Rocks and Minerals #23

(grades 6-12)
Soft-bound, 88 page book, 36 reproducible task cards, full teaching notes.

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No exotic or expensive specimens needed, and you can order support kits directly through TOPS. Examine, test and classify rock samples from your own back yard. Unearth igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic rock, then subdivide by geological formations. An egg carton organizes everything into a unique collection of personal discovery and learning. Many labs are accessible to younger kids, too.

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Rocks and Minerals Starter Kit

book not included, please order separately

WE SUPPLY the following items in quantities that serve one student or two students working in a lab pair: sand with mica, sea shells, granite, basalt, hydrochloric acid, Epsom salts, sugar, salt, pepper, chalk, candles, masking tape, modeling clay, pie tins, microscope slides, eye droppers, test tubes, 100 mL graduated cylinders, film canisters, lids, marbles. YOU SUPPLY pliers, brick, egg cartons, safety goggles, pocket calculator, tubs, and lab balances. (Purchase Weighing #05 to make an improvised balance accurate to 0.01 g. Or buy the Pocket Gram Scale, listed below, accurate to 0.1 g.)


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  • objectives
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Table of Contents for #23 Rocks and Minerals:

Preparation and Support

A TOPS Model for Effective Science Teaching • Getting Ready • Gathering Materials • Sequencing Task Cards • Long Range Objectives • Review / Test Questions

Activities and Lesson Notes

  1. 1. Eight Basic Elements
  2. 2. Tiny Treasures
  3. 3. One Mineral / Many Forms
  4. 4. Igneous Rock
  5. 5. Moh's Hardness Scale
  6. 6. Streak Test
  7. 7. Mechanical Weathering
  8. 8. Transport and Sorting
  9. 9. Sedimentary Rock
  10. 10. Chemical Weathering
  11. 11. Sea Floor Sediment
  12. 12. Two Kinds of Cement
  13. 13. Cracking Up
  14. 14. Rock Hardness
  15. 15. Metamorphic Rock
  16. 16. Sorting Rocks
  17. 17. Identifying Rocks
  18. 18. Clastic Sedimentary (1-3)
  19. 19. Chemical Sedimentary (4-6)
  20. 20. Igneous (7-9)
  21. 21. Metamorphic (10-12)
  22. 22. Rock Cycle
  23. 23. Ordinary Rock

  25. 24. Permeability
  26. 25. Density
  27. 26. Density of Igneous Rock
  28. 27. Density of Silica
  29. 28. Specific Gravity
  30. 29. Ice and Water
  31. 30. Concentration and Crystal Size
  32. 31. Pegmatites
  33. 32. Petrified Paper
  34. 33. Chemical Icicles
  35. 34. The Silica Tetrahedron
  36. 35. How Tetrahedra Combine
  37. 36. Adventures of Tetra


Complete Master List for #23 Rocks and Minerals:

Key: (1st/2nd/3rd) denote needed quantities: (1st) enough for 1 student doing all activities; (2nd) enough for 30 students working in 10 lab groups all self-paced; (3rd) enough for 30 students working in 10 lab groups, all doing the same lesson. Starred* items may be purchased below.

  1. 10/300/300: sheets of lined notebook paper
  2. 1/15/15: rulers (straight edges)
  3. 0.1/1/1: quart of coarse brown sand with flecks of mica
  4. 1/8/10: pie tins
  5. * 1/30/30: hand lenses
  6. 1/1/1: box of granulated sugar
  7. * 1/10/10: microscope slides
  8. * 1/10/10: a candle with drip catcher and matches (Bunsen burners)
  9. 2/20/20: pieces (each) of granite and basalt, about golf ball size

  10. * 3/10/12: small glass jars or beakers (or baby food jars)
  11. * 1/10/10: eyedroppers
  12. 1/1/1: package of table salt
  13. 1/15/30: pennies
  14. *2/15/20: paper clips
  15. 1/10/10: common bricks
  16. 2/20/20: pieces of chalk
  17. * 1/1/1: roll of masking tape
  18. * 2/10/20: test tubes
  19. 1/10/10: dropper bottles with 5% hydrochloric acid

  20. 1/10/10: margarine lids (or panes of glass)
  21. 1/3/10: sea shells (egg shells)
  22. 1/2/5: needle-nose pliers
  23. 1/30/30: a large coffee can or equivalent
  24. 1/30/30: safety goggles (or twice this many plastic produce bags)
  25. 1/1/1: a natural place where students can search for rocks
  26. 1/1/1: a commercial collection of common rocks (optional)
  27. 1/5/10: scissors
  28. 1/30/30: egg cartons
  29. * 0.5/2/5: cups of oil-based clay

  30. * 1/10/10: gram balances
  31. 3/30/30: paper towels
  32. * 1/10/10: 100 mL graduated cylinders
  33. 1/1/1: box of pepper
  34. 1/10/10: hand calculators
  35. 5/15/50: glass marbles
  36. * 1/4/10: empty film canisters or equivalent with snap on lids
  37. 1/1/5: large wash tubs (or buckets)
  38. 1/1/1: a freezer (or freezing weather)
  39. 0.5/5/5: cups Epsom salt

  40. 1/3/10: stirring rods
  41. 1/2/10: dictionaries

Convenient Shopping:

Rocks and Minerals Class Kit

book not included, please order separately

WE SUPPLY all items in our above Starter Kit, in class quantities that serve up to 30 students organized into 10 lab groups. YOU SUPPLY other materials as detailed above.

