When 108 elementary students converged at Vancouver’s Canada Place for their first-ever convention experience, the first thing one noticed was the excitement on their faces. Children at this age are delightful: oozing with enthusiasm, curiosity and an eagerness to learn. The annual Mineral Exploration Roundup proved to be an exceptional environment for them to further their understanding of the world around them – in particular, the world of rocks, minerals, mineral exploration and mining.

While many classes throughout British Columbia study mining-related topics in the classroom, these lucky students were invited by MineralsEd to attend Roundup for the day. MineralsEd, established in 1991 as a teacher-industry partnership program, is a not-for-profit educational organization operating in British Columbia. It is dedicated to encouraging and supporting Earth science, mineral resources and mining education in schools. MineralsEd provides key resources and supports teacher-generated programs in schools across the province.

“These students have been studying Earth science or mining since school began last fall,” explains MineralsEd director Sheila Stenzel. “They are in Grades 4 to 7, from schools in Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond and West Vancouver. We have supported them and their teachers with their classroom teaching and field trips this fall. We invited them to Roundup to reinforce what they have learned in school, to meet the people who make up our industry and to learn many new things from them.”

Learning stations

At Roundup, the MineralsEd staff organized a rich and rewarding experience for the young students, using a stationed approach. The Stump the Geologist station (where the children bring a rock from home to see if the geologist can identify it correctly) prompted Alysha, from Anderson Elementary School, to comment, “I brought a rock sample, and the geologist was spot-on with identifying it!”

Another station featured a diamond exploration activity, in which the students learned how diamonds form and how indicator minerals are used by geologists to locate diamond pipes. Parent helper Sarah, from École Cedardale in West Vancouver, says, “I did not know that diamonds came from deep down and were found in exploded volcanic rocks.” This is an example of lifelong learning; perhaps the seed was also planted for an interesting dinner-table conversation with her family later that evening.

Another interesting station featured a presentation from exploration geologists who explained their role in the industry through photos and the gear they wore and carried in the field. Commenting on the benefit of students attending Roundup, teacher Sue Funston, from Anderson Elementary School, says, “Knowing that those two people who were standing there talking to the kids were the same people who took the photos, had those experiences [and] were in those helicopters, is very neat. They’re real people. Those are possible jobs for these students in their future.” Doors were opened; minds were too.

A Roundup Rockhound taking a close look at some drill core

One of the most popular stations was a rockhound table, complete with large and impressive rock and mineral samples, microscopes, and volunteer geologists, who helped the students explore and discover more about the items on display. Julia, a Grade 5 student from Fraser Academy in Vancouver, observes, “They really teach you about rocks. They don’t just hand you a rock and say, ‘Oh, here’s a rock; look at it.’ It’s educational and fun! I really want to be a geologist.”

“These kids seem to be well-prepared. They are inquisitive, and they know a lot about rocks already since they have been learning about this in their classrooms,” comments Ryan Turna, a geologist volunteering at the station. “I like working with the children. They are wide-eyed and ask a lot of good questions. I do my best to answer them.”

A highlight: The trade show

The highlight of the conference for many of the students was the time they were able to spend on the trade show floor, perusing the various booths and talking to exhibitors. A flock of students surrounded exhibitor Ben Porterfield, a geologist who has gone from working with big mining companies and the government to prospecting for himself. The students listened intently while he described his career and answered their questions. When asked if it was important for children to be at Roundup, he replied, “Yes, especially for B.C. students. It is part of our economy. B.C. is a funding hub of the world. Mining is part of [our lives].”

Ella, a Grade 7 student from École Cedardale, describes her favourite part of the day: “I loved seeing the conference booths and asking questions.”

Justin, a student from École Inman Elementary School in Burnaby, adds, “I found it interesting to learn that some helicopters land in snow to pick up passengers, and also pick up ATVs and other cargo.”

Student projects on display

A visit to the trade show to learn about the industry.

The students were especially proud of the projects they had created that were on display in booths alongside industry exhibitors. Riza, a Grade 4 student from École Inman Elementary School, pointed out her underground mine project and her idea for what to do with an open-pit mine once it is finished. “I think we could turn it into a skateboard park,” she says, agreeing that it would be a very large (and steep) skateboard park. She also shared her soapstone carving of an eagle. “Mark Gauthier, an artist, came to our class to teach us how to carve,” she adds with pride.

A real-world learning experience

It seems all of the students gained much from their experience at Roundup. Dylan, another Grade 7 student from École Cedardale, comments, “I enjoyed seeing all the rocks, and I liked using the microscopes. I liked seeing the exhibition floor – the first-hand view of how actual geologists do their work.”

It really connects rocks and minerals, and the students’ Earth science and mining studies, to the real world and to the people who make their careers in mining and mining-related industries. Maile, from Fraser Academy, sums it up by saying, “I love seeing people with the same interests as mine and sharing ideas with others.”

Fraser Academy teacher Courtnay Moro summarizes the importance of this experience for her students: “This conference really helped students to make connections in their learning so they begin to really understand [the relevance of Earth science].”

Her colleague Leanne Penner agrees: “Attending Roundup has been a huge hit for the students. The lead-up was a lot of excitement! They were so proud to see their artwork displayed here.”

“The students get to bring what they have been taught in the classroom to the real world,” concludes Andrea Eisler, veteran teacher from École Inman Elementary School.

MineralsEd goals met

MineralsEd has two main goals: to foster a well-informed public through education based on accurate and balanced information, and to stimulate young people’s interest in mineral-industry careers. At Roundup, MineralsEd once again moved these goals forward.