Activity Details




Students will learn

  • To calculate the total amount of selected minerals they consume in a lifetime.
  • To look at mineral production from the “demand side”—what we consume on a yearly basis.
  • To critically think about how their lives may be affected if the supply (availability) of a mineral resource changes.



  • Fig. 6 - Every American Born Will Need...
  • Copy of worksheet 1 and 2 (Figs. 7, 8)



  • Find the current cost for the commodities listed on worksheet 1.

Note:Mineral and economic information can be obtained from the following sources:

  • Business section of most major newspapers, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times.
  • Mineral and Economic information from the USGS (2004 and 2005c).
  • Doing an on-line search for a specific commodity.
  • Complete worksheet 1 (See Using Worksheet 1 below)
  • Complete worksheet 2 (See Using Worksheet 2 below)

Using Worksheet 1:

Note:Column A of Worksheet 1 lists eight minerals or commodities that we use on a daily basis, whether metals for machinery, mineral fertilizers for agriculture, or aggregates for construction.

  • Look at the list of eight minerals in column A and name several products which are made from the minerals or commodities.
  • Column B is actually two columns. One lists the estimated quantity in pounds and the other the metric ton equivalent for each mineral/commodity that a person will use in his/her lifetime.
  • Determine the cost per metric ton for each commodity and enter the number in the appropriate column D, cost per metric ton.
  • Multiply the quantity in column B (metric ton) times column D (Cost $/metric ton) and enter the number in column E. Column E will give you the total value ($) of the mineral/commodity that a person will consume in his/her lifetime.
  • Next divide value in column E by 75 (estimated life expectancy) and enter the number in column F. Column F will give you the dollar value for each commodity that a person will consume per year.
  • Total the values for column E and column F and enter them at the bottom right of the worksheet.

Using Worksheet 2:

  • Write the total value obtained from worksheet 1, column F, in column A of worksheet 2.
  • Write your age in column B.
  • Multiply column A (Total $ Value used/year) times column B (Your age) and enter the number in column C. Column C represents the dollar amount of the selected commodities you have used since you were born (Total $ Value used).
  • Subtract your age from 75(estimated life expectancy). Multiply this value with the value in column A and enter it in column D. This will give you the Total future $ Value (will be)used.
  • Add the values from column C and D together and enter it in column E. Column E represents the $ Value used in a lifetime.



Assigned Resource for the Essay: ___________________________________________________________

Write an essay on how your lives would change if the above mentioned resource were no longer available. Think about the following:
1. Why would a resource become rare?
2. Is it renewable or nonrenewable?
3. What is its global distribution, and what nations have the most of the resource?
4. What are the costs related to extraction and processing of the resource? How does cost affect the demand for the resource?
5. What is the relationship between the value of the resource and gross domestic productivity?
6. What has happened to the price of the resource through time
7. What would happen to demand if the population increased or decreased?
8. What would happen to demand if the resource was found only in one or two nations?
9. What would happen to demand if a “substitute” commodity was found?
















Teacher Notes


Tips and Tricks:


  • The process of finding or exploring for a mineral deposit, extracting or mining the resource, recovering the resource, also known as beneficiation, and reclaiming the land mined can be described as the “life cycle” of a mineral deposit.
  • Mineral deposits are the source of many important commodities, such as copper and gold, used by our society, but it is important to realize that mineral deposits are a nonrenewable resource. Once mined, they are exhausted, and another source must be found. New mineral deposits are being continuously created by the Earth but may take millions of years to form.
  • Mineral deposits differ from renewable resources, such as agricultural and timber products, which may be replenished within a few months to several years.
  • The technical definition of a mineral is a naturally occurring, inorganic, homogeneous solid with a definite chemical composition and an ordered atomic arrangement. In more general terms, a mineral is a substance that is:
    (1) made of a single element like gold (Au) or a compound of elements like salt (NaCl) and/ or
    (2) a building block of rock (for example, granite is composed primarily of the minerals quartz and feldspar).
  • Minerals may be metallic, like gold, or nonmetallic, such as talc.
  • Oil, natural gas, and coal are generally considered to be “energy minerals” and are not discussed in this report.
  • A mineral deposit is a mineral occurrence of sufficient size and grade (concentration) to enable extraction under the most favorable conditions.
  • Two cycles determine how mineral deposits are formed— the ROCK CYCLE and the TECTONIC CYCLE.
  • Heat from the Earth’s interior melts some of the rocks in the crust (the upper part of the lithosphere).
  • Molten rocks lower in density than the surrounding cooler material rise toward the Earth’s surface and eventually cool and harden near to or on the surface.
  • The composition, temperature, pressure, and cooling process of the molten material determine the minerals and rock types formed.
  • These are called IGNEOUS ROCKS and contain original or primary minerals.
  • When these rocks are subjected to chemical and physical processes, such as freezing and thawing, they break apart into smaller fragments forming sediments.
  • These smaller particles that compose the sediments can be physically transported and re-deposited by gravity, water, and wind.
  • If the re-deposited particles are bound together by compaction or cementation (formation of new secondary minerals in the spaces between the loose particles), SEDIMENTARY ROCKS are formed.
  • In regions where the Earth’s interior temperature and pressure are high enough to change the chemical composition and mineralogy of buried igneous or sedimentary rocks, without completely melting them, METAMORPHIC ROCKS are formed.
  • Distinct groups or assemblages of minerals are typically associated with the formation of each of the three major rock types—igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks.
  • PLATE TECTONICS play a major role in the processes of mineral and rock formation.
  • In geologic terms, a plate is a large, “rigid” slab of solid rock.
  • The word tectonics comes from the Greek root “to build.”
  • The term plate tectonics refers to the process by which the Earth’s crust is formed and moved.
  • The theory of plate tectonics states that the Earth’s outermost layer, the crust, is fragmented into a dozen or more plates of various sizes that are moving relative to one another as they are slowly transported on top of and by hotter, more mobile material (Kious and Tilling, 1996).
  • Scientists now have a fairly good understanding of how the plates move and how earthquake activity relates to such movement.
  • Most movement occurs along narrow zones between plates where the effects of tectonic forces are most evident.

