Dig Into Mining - The Story of Copper: Patterns of Natural Resources

Discovery Education
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Map
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



In this activity, students compare a map of world wide copper distribution sites to a tectonic map detailing active volcano and plate boundary locations. Once their analysis is complete, students will be able to construct an explanation describing the relationship between geologic processes, in this case volcanism, and locations of copper ore (porphry copper). The Active Volcano map provided in the activity is small; a larger image can be found at: http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/05fire/background/volcanism/media/tectonics_world_map.html

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ESS3-1 Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how the uneven distributions of Earth's mineral, energy, and groundwater resources are the result of past and current geoscience processes.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on how these resources are limited and typically non-renewable, and how their distributions are significantly changing as a result of removal by humans. Examples of uneven distributions of resources as a result of past processes include but are not limited to petroleum (locations of the burial of organic marine sediments and subsequent geologic traps), metal ores (locations of past volcanic and hydrothermal activity associated with subduction zones), and soil (locations of active weathering and/or deposition of rock)

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In this resource, students compare two maps: one of world-wide copper distribution locations and another displaying plate boundary volcanism. Through careful observation and analysis, students will discover that most copper ore deposits are located near areas of past tectonic activity. Conversely, students will also conclude that regions lacking in tectonic activity also lack significant concentrations of copper ore. Students may ask why copper deposits are located near areas of tectonic activity. Teachers can direct students to the following website for information: http://www.australianminesatlas.gov.au/education/down_under/copper/formed.html

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
By utilizing the two maps provided in this activity, students will be able to to construct an explanation relating copper ore distribution sites to past tectonic plate activity. The lesson provides several guiding questions that teachers could use to help students interpret the maps and identify relationships should students have difficulty analyzing the evidence contained in the maps.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
By concentrating on copper ore deposits and plate activities, this resource provides one example of the uneven distribution of mineral resources and its relationship to past geologic processes. In order to complete this Disciplinary Core Idea, teachers will need to provide additional activities that focus on the distribution patterns of other natural resources. For example, a chart that displays the distribution of freshwater availability can be found at: https://pmm.nasa.gov/education/lesson-plans/freshwater-availability-classroom-activity

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
In this activity, students must utilize the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns in order to construct their explanation for the relationship between copper ore deposits and tectonic plate activity. The activity distinguishes between sediment-hosted and porphyry copper distribution sites; it is the latter type of copper deposit that is more closely related to tectonic activity. Teachers may want to instruct students to only analyze the red dots which represent porphyry sites on the map when searching for patterns.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This activity is a solid example of 3-dimensional learning. Students must utilize the Crosscutting Concept of Patterns to locate evidence of the Disciplinary Core Idea of unequal distribution of natural resources. Once the patterns have been identified and the relationship between past tectonic activity and ore distributions understood, then students will make use of the Practice of Constructing Explanations in order to describe this relationship.

  • Instructional Supports: The phenomenon at the center of this activity, copper ore distribution, supports 3-dimensional learning. The activity uses both real world data and grade appropriate scientific information. During the course of constructing their explanations, students can engage in multiple opportunities to express their ideas and receive feedback. By encouraging classroom discussion of commonly used copper items, the lesson assists teachers in connecting instruction to student experience. No guidance is provided to support differentiated learning; however, teachers could create overlays of the two maps in order to assist students who have difficulty in interpreting maps.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson plan lacks rubrics and scoring guidelines that would provide teacher guidance for interpreting 3-dimensional learning. In addition, formative assessments are also lacking. However, teachers will be able to identify evidence of 3-dimensional learning since students must incorporate both the Crosscutting Practice of Patterns and the Disciplinary Core Idea of Resource Distribution in order to craft their scientific explanation (Practice) of the relationship between copper distribution and geologic processes.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students will need Internet access to view the informational maps; however, the lesson lacks interactivity.