Cookie Mining

Teaching students about the delicate balance between using the earth's resources and maintaining a healthy environment

By Leslie Howard|Wednesday, October 01, 2003

The students are mine owners, excavating gold (a primary ore, represented by chocolate chips) and silver (a secondary ore, represented by nuts) from a mine (represented by a chocolate chip cookie.) The owner of the mining company (the student) must purchase the mine (cookie), tools (toothpicks), and a mode of transport to get the minerals to market after they are mined (a baggie). These things are purchased with play money ($19 per student) distributed by the teacher (me).

The student must trace around the cookie on graph paper, and then count how many squares of the paper are covered by cookie before the mining begins. This is their land claim. Upon a signal, the students use their tool to try to excavate as many chips and nuts as possible in the shortest time possible. They pay labor costs of $1 per minute for however long it takes them to mine as much gold and silver as they want. (They may stop at any time). They are then paid two dollars for each chocolate chip and one dollar for each nut they have mined successfully. (Pieces may be pushed together to equal whole chips and nuts.)

The catch is that members of the Environmental Protection Agency (myself and volunteer parents) will examine their mining claim to see how much, if any, damage was done to the environment in their zeal to get the minerals out. For every crack in their cookie they must pay $3.00, and for every square that was covered before the operation began, but is now exposed (paper shows through), they must pay $1.00. Thus, they see that it doesn't pay to pulverize the land in their haste to make a profit. They are, however, allowed to "reclaim" the land (much as Chevron and other large mining companies do), by pushing crumbs together to cover the holes!

Each mine owner must fill out a finance sheet to show how much capital they began with, what their expenditures were, and what their profits were. The highest grossing student gets a prize. Every student gets to eat their mine!!! They also answer questions about how their operation affected the environment. I have found that this exercise does much to prove that we have a lot to gain from the earth in terms of usable resources, but that we truly must be respectful caretakers of this planet at the same time. It will be our legacy to future generations.

Courtesy of the Subaru National Science Teaching Awards
Created by:
Leslie Howard
Valley Christian Junior/Senior High School
Dublin, CA
2003 West Regional Middle School Winner

Comment on this article