There are four types of plate boundaries:

  • Divergent boundaries—where new crust is generated as the plates pull away from each other.
  • Convergent boundaries—where crust is destroyed as one plate dives under another.
  • Transform boundaries—where crust is neither produced nor destroyed as the plates slide horizontally past each other.
  • Plate boundary zones—broad belts in which boundaries are not well defined and the effects of plate interaction are unclear (Kious and Tilling, 1996).

Hands-On Activities

  • This activity is one of a set of activities designed to educate students about geology, plate tectonics, and mineral resources and how mineral resources are found, extracted, processed, and used.
  • These activities are suited for the entire K-12 grade level range, but some may be best suited for the 5-8 or 9-12 grade levels (table 3). The activities are as follows:

Basic Geology—Concepts

Exploring for Minerals

Extracting Minerals

Uses of Minerals

Mineral Resources and Economics

Pre-activity preparation

  • This exercise can be done on an individual basis or as a class project.
  • Fig. 6 - Every American Born Will Need... (pg. 22 (28 of 40) of Teachers’ Guide. See link below)
  • Copy of Worksheet 1 (Fig. 7. Pg. 24 (30 of 40) of Teachers’ Guide. See link below)
  • Copy of Worksheet 2 (Fig. 8. Pg. 25 (31 of 40) of Teachers’ Guide. See link below)
  • Our society is based on mineral resources.
  • For naming the products which are made from the minerals or commodities listed in column A, refer to appendix 2, Minerals and Their Uses Pgs. 32 to 34 (38 to 40 of 40) of Teachers’ Guide:
  • The values obtained for this exercise are the values listed for each commodity in fig. 9. (Pg. 26 (32 of 40)) of Teachers’ Guide (see link above).

Note1:For the purpose of this exercise, we have combined the 1.55 million pounds of stone, sand, and gravel (fig. 9) as one entry—1.55 million pounds of sand/gravel (construction)).

Note2: The cost for aluminum, copper, and lead is usually quoted in dollars per pound ($/pound); cost for cement, iron ore, phosphate, salt, and sand/gravel is usually quoted in dollars per metric ton ($/ton). However, for this exercise the unit to be used is metric ton ONLY.

Note 3:Values set at 1992 prices. Current prices can be found at:

  • Estimated life expectancy is defined as the number of years that one is expected to live as determined by statistics.
  • In Worksheet 2, the value in Column E should be the same value, to the nearest dollar, as the total value for column E on worksheet 1.
  • Examples of completed worksheets 1 and 2 are given in fig. 9 (pg. 32) of Teachers’ Guide (see link above).

Evaluation and Discussion:

  • Assign a resource of your choice for the students to write an essay on how their lives would change if that resource were no longer available.

An excellent source for understanding how the United States nonfuel mineral industry has changed through time is presented by the USGS (2005b):

  • At the beginning of the 20th century, some minerals and metals industries were well established, such as those of copper, gold, lead, lime, and salt.
  • Some industries were just beginning, such as aluminum and lithium.
  • Some materials, such as germanium, magnesium, and titanium, had not been commercially produced.
  • Mining was labor intensive and could be dangerous.
  • In 1900, U.S. minerals consumption was less than 100 million metric tons.
  • By 2000, U.S. minerals consumption had increased to more than 3.3 billion metric tons, and included not only the materials that constitute the bulk of consumption—crushed stone and steel—but some of the materials for which there were no uses in 1900.
  • Improved safety measures and technological advancements in mining and processing methods have made mining safer and increased efficiency.
  • The time line showing events that have affected the U.S. minerals industry during the 20th century is a representative list of individual events that have influenced the production and/or consumption of a single commodity or a group of commodities.
  • In many cases, changes to the U.S. minerals industry were evolutionary and not marked by a single event.
  • For example, the development of the electrical power generation and distribution industries throughout the first half of the 20th century provided new markets for aluminum, copper, and steel, but no one event in this time period is considered to be pivotal.
  • An additional source of historical information is presented by Moyer (2004) as an on-line PowerPoint digital movie package that displays patterns of Nevada mineral activity from 1851 to 1995 and historical factors that influenced these patterns.
  • The digital package consists of a full length educational movie with text and two short animations showing the evolving patterns of significant Nevada mineral deposits and mining districts over selected decades.



Additional Resources:

  • Barthelmy, David, 2005, Mineralogy Database:
    This mineral database contains 4,442 individual mineral species descriptions with links and a comprehensive image library.
  • Winter, Mark, 2005, WebElementsTMPeriodic Table:
  • Kesler, S.E., 1994, Mineral resources, economics, and the environment: New York, N.Y., MacMillan College Publishing Company, 391 p.
  • U.S. Geological Survey, 2005a, Minerals Information:




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