock and mineral ID tables, this lab introduces students to basic rocks and minerals via grouping and comparison, rather than as individual samples. I use this lab in my environmental geology course, where we don't have enough lab time to examine each set of rocks and minerals separately, but students need a basic familiarity with these materials and a context in which to place them. I find these groupings teach them how to look at rocks and minerals and give them the cursory experience identifying geologic materials necessary to go on successfully in the course.

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introductory geology course for majors, but mostly taught to non-majors as a science and quantitative literacy requirement

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

no skills, basic knowledge of mineral properties from lecture

How the activity is situated in the course

laboratory activity - stand-alone


Content/concepts goals for this activity

physical mineral investigation/identification, distinguishing geological materials

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

application of concepts introduced in lecture, developing knowledge of geological materials through association

Other skills goals for this activity

working in groups, using rock and mineral ID tables

Description and Teaching Materials

You'll need a teaching collection of basic rocks and minerals that fall into the types/categories listed, as well as number cards or labels for the samples.
Building Blocks (Microsoft Word 151kB Apr2 12)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The only difficulty I've had is making sure the sedimentary minerals remain with the appropriate labels, as intro students can often mix them up.


Students who use the keys well and ask for assistance during the lab do very well. I simply grade the lab based on their answers and then leave the samples out during the rest of the first unit of the course so they can use the lab and samples to study for their first exam.

References and Resources

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