What is this rock?

Imagine: A young child hands you a rock with an expectant "What is this rock?" If you experience rock anxiety, that sinking feeling that you won't know The Answer, this book is for you.

Earth Science Education teaches summer courses especially for second and fourth-grade teachers who teach "Rocks and Minerals" and "Utah Rocks and Minerals" as part of Utah's core science curriculum. The course consists of three 3-hour and 20-minute sessions taught outside using Salt Lake County's outstanding natural rock display of bedrock outcrops and valley sediments supplemented with cemetery tombstones.

Our goal is for teachers to reply with confidence and competence to "what is this rock" by telling a story... the story the rock tells. We teach teachers how to "read" the rock's story, to decipher clues of distinctive shapes, textures, patterns, and key mineral constituents to tell the story the rock is telling about its recent and distant past and its probable future.

Technical terms in italics are defined in the Glossary. We make every effort to use common terms and apologize if any of this text does not make sense to you.

Our approach:

(1) Tell stories

Focus on the rock cycle (the plot ofthe story). De-emphasize knowing all the characters names (rock names). We want you to learn to distinguish only the three major rock types (sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous), to memorize only the five most abundant rock-forming minerals, and to learn the names of only a few rocks, minerals and fossils that are of special importance to Salt Lake County. Earth science is about processes, about the story. We cringe when Rocks and Minerals is taught as boring memorization of the crystal characteristics of a generic rock collection.

The rock story has no beginning and no end. Every rock tells a story. The geologic story is written in rocks.

(2) Personalize earth science.

Children like to learn about their environment, their rocks. Few, if any, places of comparable size in the world offer as outstanding an opportunity to teach rocks and minerals using locations that students can see, visit, and relate directly to their lives as does Salt Lake County.

  • Salt Lake County rocks tell stories of every eon of geologic time.
  • Children can find the five abundant rock-forming minerals in the common rocks of their school yards or exotic rocks in cemeteries.
  • Mining is big business in Salt Lake County from the exploitation of abundant sand and gravel deposits to open-pit mining of distinctive copper and gold-bearing ores from a world-class mining district
  • Local vistas include examples of sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous bedrock.
  • Most schools are constructed on unconsolidated sediments that tell fascinating stories of recent climate change such as the huge lake that drowned much of the valley and glaciers in some canyons.
  • Today's streams provide accessible laboratories for studying river processes.

(3) Use the outdoors as your laboratory.

We encourage you to teach earth science outside. We hope this text inspires you to study earth science in more detail. After reading this text you are ready to tackle the vocabulary and concepts of texts such as Dynamic Earth by Brian J. Skinner and Stephen C. Porter.

Summer 1997 is the third summer Earth Science Education has offered this Rocks and Minerals course to Salt Lake County teachers. We want your feedback. Give us your suggestions for the next draft of the text. We hope you will use this resource book in your classroom. Please attribute the source of the material (Earth Science Education, or, where appropriate, Dynamic Earth). We are very grateful to John Wiley and Sons, publisher of Dynamic Earth, and Brian Skinner and Stephen Porter for permission to use their material.

CHECKLIST: After reading this book -you should understand:

1. The differences between "bedrock" and "sediment." (See Chapter One.)

2. The three basic rock types: (See Chapter Five.)

  • sedimentary
  • metamorphic
  • igneous

3. The Rock Cycle and its four basic rock processes: (See Chapter Six.)

  • Sedimentation which produces sediments,
  • Lithification which produces sedimentary bedrock,
  • Metamorphism which produces metamorphic bedrock,
  • Melting and crystallization which produce igneous bedrock.

COURSE OVERVIEW ... Rocks and minerals in 1000 words or less.

There are two main types of rock materials: bedrock and sediments. All sediments have eroded from bedrock. There are three types ofbedrock: metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary bedrock. Igneous bedrock was once melted. Sedimentary bedrock once was sediments. Metamorphic bedrock was once something else before it was altered by heat and pressure. The story ofa rock is its story along the many paths ofthe rock cycle. Processes oferosion and deposition produce sediments. Processes oflithification harden sediments into layers ofsedimentary bedrock. Metamorphism changes rocks physically and chemically into metamorphic bedrock. Melting and crystallization produce igneous bedrock. When someone hands you a rock, they have handed you a piece ofsediment. Whey they ask you "what kind of rock is this" they are asking you "what kind of bedrock did this piece of sediment come from?"

The Classic Rock Cycle

This is the "simple" rock cycle found in many texts. Your students may be expected to understand it. Note the one-way paths (follow the arrows). This version of the rock cycle conveys the unending. cyclic nature of the rock cycle. Rocks can go round and round and round the cycle. as long as they follow the arrows. Note how this version of the rock cycle has five processes and five products.

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