This is a three-lesson unit from the Smithsonian that is inspired by the National Museum of Natural History's Department of Mineral Sciences. It is comprised of the following lessons, each of which is illustrated with photographs of samples from the Museum's collection:
- Create a Classroom Exhibit: Rocks and Minerals
- Watching Crystals Grow
- Mineral Scavenger Hunt
The lessons use an inquiry-based approach, which provides students with practice in observing, forming hypotheses, and drawing conclusions. It also includes an informative introduction to crystals, gems, and other minerals that can be used as teacher background or shared with students as appropriate.
The first lesson, in which students create an exhibit of samples they have collected outside of the classroom, provides an excellent opportunity for students to explore ways to categorize natural objects based on their physical characteristics. The second lesson provides students with the opportunity to observe and record factors that influence crystal growth and to discover and identify the structure of crystals. The final lesson challenges students to find and identify minerals and mineral products in their environment. The lesson can be adapted to a wide variety of age groups with earlier grades focusing on classification and observation skills, while middle-school students can explore the physical properties of rocks and minerals in greater depth.