VGP Spotlight: Top 10 Resources for Teaching Mineralogy, Petrology and Geochemistry

Top 10 Resources for Teaching Mineralogy, Petrology and Geochemistry

Recommended by: David Mogk, Dept. Earth Sciences, Montana State University

At the start of this new school year, we hope that you’ll take a few minutes to browse through this list of “Top 10” resources for Teaching Mineralogy, Petrology, and Geochemistry.  This list is compiled from the online collections of instructional resources developed by the NSF supported On the Cutting Edge program for faculty professional development. We have solicited community contributions of the best teaching activities and resources for over a decade, and have organized and reviewed these resources into these comprehensive collections.  The following list includes “classroom ready” activities as well as modules with suggestions on how to teach “X”. We have embedded many links to other related resources developed by other colleagues, institutions and projects.  We hope that this list will serve as an entry to the more extensive collections that are available for your use.  There should be something of interest to support teaching and learning by all members of the VGP section! As always, we welcome feedback, contributions of new teaching activities, and suggestions for additional resources that should be included.

10. Rock Cycle Visualizations

For introductory students, identifying minerals, rocks, textures, and interpreting geologic processes or environments of formation can be a daunting task. This set of interactive visualizations provides a fun and engaging way to help beginning students explore the rock cycle.

9. Introduction to the Properties of Clay Minerals:

This activity was developed by Steve Guggenheim, and presents a comprehensive overview of the structure, composition and properties of clay minerals.   A number of simple experiments are described, and there is a follow-on activity related to the role of clays in low-level radioactive waste containment.

8. Teaching Mineral Physics: This is a module developed by Pamela Burnley with support from COMPRES; includes descriptions of instrumentation (e.g. multi-anvil, diamond anvil cell and others), and related topics and techniques (e.g.  synchrotron X-ray diffraction, equations of state, phase equilibria at high pressure).  Additional resources on Mineral Physics can be found at:

7. Geochemical Plotting Programs

This is a compilation of geochemical data plotting programs (commercial, share-ware, “homegrown” Excel) that are commonly used in a variety of  programs for plotting major and trace element data,  ternary and tetrahedral plots, etc. As we encourage students to use authentic data in our classes, this is a great way to have them use the data representation programs that we use in our research!

6. Geochemical Instrumentation and Analysis

This module is intended to be “primer” for students on the instrumentation that is routinely used in VGP studies (X-ray, e-beam, whole-rock elemental analysis, mass spectrometry,  environmental geochemistry, biogeochemical methods).  For each instrument, there is an introduction to the fundamental principles, instrument components, applications, strengths and limitations, sample preparation, data collection, and links and references for further study. Students who visit this site should have a better understanding of where geochemical data come from, and how to interpret the results.  A companion site is an Analytical Instrument Registry that serves a math-making function to get students and faculty connected to research facilities in their area:

5. Using an M and M Magma Chamber to Illustrate Magmatic Differentiation

Active learning enhances student learning. This is a great exercise by Karl Wirth  in which fractional crystallization by gravity settling is illustrated using a model magma chamber consisting of M&M’s®. In this model, each major cation (e.g., Si, Ti, Al, Fe, Mg, Ca, Na, K) is represented by a different color M&M®; other kinds of differently colored or shaped pieces could also be used.

4. Teaching Petrology Using the Primary Scientific Literature

This module presents numerous instructional approaches to introducing our geoscience students to the primary literature.  Suggested articles were compiled from the MSA listserve and include the “Landmark: papers (Volcanic Petrology, Metamorphic Petrology), Elements Magazine, RIMG volumes, and community-recommended bibliographies of “classic” articles that should be read by all geo-students.

3. Petrography and Petrogenesis of a Mid-Ocean Ridge Lava Suite

This module by Matt Smith and Mike Perfit is a great example of integration of research and education. This activity is designed to accompany a set of thin sections available from the authors. Students investigate mid-ocean ride basalt petrography and relate observed mineralogic changes to relevant phase diagrams and major element chemical evolution. Using this information and data provided on the tectonic location of the samples they develop hypotheses regarding the petrogenesis of the suite.

2.  Pet Rock Project:  A Semester-long Exercise for Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology

Students best learn science by doing science. This module by Darrell Henry is a semester-long project in which each student randomly selects an igneous or metamorphic rock from the instructor or brings in a rock from an appropriate locality, and follows all of the steps a petrologist would take to interpret an igneous or metamorphic rock from an unknown area. This project runs in the background of the petrology class during the initial part of the semester while the student acquires the petrologic skills to make more sophisticated interpretations. The culmination of the project is for each student to spend several hours with the instructor using the electron microprobe to identify more difficult minerals with certainty, to produce high quality digital backscattered electron images and to obtain quantitative electron microprobe analyses of selected minerals that aid in the interpretation of the pet rock.  This project also emphasizes a strong scientific writing component.

1.  Teaching Phase Equilibria

This module was written by a consortia of authors to introduce the fundamental principles of phase equilibria, starting with the Gibbs Phase Rule and continuing through binary and ternary phase diagrams (check out the animated visualizations!),  basics of thermodynamics,  mineral compositions and activity models,  “classical” geothermobarometry, through tutorials on modern modeling programs (ThermoCalc, Theriak-Domino, PERPLEX, TWQ,  MELTS). The numerous chapters can be used from an introductory Mineralogy course to more advanced upper division courses for geo-majors and graduate students.

This is just a sampling of the instructional resources that reside in the On the Cutting Edge collections for teaching mineralogy, petrology and geochemistry.  Please visit early and often, and consider sharing your own best instructional resources and activities.