Baby Food Jars - assorted

without lids

Each set includes 4 small, 4 medium and 4 large glass jars.

Candles - emergency

cylindrical, 5 inches by about 3/4 inches diameter

Also called utility candles. A handy heating source. Correctly sized for #09 Floating and Sinking. Drip catchers not included.


16-mm film-canister, snap-on lid

Once ubiquitous, now hard to find. Needed for #09 Floating and Sinking, #16 Pressure, and #23 Rocks and Minerals.

Clay - modeling

oil-based, non-drying

Sold by the 100 gram stick, about 1/4 cup, in assorted colors (our choice). One stick serves a whole classroom for TOPS applications.


glass, with rubber bulbs and screw-on plastic bottle top

These have many lab uses. You may purchase them separately here, or with 1/2 ounce dropper bottles (as item #1121).

Separately, these also double as Cartesian Divers in #200 Diving into Pressure & Buoyancy. If you already have droppers, test them in advance to see if they make good 'divers': Remove plastic bottle top, if any. Dropper must float when empty, then sink with a one-squeeze-intake of water. Test that the seal between bulb and barrel is water tight: The empty dropper should float for a day or so in a glass of water, without taking on visible water.

Graduated Cylinder - 100 mL

shatter resistant plastic on stable base

An important lab inquiry tool for measuring larger liquid volumes.

Gram Pocket Scale

digital, pocket size

Digitally weighs up to 500 grams, plus tare container. Sensitive to 0.1 gram in multiple weight units. Durable, but not childproof. Comes with two AAA batteries to get you started.

Magnifier - hand lens

3X clear plastic hand lens

You'll find many uses for this basic tool of scientific inquiry. Very nice quality for the price. Supports #17 Light, #23 Rocks and Minerals, and #42 Focus Pocus. (One 3X hand lens is also included in each #100 Triple Magnifier Kit.)

Microscope Slides

glass, standard size

Used in #17 Light for diffraction experiments. For viewing microscope specimens, consider cutting slides, almost for free, from clear plastic bakery cartons. Smooth any sharp edges with sandpaper or an emery board.

Paper Clips

size #1, steel, box of 100

Paper clips have 1001 uses in TOPS experiments, and science in general. Feel free to use paper clips you already have, but be aware that different brands come in different sizes and weights. In experiments where uniformity is important, don't mix brands.

Tape - masking

3/4 inch x 55 yd roll

A handy science supply used in most TOPS modules.

Test Tube - medium disposable

19 mL capacity, 16 mm OD, 5 inch (125 mm) length

A lighter weight rimless Pyrex test tube made with thinner glass.

Test Tube - medium reusable

14 mL capacity, 15 mm OD, 5 inch (125 mm) length

A tough Pyrex test tube made with rim and thicker glass. Has a white spot for labeling.

Teaching Tips for #23 Rocks and Minerals:

We encourage improvisation - it's one of the main goals of our hands-on approach! You and your students might invent a simpler, sturdier or more accurate system; might ask a better question; might design a better extension. Hooray for ingenuity! When this occurs, we'd love to hear about it and share it with other educators. Please send ideas and photos to

Lesson by Lesson Objectives for #23 Rocks and Minerals:

