Teach the Earth > Mineralogy > Teaching Activities > Mafic Mineral Properties and Thin Sections

The properties of Amphiboles, Micas, Pyroxenes, and Olivines and an Introduction to Mineral Properties in Thin Section

Dexter Perkins
University of North Dakota
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Aug 7, 2006


Students look at mafic igneous minerals, learning to distinguish and identify them in hand specimen. They also look at a few of the minerals in thin section.

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This exercise is designed for a mid/upper-level undergraduate geology course on the principles of mineralogy.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have knowledge of basic chemistry and of minerals equivalent to what they would learn in an introductory geology class.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is the 10th of 36 mineralogy exercises and is used towards the beginning of the course.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Learn to identify mafic minerals.
  • Learn the basic techniques of optical mineralogy.
  • Be able to identify and describe properties of minerals seen in thin section.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Learn to group and classify minerals according to their physical properties.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

In this four-part exercise, students look at mafic igneous minerals, learning to distinguish and identify them in hand specimen and thin section.

  • Part one - Box of Rocks: Students examine a tray of minerals and record their physical properties, composition, and habit. They note chemical and physical similarities and differences and why there are several varieties of minerals in each group.
  • Part two - Observing Optical Properties: Students learn how to use a microscope to observe thin sections.
  • Part three - Defining optical microscopy and light ray terms
  • Part four - Answer questions using thin sections

Determining whether students have met the goals

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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