Getting Started

You are about to become a real geologist as you explore the world of rocks, crystals, gems, fossils, and minerals by moving beyond just looking at pretty stones and really being able to identify, test, and classify samples and specimens you come across using techniques that real field experts use.

While most people might think of a rock as being fun to climb or toss into a pond, you will now be able to see the special meaning behind the naturally occurring material that is made out of minerals by understanding how the minerals are joined together, what their crystalline structure is like, and much more.

Here are the scientific concepts:

  • Minerals are the building blocks of rocks.
  • Rocks are usually composed of two or more minerals (once in awhile, rocks can be made from just one, but usually it’s two or more).
  • Minerals are naturally occurring nonliving solids made from a single kind of material.
  • Minerals have a regular internal arrangement of atoms and molecules (called crystals).
  • Each mineral has its own unique combination of different chemical elements.
  • When atoms and molecules combine to make a mineral, they form a type of crystal.
  • Each mineral has a unique set of properties and can be identified using a series of standardized tests.

By the end of the labs in this unit, students will be able to:

  • Identify and describe the physical properties of minerals.
  • Practice common identification techniques that field scientists use on minerals.
  • Identify and differentiate different classifications of rocks, including common sub-designations for certain types of rock.
  • Measure and estimate the weight, length and volume of objects.
  • Conduct multiple trials to test a prediction and draw conclusions about the relationships between predictions and results.
  • Differentiate igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks by their properties.
  • Identify common minerals (including quartz, calcite, feldspar, mica, and hornblende) and ore minerals using a table of diagnostic properties.

Select a Lesson

Special Science Teleclass: Geology
This is a recording of a recent live teleclass I did with thousands of kids from all over the world. I’ve included it here so you can participate and learn, too! Learn about the world of rocks, crystals, gems, fossils, and minerals by moving beyond just looking at pretty stones and really being able to …Continue reading”Special Science Teleclass: Geology”
Rock Candy Crystals
Crystals are formed when atoms line up in patterns and solidify.  There are crystals everywhere — in the form of salt, sugar, sand, diamonds, quartz, and many more! To make crystals, you need to make a very special kind of solution called a supersaturated solid solution.  Here’s what that means: if you add salt by …Continue reading”Rock Candy Crystals”
Penny Crystal Structure
The atoms in a solid, as we mentioned before, are usually held close to one another and tightly together. Imagine a bunch of folks all stuck to one another with glue. Each person can wiggle and jiggle but they can’t really move anywhere. Atoms in a solid are the same way. Each atom can wiggle …Continue reading”Penny Crystal Structure”
Laundry Soap Crystals
Can we really make crystals out of soap?  You bet!  These crystals grow really fast, provided your solution is properly saturated.  In only 12 hours, you should have sizable crystals sprouting up. You can do this experiment with either skewers, string, or pipe cleaners.  The advantage of using pipe cleaners is that you can twist …Continue reading”Laundry Soap Crystals”
Salt & Vinegar Crystals
We’re going to take two everyday materials, salt and vinegar, and use them to grow crystals by creating a solution and allowing the liquids to evaporate.  These crystals can be dyed with food coloring, so you can grow yourself a rainbow of small crystals overnight. The first thing you need to do is gather your …Continue reading”Salt & Vinegar Crystals”
Eggshell Crystals
Geodes are formed from gas bubbles in flowing lava. Up close, a geode is a crystallized mineral deposit that is usually very dull and ordinary-looking on the outside.  When you crack open a geode, however, it’s like being inside a crystal cave.  We’ll use an eggshell to simulate a gas bubble in flowing lava. We’re …Continue reading”Eggshell Crystals”
Salt Stalactites
This is a continuation of the Laundry Soap and Rock Candy experiments, so make sure you’ve done those before trying this one.
Water Glass & Metal Crystals
This experiment is for advanced students. Water Glass is another name for Sodium Silicate (Na2SiO3), which is one of the chemicals used to grow underwater rock crystal gardens. Metal refers to the metal salt seed crystal you will use to start your crystals growing.  You can use any of the following metals listed.  Note however, …Continue reading”Water Glass & Metal Crystals”
Charcoal Crystals
Charcoal crystals uses evaporation to grow the crystals, which will continue to grow for weeks afterward.  You’ll need a piece of very porous material, such as a charcoal briquette, sponge, or similar object to absorb the solution and grow your crystals as the liquid evaporates.  These crystals are NOT for eating, so be sure to …Continue reading”Charcoal Crystals”
Lava Lamp
We’re going to watch how density works by making a simple lava lamp that doesn’t need electricity! If you like to watch blob-type shapes shift and ooze around, then this is something you’re going to want to experiment with.  but don’t feel that you have to use the materials mentioned below – feel free to …Continue reading”Lava Lamp”
Sewer Slime
Guar gum comes from the guar plant (also called the guaran plan), and people have found a lot of different and interesting uses for it.  It’s one of the primary substitutes for fat in low-fat and fat-free foods. Cooks like to  use guar gum in foods as it has 8 times the thickening power of …Continue reading”Sewer Slime”
PVA Slime
Instead of using glue as a polymer (as in the slime recipes above), we’re going to use PVA (polyvinyl alcohol). Most liquids are unconnected molecules bouncing around. Monomers (single molecules) flow very easily and don’t clump together. When you link up monomers into longer segments, you form polymers (long chains of molecules). Polymers don’t flow …Continue reading