  1. Lesson 1: To appreciate that the earth's crust is made almost entirely from eight basic elements. To graph these elements on a bar graph.
  2. Lesson 2: To sort grains of sand by shape, opacity and color. To identify three common minerals in sand.
  3. Lesson 3: To recognize that one mineral may assume different solid forms. To account for the great diversity of rocks in the earth's crust.
  4. Lesson 4: To observe that coarse crystals form more slowly than fine crystals. To deduce the origin of granite and basalt based on the size of their crystals.
  5. Lesson 5: To interpret the hardness or softness of objects by scratching one against the other. To construct a scale of relative hardness for common objects.
  6. Lesson 6: To interpret the hardness or softness of objects by streaking them across brick.
  7. Lesson 7: To mechanically erode pieces of granite by rubbing them together. To understand how this happens in nature, changing the appearance of rock and producing soil.
  8. Lesson 8: To study how wind and water sort rock clasts by size and deposit them into graded beds.
  9. Lesson 9: To mechanically generate a new sedimentary rock from preexisting igneous rock.
  10. Lesson 10: To dissolve a piece of chalk in weak acid and observe the resulting erosion patterns. To contrast chemical weathering with mechanical weathering.
  11. Lesson 11: To trace the path of calcium carbonate as it travels from limestone to water, to living organisms, to shelled remains, and finally recycles back to chalk and limestone.
  12. Lesson 12: To examine two common cementing agents found in sedimentary rock. To consider the various kinds of rock derived from these cements.
  13. Lesson 13: To crack open rocks and save assorted pieces for later identification and display in a rock collection.
  14. Lesson 14: To compare the relative hardness of collected rock samples. To tag them for later identification and analysis.
  15. Lesson 15: To distinguish between rocks with random and ordered textural patterns. To use these textural clues to identify metamorphic rock.
  16. Lesson 16: To begin sorting rocks into 12 basic egg-carton categories on a tentative basis, according to each rock's geological origin.
  17. Lesson 17: To introduce a six-part write-up procedure for reporting about rocks that students identify over the next four task card activities.
  18. Lesson 18: To identify and describe clastic sedimentary rocks that belong to egg-cup categories 1-3.
  19. Lesson 19: To identify and describe chemical sedimentary rocks that belong to egg-cup categories 4-6.
  20. Lesson 20: To identify and describe igneous rocks that belong to egg-cup categories 7-9.
  21. Lesson 21: To identify and describe chemical metamorphic rocks that belong to egg-cup categories 10-12.
  22. Lesson 22: To understand how igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks continuously change form, creating one grand cycle of change. To see the bigger picture.
  23. Lesson 23: To represent the relative abundance of common rocks as a bar graph. To develop an overview.
  24. Lesson 24: To compare the permeability of chalk and clay. To evaluate which types of collected rocks are the most water permeable.
  25. Lesson 25: To determine the density of clay. To discover that each substance has a unique density, regardless of the volume measured.
  26. Lesson 26: To compare the densities of granite and basalt. To relate density to the position of rocks within the earth's crust.
  27. Lesson 27: To account for differences in density between crystallized silica and fused silica.
  28. Lesson 28: To compute the density of water. To use this special result to develop the notion of specific gravity.
  29. Lesson 29: To understand how freezing water contributes to the mechanical erosion of rock.
  30. Lesson 30: To study how the concentration of salt affects the size of crystals that precipitate from solution.
  31. Lesson 31: To explain how veins of pegmatite form in plutons of granite.
  32. Lesson 32: To soak a paper towel in Epsom salt and speculate how this might "petrify" the paper.
  33. Lesson 33: To model how silicates petrify wood and how carbonates form stalactites and stalagmites in caves.
  34. Lesson 34: To model a silica tetrahedron. To demonstrate how this negative unit combines with positive ions to form neutral minerals.
  35. Lesson 35: To model how silicate tetrahedra join together in different ways, producing a variety of mineral forms.
  36. Lesson 36: To trace the path of a silica tetrahedron through the rock cycle.

National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996) for #23 Rocks and Minerals:

TEACHING Standards

These 36 task cards promote excellence in science teaching by these NSES criteria:
Teachers of science...
A: ...plan an inquiry-based science program. (p. 30)
B: and facilitate learning. (p. 32)
C: ...engage in ongoing assessment of their teaching and of student learning. (p. 37)
D: and manage learning environments that provide students with the time, space, and resources needed for learning science. (p. 43)

CONTENT Standards

These 36 task cards contain fundamental content as defined by these NSES guidelines (p. 109).
• Represent a central event or phenomenon in the natural world.
• Represent a central scientific idea and organizing principle.
• Have rich explanatory power.
• Guide fruitful investigations.
• Apply to situations and contexts common to everyday experiences.
• Can be linked to meaningful learning experiences.
• Are developmentally appropriate for students at the grade level specified.

Unifying Concepts and Processes

NSES Framework: Systems, order, and organization • Evidence, models and explanation • Constancy, change, and measurement • Evolution and equilibrium • Form and function
Core Concepts/Processes: Identify igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks. Subdivide them by geological formation.

Science as Inquiry (content standard A)

NSES Framework: Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations. • Design and conduct a scientific investigation. • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data. • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence. • Think critically and logically to connect evidence and explanations. • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions. • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations. • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
Core Inquiries: Examine, test and classify rock samples.

Physical Science (content standard B)

NSES Framework: Properties and changes of properties in matter
Core Content: Permeability • Density • Specific gravity

Earth and Space Science (content standard D)

NSES Framework: Properties of earth materials • Changes in earth and sky • Structure of the earth system • Energy in the earth system • Geochemical cycles
Core Content: Rock classification and formation • Mechanical and chemical weathering • Transport and sorting • Hardness • Chemical composition • Rock cycles