• Audience
    Primary school
  • Learning stage
    Stage 2, Stage 3
  • Learning area
    English, Science, Technology
  • Type
    Learning journey, Teaching resources

On this page...

Learning journeys offer a scaffolded approach to exploring a topic both in the classroom and at the Museum. Follow this learning journey to deepen your students’ knowledge and understanding of minerals.

The Australian Museum Mineralogy and Petrology collection consists of 79,947 registered specimens: 60, 717 minerals and 19,230 rocks (including 755 meteorites).

The collection is the oldest rock and mineral collection in Australia. The mineral component is the largest of any Australian collection; and the meteorite collection is the oldest and second largest in the country.

About 35% of the collection is from NSW, 25% from other Australian states and Antarctica, and 40% from overseas.

Special features of the collection include: zeolite minerals, gemstones, Australian meteorites and tektites, the Sir Douglas Mawson Antarctic collection, the Albert Chapman mineral collection, and suites of eastern Australia mantle and crustal xenoliths from volcanic rocks.

Key messages:

  • Scientific inquiry is for everyone.
  • Rocks and minerals can help us learn about the Earth.

Through this learning journey, students will:

  • Work scientifically.
  • Understand the difference between rocks and minerals.
  • Discover the ways in which rocks are formed.
  • Compose informative texts.
  • Explore Minerals exhibition content.

NSW syllabus outcomes: ST2-1WS-S, ST3-1WS-S, ST2-10ES-S, ST3-10ES-S, EN2-OLC-01, EN2-CWT-02, EN3-OLC-01, EN3-CWT-01.

Prepare your students

  • An Acknowledgement of Country is a statement that pays respect to the Traditional Custodians of the Country that you are learning or meeting on and recognises their ongoing relationship with Country. The Australian Museum respects and acknowledges the Gadigal people as the Custodians of the land on which the Museum stands.

    Which First Nations Country or Nation was your school built upon? If you are unsure contact a local First Nations organisation to find out. You might like to start with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.

    Ask your students to write an Acknowledgement of Country for your school. To get them started, read more about why an Acknowledgement of Country is important and how to write one in this ABC article.

  • What is a mineral?

    Find a partner and together decide what a mineral is.

    Now, look around your classroom and find as many minerals as you can.

    How did you go?

    Did anyone find the graphite in their pencil? Or the wolframite in a light bulb? Perhaps there is quartz in your watch? Maybe you are wearing some gold or silver jewelry?

    The list below describes what minerals are most of the time. But there are exciting exceptions!

    * Minerals are solid. However, there is one liquid mineral- mercury.

    * Minerals have a well-ordered internal atomic structure. Ice, for example, is a mineral, but water isn’t because its structure is not stable.

    * Minerals are made by natural Earth processes. But there have been minerals found on the Moon!

    * Minerals are inorganic. For example, amber is not a mineral because it is formed from fossilised tree resin which is an organic material.

    * Minerals have a fixed chemical composition. They are like cakes that are always made with the same specific ingredients.

  • Mineral or rock?

    Minerals are formed when elements in the Earth come together. A mineral can be made from a single element or a combination of elements. Rocks are made up of minerals.

    A diagram of minerals and the rock they make up
    A poster showing how minerals form rocks. Image: Australian Museum
    © Australian Museum

    Rocks are formed in one of three ways:

    When rocks are made by magma (melted rock)

    When volcanoes erupt, hot melted rocks called lava flow out from inside the earth. This lava cools and hardens to form volcanic igneous rocks.

    Sometimes the hot melted rocks get trapped deep under the earth and cool and harden there. They are igneous rocks too but are called plutonic igneous rocks.

    When rocks are made by the build up of sediment

    Weathering is the process where rock is dissolved, worn away or broken down. These smaller sediments are then moved by ice, water, wind or gravity by a process called erosion. This eroded material is then cemented or pressed together to make sedimentary rock.

    When rocks are changed

    Hot melted rocks inside the earth are called magma. Rocks that are next to magma get ‘cooked’, forming contact metamorphic rocks. This is rather like the ingredients of a cake changing when they are put in an oven.

    Rocks also change when they are squashed down and heated by the gradual movements of the earth's crust. These cooked, squashed rocks are called regional metamorphic rocks.

  • Discuss with a partner- what is the difference between a rock and mineral?

    People who study minerals are called mineralogists and people who study rocks are called petrologists.

    Meet the Australian Museum Mineralogy and Petrology Collections Manager- Ross Pogson.

    Read the story below to learn about Ross and his work.

    Below are some examples of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks:

    A list of common igneous rocks

    A list of common sedimentary rocks

    A list of common metamorphic rocks

  • Rock hunt

    Watch the story Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall.

    Now it’s your turn!

    Find a rock or mineral that interests you. Remember to take your time and look carefully. (You may even like to wear some gloves and use a small digging tool).

    When you find your specimen, brush away any dirt and make a note of where and when you found it.

    Look carefully…

    Hold your specimen in your hands:

    - Describe the texture. (Example: Does it feel smooth or rough?)
    - Describe the shape. (Example: Is it round or angular?)
    - What makes it special? (Example: Are there any grooves or markings?)
    - What does it smell like?

    Now, hold it up to the light:

    - Is it shiny or dull?
    - Is it transparent, translucent or opaque?

    Finally, use a magnifying glass to look closely:

    - What colours can you see?
    - Describe the grains that are visible.
    - Can you find any patterns?

