Unit 2: Boom and Bust: How Econ 101 Relates to Rocks
This unit emphasizes that minerals are not mined just to mine them but because there is a consumer demand for the minerals. Use (demand) affects the supply and price of these minerals and also affects the amount of exploration and mining. Therefore, amounts of mineral reserves change, and both use and exploration may cause scientists to revise the estimates of the amounts of mineral reserves and resources.
This unit includes a concept map to illustrate the interrelationships between minerals and society. The instructor can choose between two options for the in-class activity, both of which help students conceptually grasp the topics presented in the concept map. As written, each activity option should take about 50 minutes of class time.
Upon completion of this unit, students should be able to:
- Identify the mineral resources used in a commonly used product or technology (rechargeable batteries for Activity Option 1 and REEs in clean energy technologies for Activity Option 2).
- Describe overall trends illustrated in mineral production and mineral 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
Description and Teaching Materials
Students should be encouraged to review the concept map before class. Additional pre-class homework assignments are described with the activities linked below.
Use concept map to show factors that affect demand on a mineral resource
The instructor should briefly review this concept map, showing the links between different aspects of society and minerals, prior to starting on either of the activity options below.
Boom and Bust Concept Map Student Handout in Word (Microsoft Word 148kB Oct2 14), in PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 304kB Oct2 14), and in PowerPoint (PowerPoint 195kB Sep26 13) (the PowerPoint is editable for instructor use).
This concept map is available for students to download in the Unit 2 Student Materials. A self-assessment on this material is available for the students at Unit 2 Student Materials Self-Assessment.
The instructor could assign these concept map examples (below) as pre-class homework (these are accessible in Student Materials via the links below) or discuss them prior to completing either of the main activity options or use them to wrap up the unit.
Example of How to Use the Concept Map: Tellurium and Solar Cells
Example of How to Use the Concept Map: Cobalt and Wars in Congo
Pick one of the following activity options to complete during a 50-minute class period
Each of these activities addresses all of the learning goals listed above.
Activity Option 1. Batteries as an Example of Consumer Demand and Mineral Supply
This activity encourages students to consider how all those new portable electronic gadgets affect mineral use. Specifically, it looks at mineral resources used to make the rechargeable batteries used in cell phones and cars. Students analyze the factors that affect the supply, demand, and price of these resources, and predict future supply and demand trends.
Activity Option 2. Rare Earth Elements: Critical Elements of the Future
This activity relates clean energy technologies, rare earth elements (REEs), and China's export policies. It asks students to consider the global supply and demand relationships of REEs. This includes production and supply trends of REEs by China between 2000 and 2011, how technological developments are driving the demand for REEs, how China's REE export policies, along with increasing demand, are driving the price of REEs, and how this creates the potential for developing new REE reserves and turning existing reserves into resources.
Teaching Notes and Tips
References and Resources
Historical Statistics for Mineral Commodities in the United States, published by the USGS, gives supply/demand and some end-use statistics for mineral commodities, as both PDF and Excel files.
Mineral Commodity Summaries, published by the USGS, gives information about uses, places of production, prices, for different mineral commodities.
Mineral Resource of the Month, published in EARTH magazine (published by AGI), gives brief summaries of different mineral commodities, written for the general public with a focus on "why should we care?"