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Minerals in Society

Author: Cristobal Carambo

Year: 2017

Seminar: What is the Earth Made of?

Grade Level: 9-12

Keywords: Chemistry, geology, rock cycle

School Subject(s): Chemistry, Environmental Science, Geology, Science

The learning of science is most captivating and compelling when educators can make a connection between the classroom content and their student’s daily lives. Relating a chemical process or abstract concept to a student’s lived experiences makes the learning personal, relevant and more accessible. This is especially necessary in the chemistry classroom where many concepts explore microscopic realities (atoms, protons, electrons, atomic radius, etc.) that are difficult to conceptualize. Although I use many strategies to connect the classroom content to important realities in my student’s  lives, few are able to make do so. For the majority of these students, chemistry remains theoretical, foreign and uninteresting.

My students (like most young adults) do however, live in a world dominated by continuously evolving technology that demands a constant investment of attention, time and energy. Most spend all of their free time engaged with electronic devices that are made possible by our advances in materials science, wireless communications, and miniaturized microchip technologies. Few are aware of the powerful impact science and our understanding of minerals has made on their lives.

Focusing on these artifacts and the compounds that make them possible may provide a much needed connection between the chemistry learned in class and the worlds they inhabit.

Download Unit: 17.4.01-unit.pdf

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Full Unit Text

The unit will begin with a review of the chemistry of minerals, their importance in our lives and the various classification systems we use to categorize them. Upon completion of the first three days of the unit, students will select two minerals as topics of their research paper. Students will be expected to note relevant data on their mineral during the remaining days of the unit.

Once we have explored the chemistry of minerals, the class will analyze how electrons are distributed within atoms and how their movement creates color. We will review the Bohr model in order to analyze the hydrogen emission spectra and relate the colors to the motion of electrons between energy levels.  Following this we will use our understanding of electron configuration to analyze the structure of transition metals.  Our work will go beyond the configuration of the representative elements and explore electron interactions within the d orbitals of the transition metals as the source of colors in minerals. I would like my students to explore an abbreviated form of crystal field theory as it helps to explain why transition metals play such an important role in producing the color of gemstones.

Given the importance that minerals have played in our history, I will end the unit with individual research projects on minerals. Students will research two minerals and create a presentation based on their research. This ending project would provide a summative assessment of my student’s understanding of the chemistry and social significance of minerals.


The importance of minerals is evidenced by the names given to the great eras (the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Steel Age) in the evolution of human civilization (Wolfe, 1984).  While the agricultural revolution radically altered our nomadic lifestyles, it is the improvements in manufacturing made during the industrial revolution and the scientific technological discoveries of the computer- information age that have created the world as we now know it (Morse & Glover, 2000). While there are many non-mineral resources that have facilitated mankind’s development, it is our ability to mine, extract and exploit the physical and chemical properties of minerals that has made the evolution of our modern world possible. Nearly every artifact of importance in our world contains minerals. Some are native elements (such as aluminum, copper, or silicon), some are precious gems (rubies, emeralds, diamonds), others are components of essential rocks (feldspars in granite, calcium carbonate in limestone,) others are important industrial minerals (gypsum, cement, soda ash); the list is endless (Kogel, Trivedi, Barker, & Krukowski, 2006). Every product from toothpaste, to rechargeable batteries, to the displays on our smart devices, are made possible by minerals.

I have chosen to create a unit on the minerals in our world because such an exploration will provide a vivid connection between chemical principles and the worlds my students inhabit. These content areas are color (as a result of the absorption / release of energy); the role of d orbitals in producing color (crystal field theory): coordination chemistry (as it relates to the arrangement of ions in minerals), molecular geometry (as it relates to the 3 dimensional shapes of molecules (known as VSEPR), and electrochemical reactions.  A unit on the chemistry of the minerals will provide a forum in which I can explore each of these topics as each helps to explain the physical properties that make minerals important in modern society.


  • Describe the chemical structure of various classes of minerals
  • Describe how geological processes transform minerals and alter their physical / chemical properties
  • Evaluate the role of minerals in modern society
  • Explain the relationship between electron configuration and color in transition metal complexes
  • Research the social, economic, and cultural importance of minerals


Curriculum Unit


Day One and Day Two                                                                                        Topic: Minerals in Society                            
Essential Question: What is the importance of minerals in society?

What is the importance of minerals in your daily life?

