Like "naturally occurring", the word "inorganic" is part of the definition of a mineral. This word can be confusing. It reminds many people of organic food, but in the science of geology is has a very different meaning. In this case, inorganic means that the object is not alive, and was not a part of anything that was alive.
To explore this, we will use the same materials that we used to explore "naturally occurring." You will need as many of the items from the following list as you can find:
- several mineral specimens
- several rock specimens
- coins, bone, teeth, sea shells, wood, nails, cloth, glass, feather, paper, water, salt, pepper, other objects made of different materials
Once again, we will sort the objects into piles, but this time we are sorting them into organic and inorganic objects. As you look at each object, ask yourself, "Was this ever alive? Was it part of a living thing?"
OK, so let's try a few from the photo above. We will start with an easy one. Look at the snail shell in the center of the photograph. Was it ever alive or part of a living thing? Yes, it was produced by a salt water snail. That tells us that it belongs in the organic group, and it is not a mineral.
Just below the snail shell are a couple of iron nails. Are they inorganic?
Again, some of the objects may take some thought.
For example, what about the dollar bill?
Some of the objects may be even tricker.
In the bottom, right hand corner of the photograph, you will see a coiled fossil of an ancient creature called an ammonite.
If you will be doing this activity with younger students, use objects that are easier to sort. If you are working with more advanced students, be sure to give them some challenges that will really make them think.