    Draw a top, side and front view of your specimen and label any details you notice.

    Take some photos of your specimen using the camera on an iPad. (Don’t forget to zoom in to catch details!). Print your photos and keep them in your workbook.

    Rock and roll

    Is your specimen round and smooth?

    Learn why a river pebble (and perhaps your specimen) is round: Why are river pebbles round?

    Weathering is the breaking down of rocks and minerals on the surface of the Earth. Water, wind, and ice can cause weathering.

    Can you think of some other agents of weathering? (Example, temperature changes).

    Water, wind, and ice can also cause erosion. Erosion is the movement of bits of rocks and minerals from one place to another.

    What human activities cause erosion? (Example, walking on bush tracks)

    Model the processes of weathering and erosion by trying the sugar shake experiment for yourself!

    Volcano made

    Have you found a volcanic rock? Watch this video to learn more about rocks from volcanoes.

    Have another look at your specimen… Are there any vesicles?

    Remember, when volcanoes erupt, hot melted rocks called lava flow out from inside the earth. This lava cools and hardens to form volcanic igneous rocks. For example, when lava cools rapidly it may become obsidian.

At the Museum

  • Book in a school group visit to Minerals.

    Read our tips on how to use our exhibitions.

    D.50681. Crocoite on limonite
    Crocoite on limonite. Adelaide Mine, Dundas, Tasmania, Australia, 12x10x10 cm. Acquired 1996. D.50681. Albert Chapman Collection. Image: Stuart Humphreys
    © Australian Museum

  • Don’t miss our exhibition highlights.

    Make your own minerals cube and use it to explore the gallery.

    Once you have created your cube, choose a mineral on display, close your eyes and turn the cube in your hands. Then, open your eyes and answer the question!

Back in the classroom

  • Rock research

    Visit the Minerals Education Coalition Mineral Resources Database. (This site may be able to help you identify your rock or mineral).

    Browse the database and compare and contrast your specimen with those pictured online.

    Or, just for fun, choose a rock or mineral that interests you and learn more about it!

    Testing time!

    Find out more about your specimen by investigating the following:

    - What is its size in centimetres and millimetres?
    - How much does it weigh?
    - Is it magnetic?
    - Does it leave a colour when you run it along a piece of paper?
    - Does wetting it with water change its colour?
    - Does it float or sink in water? OR How long does it take to sink in water?
    - Does it glow in the dark?
    - Does it fluoresce under ultraviolet light?

    Think of one more test that you would like to conduct.

    1. Write your investigation question.
    2. Plan a test to answer your question.
    3. Predict what the result will be.
    4. Perform your test.
    5. Compare your result to your prediction.

    Record all your findings in your workbook.

    Sir Douglas Mawson Collection composite
    Sir Douglas Mawson Collection composite Top: Hornblende schist with schlieren of actinolite, from glacial moraine. 17.5 x 13 x 15.2 cm. DR.5040. Garnet pegmatite in mica schist, from glacial moraine. 13.5 x 14 x 18.5 cm. DR.4906. (Ross Pogson) Bottom: Augen gneiss, glacial erratic. 15 x 17.9 x 2.9 cm. DR.4681. Gneiss, coarse pegmatitic garnet, with feldspar and biotite, from glacial moraine. 12 x 9.5 x 9.5 cm. DR.4802. Image: Stuart Humphreys and Ross Pogson
    © Australian Museum

    Minerals mix and match

    Grab your specimen and form a team with six or seven of your classmates. Share what you have learnt about your specimen and listen to your team members share what they have learnt about their specimens.

    Discuss the similarities and differences between the rocks.

    Group the specimens (for example, order by size, sort by colour) and label the grouping with a sticky note. Take a photo of your arrangement using the camera on an iPad before re-grouping the specimens to represent other patterns you notice.

    Design a dichotomous key for identifying each team member’s specimen. Swap keys with another team and put your key and problem-solving skills to the test!

  • The hardest question

    The hardness of a mineral is its resistance to being scratched.

    With four classmates (and their specimens), design an experiment to determine which specimen is the hardest.

    Here are some ideas to help you get started: shaking the rocks, dropping the rocks, rubbing the rocks with different materials (such as sandpaper), scratching the rocks with different objects (such as a coin or paperclip).

    Write up your experiment using the following subheadings:

    - Aim: what are you going to investigate?
    - Prediction: what do you think will happen?
    - Variables: what are you going to change, keep the same and measure?
    - Equipment: what materials will you need?
    - Method: what are the steps you will follow? (Tip: include diagrams or photos).
    - Results: what happened? (Tip: use a table, graph, diagram or photo).
    - Conclusion: can you explain your results?

    Reflect on your experiment: What worked? What would you differently next time?

    Remember, it’s okay if your experiment didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to- science can surprise! Keep looking at the world around you, asking questions and conducting investigations.

    Our class rocks!

    With your class, plan an exhibition that showcases the rocks and minerals everyone collected and studied.

    Vote on a name for your class exhibition and suggest how the specimens might be grouped when displayed. (Example: by size, colour, place found).

    Write a label for your rock or mineral AND make a box to present it in.

    (Note: Your label should be no more than a paragraph and you may want to refer to the notes in your workbook. Please plan, draft, proofread and edit your writing before publishing).

    Invite your family and other classes to visit your exhibition.