Objective: SWBAT Describe the role of minerals in society IOT Analyze their role in modern society
Narrative: This class will introduce students to the role that minerals have society and in their daily life. The class will establish the goals for the unit, the criteria for the final research paper, as well as the working definitions and categories of minerals. The class (as do all in this unit) will include previously taught content as background knowledge.

Strategies:   Classroom discussion, video analysis, guided reading, and PowerPoint presentation on minerals in our world.

Background Content: Definition of mineral, mineral categories, mineral formulae,

Direct Instruction: Students will describe the elements / minerals found in Smartphones and relate them to the periodic table. Instructor will review content on minerals, types of minerals, ore minerals, gemstones.

Classroom Activity: The class begins with the question: What is the most important object that you use every day? The answer will likely be a Smartphone or other piece of technology. The class will then view a video titled “Do You know what is in your Smartphone? Students will list the elements used in the typical phone and explain their function. The elements will be defined as minerals that make modern life possible. The class will then analyze the poster: “Mineral Resources: Out of the ground and into your life” from the USGS. The class will discuss the minerals, their categories, and their function in our society. Once the discussion is completed, we will review our definitions of minerals, industrial minerals, ore minerals, and gemstones as important classes of minerals. Students will be asked to select three minerals that they will research during the unit: one of the minerals will be used for their final research paper.

The class will end with a directed reading assignment, which will be completed as homework. The text “Life Without Rare Earth Metals” will introduce the rare earth metals as a group of important minerals. Students will complete a set of guided questions as homework.

Extension:     Rare Earth Element Technology Alliance Website:

Materials[1]: You Tube Video: What’s in your Smartphone?

Lists of the following categories of minerals: Native Elements, Ore minerals, Industrial minerals, and gemstones. There may be overlap in the lists as the categories are somewhat fluid.


 Day Three and Four                  Topic: Minerals in Society and Mineral Properties
Essential Question: What is the importance of minerals in society? What are the chemical and physical properties that make minerals valuable?
Objective: SWBAT: Describe mineral properties IOT Evaluate how minerals affect our daily lives.
Narrative: The class continues the topics of the first lesson with a review of the homework questions on rare earth metals. Teacher will begin the lesson with a demonstration of talc. Teacher will ask students what the mineral has to do with talcum powder. A discussion will ensue on the properties of the mineral (and the sandpaper)  and the importance of these minerals in society. Following the demonstration, the class will engage in an activity on the identification of minerals using a mineral identification key and samples of a variety of minerals. Students should become familiar with properties such as luster, hardness, streak, cleavage, and color. Students will classify the minerals as native elements, industrial, either ore minerals, or gems.

Strategies: Discussion of assigned questions and a description of important minerals in society. The list will remain as resource for final projects. Mineral identification activity with a focus on mineral properties and how they relate to a mineral’s use.

Background Content:  Mineral properties

Direct Instruction: Students will list mineral properties and note how to use the materials in the mineral identification kit.  Teacher will explain the hardness scale, streak plate, the use of the dilute acid and the remaining tools in the kit. Each student group will receive a mineral sample, an identification kit and instructions. The activity will be concluded on Day 3 if needed.

Classroom Activity: Mineral identification key info is in the appendix. copy it to here.

Materials: A sample of talc and a variety of differing grades of sandpaper. Mineral identification kit (specified in mineral key): Mineral samples kit: One set of large minerals for demonstration and 6 smaller kits for student groups.


Day Five                             Topic: Classification of Minerals
Essential Question: How does the classification of minerals improve our understanding of their properties?
Objective: SWBAT Describe the similarities in the chemical composition of mineral groups IOT create an efficient classification system.
Narrative: There are over 4000 known minerals. In order to

Strategies: Describe the chemical composition and structure of representative minerals and classify them based on chemical structure.  The class will work collaboratively to classify a representative list of minerals.  Students will use the DANA classification system. Once completed the class will decide on the use of alternative classification systems.

Background Content: Chemical composition and properties of minerals: (information from mineral identification activity can be used to inform inquiry). DANA classification system, and alternative classification systems: (industrial minerals, ore minerals, and gemstones) can be used.

Direct Instruction: DANA classification system criteria. Definition of industrial minerals, gemstones and ore minerals to be used as alternative classification systems.

