Are You Smarter than a Third Grader?
Educational outreach is fun for more than just the kids in the classroom.
By Bill Langer
I had just returned to my hotel room after a long day at the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (SME) annual meeting, which included discussions of the importance of educational outreach about the mining industry. What a coincidence! Waiting in my email inbox was an invitation from my granddaughter Delaney’s third grade teacher to talk to her class about rocks and minerals.
Pam Wilkinson, educational outreach coordinator at the University of Arizona’s Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources, was also at SME, so the next day she and I knocked out a class outline. The Mining Foundation of the Southwest funds her travel throughout the state of Arizona so she can provide presentations and activities to educate students and adults about the mining industry.
After returning home, I went to Pam’s to pick up rock samples for the classroom exercise. I also stopped by Pioneer Sand, which donated a selection of rocks each kid could take home. Each bag of rocks was topped off with a safety reflector donated by Environmental Resources Management, a global environmental consultancy.
I showed up at Delaney’s classroom dressed ready for fieldwork. I asked what the kids thought a geologist did and got some darn good answers.
Next, I asked what they thought my field equipment was used for. The kids knew the purpose of every piece of equipment. I could hardly believe it when a boy said my acid bottle was for vinegar to see if rocks fizzed, and when a girl said my hi-viz vest was so trucks could see me when I worked in a mine. How’d they know that?
Using a world map, I pointed out some of the places I worked. I asked them to identify the country and continent. Okay, they had trouble with Hungary and Slovenia, but they correctly identified most places and got all the continents correct. Some even elaborated, like when Delaney answered, “Australia, the smallest continent.”
Finally, the fun part! Each table had a box containing 11 rocks, all from Arizona. I described the rocks, one at a time, and told the kids a few of the major uses.
Gypsum was used in walls in the school and their houses. Scoria was used to make their blue jeans look old and to make lighter concrete floors in tall buildings. Limestone fizzed and was used in practically everything in the classroom. One girl knew she put limestone in her mouth when she brushed her teeth. Azurite, a mineral, is a source of copper, and Arizona produces more copper than all the rest of the states in the United States put together. (That drew a loud chorus of Oooooooooo’s.) The ugliest rock that nobody liked was gold ore, which makes its way into jewelry, computers, even teeth. And on and on….
A few days later, Delaney’s friend Callie handed me a thank-you note that included the drawing in this article. (Notice the geologist on her shirt.)
And a few days after that, my wife, Pam, and I attended field day at Delaney’s school. A bunch of her classmates came up to me to tell me they loved rocks. One said her room was full of rocks, one showed me how rocks change color when wet, and one said he was going to be a geologist.
Going back to third grade was a great experience. Give it a try.