Collecting rocks is a popular hobby that kids and adults can enjoy together. More than just a fun activity, rock collecting is a great way to study rocks and geology. It can also make a great science fair project. This article provides tips on how to win a science fair project with an amazing rock set.
Rock collecting can be done for fun or for learning or both at the same time. Many children return from the beach or park with a pocketful of assorted rocks, drawn to shapes, colors, and textures. Taking a more systematic approach to rock collecting can help kids take their fun to another level while they also discover the underlying geology.
For a science fair project, it’s more impressive if the student has collected many samples in person. It makes for interesting stories to include in the presentation. Photos of the adventure mounted to a foam board or set in a photo album can help tell the story.
To collect your own rock set, you will need to choose a good location for the hunt. Check local geological maps and look for hills, cliffs, beaches, and quarries. Pick up interesting rocks on trips. When collecting in person, label each sample with a number and location to help later identification. If using a rock hammer to collect samples, wear goggles and gloves.
However, not everyone has time to collect their own rock set. The good news is you don’t have to collect your own because you can purchase a rock set containing just about any kind of rocks you could ever find on your own. For many busy families, a store-bought rock set provides a good place to start.
To win a science fair project, your rock set should include examples of all three rock types as listed below. There are three types of rock categorized by formation:
Igneous rocks form from cooling magma, or molten rock. Volcanic or extrusive rocks result from volcanic activity at the Earth’s surface and fast cooling of lava. The rapid cooling produces fine-grained rocks like obsidian and basalt. Plutonic or intrusive rocks form beneath the surface, from slowly cooled magma. These rocks, like pumice and granite are typically rougher and have larger crystals.
Sedimentary rocks form through deposition in water. Small rock particles are eroded and accumulate in lakes, oceans, and rivers. Over time, these particles settle in layers and compress into rock, such as sandstone, limestone, and chalk.
Metamorphic rocks are igneous or sedimentary rocks that have undergone extreme pressure and temperature conditions, resulting in new forms. Marble forms from limestone, while quartzite develops from quartz.
For a winning science fair project, consider using a rock tumbler to polish some of the samples. Rock tumblers smooth rocks by moving them around in grit and other polishing compounds. Rocks of a similar hardness should be polished together, so first identify and classify samples on the Mohs scale. The process takes about a month, starting with a rough grind to smooth edges and moving to finer grit and polish with each step. Follow all tumbler directions for the best results. Careful recording of the amounts and types of rock, polishing materials, and duration will create an informative science fair project. Note any changes in the tumbler contents or actions taken to improve the process.
All of the tips provided so far are essential for winning a science fair project. However, if you really want to take your project to a higher level, you’ll need to become fluent in speaking rock talk. This is what separates the true rock lovers from the more casual passers-by. You’ll need to dig a bit (no pun intended) into the science of how rocks are formed. Often rocks are made up of several minerals. Once a child knows how rocks and minerals form, finding different types becomes easier. Understanding chemistry is useful. Elements such as carbon, iron, and fluorine are the simplest building blocks of minerals. A specific combination of elements forms a mineral, such as quartz or mica. Minerals have characteristic crystalline structures made up of repeating elements. Kids enjoy identifying minerals with a rock set and tools to test hardness. The systematic approach involves looking at the streak color left by a rock, along with its ability to scratch glass or be scratched by a metal probe. All this extra knowledge will make your science fair project more impressive while building your own knowledge, understanding and appreciation for rocks.