Classroom Activity:  Students will be given a list of minerals to classify. Some minerals from the previous day’s activity will be included.  Students will list the criteria for each mineral class. Each group will select a mineral class and then select minerals from the list that belong to the class. Once completed the class will discuss the relevance of classification systems and decide if an alternative system would be more efficient. The groups will then use alternative systems to reclassify our list of minerals. Once complete the class will determine which classification system is more efficient for our unit. At the end of the class students will select two minerals from different classes for their research project.

Materials: List and pictures of relevant minerals from each of the 8 classes and a description of the classification criteria for each of the classification systems. Information should be displayed as part of a PowerPoint presentation.

Extension: Students should begin their research project on this day. Criteria for the project are located in the Teacher Resources section of the Appendix.


These first days of the unit cover content that focuses specifically on minerals. The following days focus on the chemistry of minerals. It is important to note that not all of the relevant chemistry concepts are covered in this unit as they were studied as part of the year curriculum. The reader is encouraged to review the yearly chemistry curriculum provided earlier in this document should they need to include more of the chemistry chemistry curriculum in this unit


Day Six and Seven                                           Topic: Electron Distribution and Color                           
Essential Question: What is the relation between the motion of electrons and the colors of the emission spectra of elements?
Objective: SWBAT use the Bohr model of the atom to explain the emission spectra of hydrogen gas. Students will also calculate the energy and wavelength of emitted light using Bohr’s equation.
Narrative: An important property of minerals is color. We will begin the investigation of color in minerals by examining the Bohr model and the equations that predict the wavelengths of the emission spectra of the gas. The lesson is an introduction to how the motion of electrons affects the color we perceive from objects. In this lesson color is the result of the electron’s transition between energy levels in the atom. The concept of quantized energy is important as it will be used to explain why minerals absorb some wavelengths of light and transmit others. These analogous explanations of color will be examined in these lessons.

Although we are using Bohr’s model to describe the “location” of electrons, students will use the quantum mechanical model and electron configuration to describe the distribution of electrons in transition metals. In the ensuing lesson students will use the interactions of ligands with these electrons to explain the colors of transition metal complexes.

Strategies: Students will observe the bright line emission spectra of hydrogen gas using spectroscopes. Students will then use a series of equations to verify the wavelength and energy of the emitted light.

Background Content: Bohr’s atomic model: Bohr’s equations and the equations that relate frequency, wavelength, and energy.

Direct Instruction: Teacher will show the electromagnetic spectrum, and describe the relationship between wavelength, frequency and the speed of light.

Classroom Activity:   Students will review the Bohr model of the atom, the principles that describe electron motion between atomic orbitals, and Bohr’s equations that describe the energy associated with those transitions.

Materials: Hydrogen gas discharge tube, power source, hand held spectroscopes, emission spectra chart, PowerPoint presentation of Bohr’s model of the atom.



Day Eight and Nine          Topic:  Analysis of Color in Transition Metal Complexes
Essential Question; How does the motion of electrons in the d orbitals of transition metals contribute to the perceived color?
Objective: SWBAT describe the electron configuration of transition metals IOT analyze the colors of transition metal complexes.
Narrative: In previous lessons students learned that color we perceive results from the interaction of electrons with differing wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. The colors associated with transition metal complexes is the result of the motion of electrons in d orbitals. Crystal Field Theory provides an explanation of the reason why transition metal complexes absorb (and transmit) given wavelengths of light. In this class students will engage in an activity that explores this concept using a series of solutions containing Co3+ ions. Students will combine the solutions with differing compounds to determine the effect that differing ligands have on the color of the solution. Students will use a color wheel to estimate the wavelength of the light absorbed then use the equation DE = hc / l = to calculate the crystal field splitting energy. Students will perform a similar analysis of the other solutions in order to determine the effect that different ligands have on the splitting energy. Once completed the class will compare observations and determine how and why the differing ligands affected the splitting energy.

Strategies: Group analysis of concepts related to electron configuration, and crystal field theory. Group lab activity, and group discussion of lab data and associated calculations.

Background Content: Color wheels, electron configuration of transition metals, oxidation states of metals, shape and orientation of d orbitals, equations relating energy, wavelength, and frequency.

Direct Instruction: Review of electron configuration of transition metals, the shapes and orientations of d orbitals, and oxidation states of metals.  Instructions on the preparation of the cobalt complexes and instructions for the mixing of solutions and completion of the lab.

Classroom Activity:   Students will begin the class by determining the electron configuration of transition metals.  Students will also predict the oxidation state of the metals and draw the corresponding electron configurations. Students will draw a diagram of the five d orbitals then explain how the orbitals react to the approach of the ligand in the complex.  Once completed students will set up to begin the lab. This activity will take at least two class periods to complete.

