The Copper Conundrum

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Students will be introduced to the complexity of natural resource uses through the example of copper mining and use.

Big Idea

Extraction of mineral resources that we ALL use in our everyday lives causes changes to the habitat of many animals as well as other complications.

Engage: What Do You Know About Mining?

11 minutes

I start the lesson by asking students what materials/minerals they think we get from the ground.  After I’ve given them a full minute to think silently, I have them turn and talk to a neighbor for another minute.  Then they share out with the whole group and I list their ideas on the board.  This gives me baseline information and provides the students with a starting point.  Usually they list items such as wood, gold, and water.  This short lesson series is designed to broaden their awareness to include our use of mined minerals.  This is a more difficult concept, as most of these materials remain unseen even though we use many of them daily. 

Then I show them this short (1 minute) visual video that shows the contrast between the natural landscape of southern Arizona and an open pit mine just south of Tucson.  

After the video is over, I ask them to write down any observations or questions on their study guide.

Explore: Reading the Research

45 minutes

Now it's time to look at some of the research around copper mining.  As a class, we read and discuss the first two paragraphs of the Copper MIning and the Environment Reading Passage.  Then I divide students into teams and assign each team a paragraph.  They need to partner read the paragraph, retell what they heard, write down a few key details, and ask a specific question to learn more.  After everyone is done reading, we regroup to discuss what we have learned.  Students that need enrichment sometimes read the entire passage.  

Explain: Environmental and Human Impacts

15 minutes

For our final discussion, I ask students to help me list some of the direct and indirect environmental impacts are of copper mining.  Some of them will be saying, at this point, that the solution is to close all the mines.  I then give them a very brief list of places we use copper, every day.  Electronics, appliances, cars, and building construction.  Given that information, I then ask them to write down (alternative:  discuss) the following questions:

1. How does copper mining affect the natural environment?

2. Can copper mining ever pose a danger to people?

3. Do you think animals and plants can adapt and survive if their habitat is polluted with poisonous/toxic waste from a copper mine?  Why or why not?

4. What ideas do you have for reducing the impact of copper mines on the environment?

5. What subjects do you think individuals need to study in order to help copper mines pollute less?