Editor's Desk

Are you smarter than a third grader?

I had 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 co-ordinator for the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources at the University of Arizona, was also at SME. The next day she and I knocked out a class outline. Pam is funded by the Mining Foundation of the Southwest to travel throughout Arizona, providing 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 field work. 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?
{{image2-a:R-w:200-c:Bill Langer is fondly captured in a drawing by his granddaughter’s friend Callie!}}
Using a world map, I pointed out some of the places I?ve worked. I asked them to identify the country and continent. They correctly identified most places, and got all the continents correct. Some even elaborated, like when Delaney answered, ?Australia, the smallest continent.?

Next, the fun part! Each table had a box with 11 rocks, all from Arizona. I described the rocks, 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 is a source of copper and Arizona produces more copper than the rest of the US combined. (That drew a loud chorus of ?Oooooooooos?!) The ugliest rock that nobody liked was gold ore, which makes its way into jewellery, computers, even teeth.  And so on and so on …

A few days later, Delaney?s friend Callie handed me a thank you note including the drawing in this article. (Notice the geologist on her shirt.) A few days after that, my wife Pam and I attended a 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 colour 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! 

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