Materials: Materials for laboratory are listed in the lab located in the Teacher Resources section of the Appendix.  Laboratory is located at:

Source: (Arias, 2016)


Day Ten and Eleven                                 Synthesis and Evaluation of Malachite
Objective:   SWBAT synthesize the mineral malachite and verify its purity.
Narrative: To this point students have yet to experience the synthesis of a mineral. This laboratory provides this opportunity. The procedure is relatively simple and can be completed in one class period. The samples will dry until the next class period when verification tests can be conducted.

Strategies: Laboratory activity.

Direct Instruction:  Explanation of laboratory procedure and set up of  equipment.

Classroom Activity:   Students will complete the synthesis of malachite. Students will use tools from their mineral identification kits, and the calculations of density to determine the purity of their sample.

Materials: Necessary chemicals and equipment is described in the materials section of the lab. Lab procedure is located at:

Source: (Schumaker, Snyder, & Katz, 1975)



        Day 12                           Summary Research Topic                                                  
Objective: SWBAT Construct a research paper that evaluates the role of minerals in society and in their everyday life.
Narrative: This summary research will serve as a summative assessment for our unit. Students will be given a set of guided questions to use a scaffold for their research project.  Students will be asked to prepare an oral report to accompany their paper.


Classroom Activity: Students will begin the research paper during the final two days of the unit. They will then be given a week to complete the research paper.

Materials: Guided questions, research paper criteria and grading rubric.










[1] Source information and links to all resources is located in the Resource Section of Appendix A.


Common Core Literacy Standards:


RST.9-10.7     Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words. (HS-PS1-1)

RST.11-12.8 Evaluate the hypotheses, data, analysis, and conclusions in a science or technical text, verifying the data when possible and corroborating or challenging conclusions with other sources of information.

RST.11-12.9 Synthesize information from a range of sources into a coherent understanding of process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.


WHST.11-12.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the specific task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation. (HS-PS1-3)


WHST.9-12.9   Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. (HS-PS1-3)


Next Generation Science Standards


HS-PS1-1     Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.


HS-PS1-2. Construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, trends in the periodic table, and knowledge of the patterns of chemical properties.


HS-PS1-6. Refine the design of a chemical system by specifying a change in conditions that would produce increased amounts of products at equilibrium.


HS-PS2-6 Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.


HS-PS4-1   Use mathematical representations to support a claim regarding relationships among the frequency, wavelength, and speed of waves traveling in various media.


(n.d.). Retrieved from Mineralogical Society of America.

Arias, J. (2016, 11 14). Coordination Complexes . Retrieved 06 22, 2017, from Chemistry 102:


Brown , T. L., LeMay, H. E., Bursten, B. E., & Burdge, J. R. (2003). Chemistry: The Central Science (Ningth Edition ed.). Upper Sadle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education .

Chemistry 310 at Penn State University . (2017, 02 17). Coordination chemistry and crystal field theory. Retrieved 04 10, 2017, from Introduction to Organic Chemistry:

Christidis, G. E. (2011). Industrial minerals: Significance and characteristics . In G. Christidis, Advances in the characterization of industrial minerals (pp. 1-12). London: European Mineralogical Union and Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland .

Ciullo, P. (1996). Industrial minerals and their uses:A handbook and formulary. Westwood, N.J.: Noyes Publications. Retrieved June 12, 2017, from Industrial minerals and their uses:

Friedel, R. (2012, 12 02). Materials that changed history. Retrieved May 25, 2017, from WPBS: Nova:

Haines, G. K. (2016, December). Life without rare earth metals. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from december2016? pg= 14#pg14

Kogel, J. E., Trivedi, N. C., Barker, J. M., & Krukowski, S. T. (2006). Industrial minerals and rocks: Commodities, markets and uses. Littleton, Colorado: Societyfor Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration Inc.

Miessler, G. L., & Tarr, D. A. (1999). Inorganic chemistry (Vol. 2nd edition ). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Morse, D. E., & Glover, A. N. (2000, 10 18). Minerals and materials in the 20th century: A review. Retrieved 05 22, 2017, from USGS: Mineral Resources Program :

Nassau, K. (1978). The origins of color in minerals. American Mineralogist, 63, 219-229.

