Online Minerals Inquiry Lab

Revising authors: Katryn Wiese, City College of San Francisco

Original authors:Christopher Berg, Orange Coast College; Becky Jirón, College of William and Mary; Alexandra Priewisch, Fresno City College; Katryn Wiese, City College of San Francisco


Average inquiry level: Structured

Students explore mineral properties and the ways in which we distinguish among the variety of rock-forming minerals. Ultimately students will learn to classify various properties, apply them to unknown samples to identify, connect the properties to potential uses, and evaluate the effectiveness of their observations and descriptions. This lab is designed for online instruction.

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Students in introductory geology lab -- majors or nonmajors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have already completed a lecture and/or reading on mineral properties, and should have read/reviewed mineral ID chart/tables. Thus they have a basic understanding of concepts like density, hardness, cleavage, crystal form, etc.

How the activity is situated in the course

This lab comes in the class whenever minerals are taught in lecture. It precedes the rock-identification/investigation labs, and as such has great importance toward students' ability to identify the minerals when they appear later in the rocks.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Mineral and material properties: hardness, density, crystal form, cleavage, fracture, optical properties, and other special properties

Cleavage vs. crystal form

Making observations, creating descriptions, and sketching and labeling mineral samples, showing key physical properties

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Synthesizing mineral property concepts and skills and applying those to the identification of a number of unknown key rock-forming minerals, including formulating hypotheses of what they might be, testing those hypotheses, and evaluating the results

Synthesizing mineral property concepts and skills to make observations and create descriptions of unknown mineral samples

Critically evaluating the effectiveness of descriptions at helping to distinguish among materials

Connecting the concepts of mineral properties with why and how rock-forming minerals are used in our society

Other skills goals for this activity

Description and Teaching Materials

This lab incorporates structured and guided inquiry and possibly some open inquiry depending on how the instructor interacts with their students and how much students work together.

In the first tasks, students are choosing objects from their home and investigating how their physical properties differ. They explore density and hardness concepts with a goal of ordering their objects in increasing density and then again increasing hardness. They are then asked about the challenges they faced and to consider what other properties are different. Afterwards, they get to see how other individuals approached the same task.

They then progress to boxes of unknown samples that they explore for a particular property, such as crystal form or cleavage. They explore the variety of examples within this property and attempt to classify them (either in their own words or by referencing example terminology -- instructor choice).

Next step: students are given a certain number of unknown rock-forming minerals and a mineral ID table, and they must apply what they've learned to identify the minerals. In this process they must choose which properties are the most important and useful for identification.

Next step: students are shown 5 minerals samples and must choose one and describe it in such a way that all other students can choose it from the pile. Students then evaluate the effectiveness of various descriptions.

Finally, students choose a mineral of particular interest or cultural/personal relevance, and research its use in society. They put together a concept sketch that they share in small groups and discuss with their fellow students.

Mineral Lab (Online) Report/Assignment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 684kB Jul20 21) | Mineral Lab (Online) Report/Assignment (Acrobat (PDF) 790kB Jul20 21)


Teaching Notes and Tips

Instructor notes (Acrobat (PDF) 85kB Jul20 21)


Completed lab assignments -- there is a key that goes along with it and a rubric for the concept sketch. Ultimately, though, students apply and build these skills over the next few labs as they encounter the minerals in the rocks labs. Their success in those labs is also an assessment of what they've learned in these labs.

References and Resources