We began our sixth grade year last August with a Mineralogy block. My, how time flies! Timpanogos Cave National Monument is near our home and I wanted the culmination of our studies to be a field trip to the cave which closes in September. To prepare for this block, I listened to Eugene Schwartz’s lecture on Mineralogy. (This was from his Master Class Series which I can no longer access! Perhaps he removed them in favor of his new Online Conferences…?) I also used chapters from Charles Kovacs’ book Geology and Astronomy. Interestingly, Mr. Schwartz calls this block “mineralogy” rather than “geology” because it doesn’t include the formation of the earth. It is an introductory study of the rock cycles, minerals and natural resources that are observable by the child or used in the area in which the child resides.
My goal was to make this block very relevant to Teal. In planning, I thought about which rocks/minerals/resources are near us, which ones we could experience and which ones contribute to the economy of our area. I identified the following list of topics we would discuss: lime, silica, coal, petroleum and natural gas, copper and salt.
We began with a review of some of the things Teal already knew about the rock cycle. She loves rocks and has read and studied many things about them on her own. Then, I introduced the “lime cycle” as outlined in Eugene Schwartz’s lecture. We talked about how lime-containing rocks can be penetrated or eroded by water, and how new rocks or formations are built up. We talked about how this results in wonderful cave formations, too. It was a nice way to talk about sedimentary rocks, and later was an easy segue into metamorphic rocks as we talked about how under tremendous heat and pressure limestone is metamorphosed into marble. Teal drew an illustration of the lime cycle for her main lesson book.
We took several field trips, which included seeing a limestone quarry, swimming in a hot-spring that is inside a limestone crater and visiting the cave I mentioned above. Teal wrote a reflective piece about swimming in the crater, and illustrated a limestone rock we have from this collection.
From our hike to Timpanogos Cave:
We saw bighorn sheep on the way home!
The limestone crater we swam in!
We then talked about silica and granite. Silica containing rocks are born of fire (igneous) and the best known example of this is the quartz crystal. We talked about how silica containing rocks hold water on the surface, rather than allowing it to seep through like limestone. We talked about how the mountains near us are granite and how they hold the water on the top of the stone rather than allowing it to seep through. This allows the snow to build up all winter to provide great skiing, and in the spring the water runs off the granite, down the rivers, and into the water supply that people drink.
We talked about coal, petroleum and natural gas. For each of these items we discussed what it is, where it is found in our area and how it contributes to our economy. We saw trains hauling coal, and visited a little coal-mining town with a gigantic sculpture of a coal miner. We took a field trip to spot near our home where we can look out and see three of the five oil refineries in our state. Teal had great-grandfathers who worked in both the coal and oil industries and we talked about what their jobs were. A natural conversation about renewable resources came up during this time, and pollution, since it is a noticeable problem especially during the winters here.
We talked about copper. One of the world’s largest open-pit copper mines is near our home. I was hoping to visit it, but it was closed due to a landslide. We talked about the uses of copper. We looked at where copper is used in our home and electronics. We also watched this video about copper production which was interesting.
Finally we talked about salt. Morton Salt has a salt processing plant near the Great Salt Lake. They don’t allow field trips any more, which was a bummer, but I found a lot of interesting tidbits about salt on their Salt Facts page. This was an interesting fact that tied into our Roman History block later in the year: “Roman soldiers were paid ‘salt money,’ salarium argentum, from which we take our English word, ‘salary’.” Also from Greece: “ ‘He is not worth his salt’ is a common expression. It originated in ancient Greece where salt was traded for slaves.”
We enjoyed this block as our back-to-school block because it gave us a lot of opportunities to get out and experience the minerals in our area. I am still planning to have Teal make a stalagmite with epsom salt. We just didn’t get it done during the block! Overall, this was a very enjoyable block!