Plante, A., Peck, D., & Von Bargen , D. (2003, 05 17). Mineral Identification Key II. Retrieved 02 28, 2017, from Mineralogical Association of America:

Rakovan, J. (2005). Solid Solution . Rocks and minerals , 80, 449-450.

Schumaker, J. S., Snyder, C. J., & Katz, D. A. (1975, 12). The preparation and verification of malachite. (N. p.-2. Original Source: Chemistry V.48, Ed.) Retrieved 06 17, 2017, from Chymist.Com:


Scott, P. (2011). The geological setting for industrial mineral resources. In G. Christidis, & G.E.Christidis (Ed.), Advances in the characterization of industrial minerals (pp. 13-34). London: European Mineralogical Union and the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland.


Smyth, J. R., & Bish, D. L. (1988). Crystal structure and cation sites of the rock forming minerals. Retrieved June 17, 2017, from Home Page for Joseph Smyth:


Tarbuck, E. J. (2006). Earth Science . Upper Saddle River , NJ: Pearson Prentiss Hall.


VanGosen, B. S., Verplank, P. L., Long, K. R., Gambogi, J., & Seal, R. (2014, November 5). Rare Earth Elements: Vital to modern technologies and life. Retrieved May 22 2017, from USGS Fact Sheet:


Wolfe, J. (1984). Minerals in History. Netherlands: Springer.







Teacher Resources


Day One:

Smartphone Video:

WHAT’S in your Smartphone Video:

Mineral Poster:

Poster for first day:

Life without Rare Earth Elements:


Life Without Rare Earth Elements Teacher’s Guide Available at:

Select December 2016 to access materials. Guide contains guided reading questions and many other resources on the topic of rare earth metals.




Rare Earth Elements Technology Alliance: A series of web pages promoting the use of rare earth elements in our society.  A very comprehensive resource that can be used as resource for research papers:


The Economics of the North American Rare Earth Industry:


Rare Earth Elements Vital to Modern life and Technologies


Day Two


Mineral Identification Lab: This laboratory provides background information on mineral properties and how to use the tools in a mineral identification kit. The instructions will be used along with the mineral identification key to analyze the properties of minerals. Details each property with illustrations and example: The lab is located at:


Mineral Identification Key and Guide: This guide describes the materials for an identification kit and suggests samples to be used in the activity. The guide is located at:  This key is cited in the unit as: (Plante, Peck, & Von Bargen , 2003):  The guide contains a virtual dichotomous key that will help identify a sample. The site includes an extensive data base of mineral samples that can be used to supplement the activity.


Mineral Identification Activity Teacher Guide: This guide details a series of mineral activities.

The guide can be used as background knowledge for the mineral identification activity. The mineral sample suggested provide the opportunity to examine all of the relevant properties of minerals. The guide is located at:


Mineral Structure Data Base: Complements J. Smyth’s book with illustrations of each type of structure. Provides unit cell coordination numbers, illustrations of unit cell and data for calculating the density of minerals.


Day Three:

Mineral Identification Kit is located at:


A second identification lab activity with pictures.



Laboratory Procedures


Day Eight and Nine Laboratory

Synthesis and Analysis of Coordination Complexes

This laboratory complements the discussion on crystal field splitting energy. Students will make and observe the colors of solutions of transition metal complexes. They will use the observed colors to estimate the crystal field splitting energy of the complexes.

Laboratory procedure is located at:


Day Ten and Nine Laboratory

Synthesis of Malachite


Additional Teacher Resources


Gem Select: Extensive data base on gems. Indexed alphabetically: provides history of gem, how gems are jeweled, along with a complete table of the gems properties.


Mineral Resources Data Base:   A series of databases on mineral nationally and internationally. Included is a database that lists domestic production and consumption trends for the mineral commodities since 1996.   Data is organized alphabetically and by categories such as: Aggregates minerals, agricultural minerals, precious metals and gems, nonferrous and ferrous metals, and construction materials:


Birthstones: Organized by month. Cultural history and lore of each stone.


Geology of Rubies: Detailed history of ruby chemistry.


Mineralogy Data Base:

Extensive data base on minerals. Over 4700 minerals are indexed and classified in a variety of systems (including Dana classification). All physical and chemical data are organized on webpages and organized on periodic table. Extensive listing of all compounds containing given minerals.


Smartphones Smart Chemistry from: a summary of longer article from April 2015Chemmatters article.

Complete Article is located at:

Select April 2015 to download Teacher Guide: article pages 75 – 110.