InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Humans' Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources > Unit 2: Boom and Bust: How Econ 101 Relates to Rocks > Activity Option 2.2 - Rare Earth Elements: Critical Elements of the Future
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Activity Option 2.2 - Rare Earth Elements: Critical Elements of the Future

Material compiled by Prajukti (juk) Bhattacharyya (University of Wisconsin, Whitewater) based on material from USGS, DOE, and National Geographic.

Author Profile

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.

Overview

This activity option about is production, use, and demand of REE (Rare Earth Element) resources and provides opportunities to address a variety of SEPs and touches on/addresses both the Systems and Stability and Change CCCs.

Science and Engineering Practices

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships. MS-P4.2:

Analyzing and Interpreting Data: Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships. MS-P4.1:

Developing and Using Models: Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system HS-P2.3:

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Make a quantitative and/or qualitative claim regarding the relationship between dependent and independent variables. HS-P6.1:

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions: Design, evaluate, and/or refine a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations. HS-P6.5:

Cross Cutting Concepts

Patterns: Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships. MS-C1.3:

Systems and System Models: Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales. HS-C4.3:

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Natural Resources: All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors. HS-ESS3.A2:

Performance Expectations

Earth and Human Activity: Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity. HS-ESS3-1:

  1. This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

    • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
    • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
    • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
    • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
    • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.

  2. This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

    Resources in this top level collection a) must have scored Exemplary or Very Good in all five review categories, and must also rate as “Exemplary” in at least three of the five categories. The five categories included in the peer review 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: Oct 16, 2014

Summary

This activity is based on the global supply and demand relationships of rare earth elements (REE). Students will work in small groups to analyze China's role in global REE production and supply, and how REE production, supply, and demand control REE price.

Learning Goals

Upon completion of this segment, students should be able to:

  • Identify mineral resources (REE) used in common electronic goods and clean energy technologies.
  • Describe overall trends illustrated in REE production and value (price) graphs; identify changes in trends and/or anomalous features in the graphs; and explain trends, changes over time, and anomalies in terms of mine production, demand, recycling, changes in technology, regulation, and/or population growth.
  • Apply geoscientific habits of mind to interpret the complex relationships among consumers, producers, regulating agencies, and the environment in a global context by means of concept maps.
  • Examine their own consumer behavior and judge the impacts of this behavior on sustainability.

Context for Use

The activity is designed for introductory-level geology or environmental science courses, but potentially could be implemented in a social science or economics course. It is designed as an in-class, small-group, collaborative assignment involving supply, price, and production data for rare earth elements. Alternatively, it could be broken down into two parts: a pre-class homework activity where students complete the data-plotting exercise (Questions 1--3) outside of class, allowing more time for group discussion of Questions 4--6 during class.

The activities are designed for small-enrollment(20--30 student), lecture/discussion-based courses. However, the activities can be modified for large-enrollment lecture courses by replacing small-group discussions with Think-Pair-Share type activities. The entire activity can be completed within a 50-minute class period.

Description and Teaching Materials

Pre-Class Work

This handout summarizes the necessary background information for the rare earth element (REE) activity. It is meant to be distributed to students before class so they can use it as needed for the in-class activity.

Background Material for Unit 2 REE, Word version. (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.3MB Oct2 14) and PDF version (Acrobat (PDF) 1.4MB Oct2 14) Students can download these documents directly from the REE Student Materials page.

Unit 2 REE Glossary of Terms in Word (Microsoft Word 27kB Oct2 14) and in PDF. (Acrobat (PDF) 43kB Oct2 14) Students can download this glossary directly from the REE Student Materials page.

In-Class Work

The instructor should hold a brief discussion of the Unit 2 concept map an an introduction to this unit.

This student handout provides the data, graphs, and questions for the in-class activity. An optional end-of-unit reflection question (Question 7) is included at the end (the same question as Question 3 of the potential assessment questions provided below). This question could also be used as a post-unit homework assignment instead.

