ACM Pedagogic Resources > ACM/FaCE > Projects > Integrating Sustainability into the Undergraduate Curriculum > Activities > Mineral Resources Museum

Mineral Resources Museum

Mary Savina
Carleton College
Author Profile


Students identify a (legal) product that they have brought to college, one that contains some kind of mineral resource (e.g. something with glass, aluminum, steel). They trace the sources and the history of the materials that compose the project. Finally, they prepare the object for display, writing a display label and a short explanation of their results.

Learning Goals

Students will connect their lives and choices to mineral resources.
Students will use (and evaluate) different information sources in tracking the materials used in their object of choice.
Students will complete a source-to-sink analysis for a familiar object.
Students will write the same material in (at least) three different ways, aimed at (at least) two different audiences.
Students will collaborate on exhibition design.
Students will peer-review each others' exhibit labels and explanations.

Context for Use

I intend to use this exercise in introductory geology classes at Carleton College, a four-year private, residential liberal arts college. I hope to combine this assignment with a few field trips to sand pits and other industrial materials sites in the local area. (For example, Cambria, a manufacturer of countertops from quartz, is located not far from Carleton and several kaolin mines are within a few hours drive. Minnesota has a long history of iron mining and there have been explorations, at least, for uranium, petroleum, and platinum-group metals).

I anticipate that this activity will, first of all, be a homework assignment that could be completed in a weekend. Students will spend parts of 2-3 weeks writing display materials and critiquing each others' work, with a final display mounted near the end of the Carleton trimester.

Description and Teaching Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students may need help identifying an object they have brought to college that contains an earth material. Instructors may have to decide whether something like plastic derived from petroleum is allowed. In the book "Stuff," the authors treat computers and cars/bicycles, so an instructor may want to steer the students toward other objects.

Once an object has been identified, it may be more-or-less challenging to find out information about the exact source of the materials and how they have been processed. Students may need help moving back-and-forth between the particularities of their object and its creation and the general world of material origins: in other words, moving between "this particular object contains mercury mined in California at xxx site" and "compact fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, whose source is likely to be one of the following regions: . . "

This assignment can be integrated into a dorm room inventory or livelihood map (see and links for information about one such assignment). Jim Farrell, St. Olaf College, is a good contact for similar assignments.


Students will be assessed on the thoroughness of the research of the object, on the writing quality of the final exhibit labels and descriptions (which will have gone through several drafts), on their evaluation of sources of information and on the way in which they engage this project.

References and Resources

Helpful books:

Farrell, James, (expected publication October 2010), The Nature of College.

Ryan, John C. and Alan Thein Durning, 1997, Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things: Northwest Environment, 88 p.

Serrell, Beverly, 1996, Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach: Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press, 265 p.

People interested in this assignment may also be interested in other activities from the broader collections, including: (a natural resources mini-project) and
(examples of the lifestyle project from several institutions; part of "experience-based environmental projects.")