Student Handout: Supply, Demand, and Price Relationships for REE in Word (Microsoft Word 276kB Oct2 14) and in PDF. (Acrobat (PDF) 449kB Oct2 14)

Unit 2 REE Discussion Guide and Answer Key in Word


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and
in PDF.


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This discussion guide and answer key is meant to be used to guide student discussion to address the overarching learning goals for this unit rather than as a grading rubric.

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • The document below provides more in-depth information for the instructor about some of the current and potential uses of REEs in the fields of electronics and green energy. There is further information about some of the environmental impacts of REE mining and additional sources of information.
  • It might be helpful, particularly to non-science majors, to briefly review some basic concepts such as atomic number, atomic mass, f-block elements, etc., before class.
  • It seems to work well to use the overarching Unit 2 Concept Map as a whole group discussion, and help the students construct their REE concept maps step by step in their groups for the last question of the in-class activity. An instructor could ask the student groups to brainstorm some possible ways the current REE-demand imbalance could be balanced, and then collect answers from each group. This should happen as an end-of-class activity.
  • An Example of an REE Concept Map in Word (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 65kB Oct2 14) and in PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 98kB Oct2 14). This is an example of a concept map for REE. Instructors should feel free to modify it as they see fit, depending on their course. Students can download this sample concept map directly from the REE Student Materials page.

Assessment

Assessments and Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes are addressed by the activity questions as listed below:

  • Identify mineral resources (REE) used in common electronic goods and clean energy technologies: Activity Question 6; Potential Exam Questions 1 and 2.
  • Describe overall trends illustrated in REE production and value (price) graphs; identify changes in trends and/or anomalous features in the graphs; and explain trends, changes over time, and anomalies in terms of mine production, demand, recycling, changes in technology, regulation, and/or population growth: Activity Questions 1 through 5; Potential Exam Questions 1 and 2.
  • Apply geoscientific habits of mind to interpret the complex relationships among consumers, producers, regulating agencies, and the environment in a global context by means of concept maps: Activity Question 6; Potential Exam Question 2.
  • Examine their own consumer behavior and judge the impacts of this behavior on sustainability: End-of-unit reflection 7; Potential Exam Question 3.

Possible Exam Questions

Unit 2 REE Potential Assessment Questions in Word


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and
in PDF.


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Answer Key for Unit 2 REE Potential Assessment Questions in Word


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and
in PDF


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References and Resources

  • USGS Mineral Commodity: Rare Earths
    • All the links under the heading "Special Publications," including open-file reports and scientific reports, have been used in compiling the content for this activity. It might be worthwhile for instructors to check this website for updates to REE price and supply/demand information.
  • Several graphs showing current and projected demand for REE were been obtained from the 2011 Critical Materials Strategy released by the Department of Energy (DOE).
  • REE production and export quota data for China was obtained from the article https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2011/1042/of2011-1042.pdf by Pui-Kwan Tse, USGS Open File Report 2011-1042 (2011).
  • The Statistics of the Rare Earths Industry by Mark Tyrer and John P. Sykes, Significance Magazine, 10, no. 2 (April 2013). http://www.significancemagazine.org/details/magazine/4705901/The-statistics-of-the-rare-earths-industry.html
  • "The Use of Rare Earth-Based Materials in Low-Temperature Fuel Cells," by Ermete Antolini and Joelma Perez, International Journal of Hydrogen Energy, 36, no. 24 (December 2011): 15752--65.
  • The National Geographic article The Secret Ingredients of Everything by Tim Folger (June 2011) touches on the environmental impacts of REE mining. This article could be used as an optional reading assignment to bridge this unit with the following unit, which covers mining and mining impacts.
  • For a historical perspective of rare earth elements, accounts of their discoveries, naming, and uses, see: 1787--1987: Two Hundred Years of Rare Earths edited by K. A. Gschneidner Jr. and J. Capellen. Rare-earth Information Center, Institute of Physical Research and Technology, Iowa State University.
  • As noted above, other useful resources are listed in the Notes for Instructors in Word (Microsoft Word 458kB Oct2 14) and in PDF. (Acrobat (PDF) 395kB Oct2 14)

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »