3. Where do elements come from?

Students can sometimes view science as a subject that has absolute answers that can lead to technological advances which, in turn, can be used directly to solve practical problems. In reality, many problems have cultural and economic perspectives that must be considered as well.

Most of the chemical elements are metals. Some of them are very useful and are in great demand. Having metal resources that can be mined, processed and sold is very important for some countries and can bring great wealth. However, if they are mined without due care of the environment or the workers in the mine, then serious long-term problems can be caused. Science can solve some problems – like how to extract a valuable metal from its ore – but can sometimes create new ones.

Case study 3 provides a specific example of an issue that arose in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Activity 3 encourages you to let your students research a problem that is specific to your country. While this activity will take the students some time to complete, it does not take up much class time and it will give them an opportunity for independent learning. As a result of their research, they should be able to explain the scientific basis of the process and demonstrate that they understand the issues and problems that can arise. If you have access to libraries or computers these could be used in Activity 3. They will have practice in sorting through a range of information and presenting it in a poster or booklet to their colleagues. You could explain that this is an important way that scientists communicate their research to other scientists at international conferences.

Case study 3: Using a news item to stimulate discussion

Mrs Wambugu gathered her class round the front and read them an article from a newspaper (Resource 5). It described some of the problems that have arisen as a result of the demand for a rare metal that is required in the manufacture of mobile phones. Unfortunately this metal is found in an area inhabited by mountain gorillas. When she had read the article, she gave her students the chance to ask questions to make sure they understood the issues.

Then she divided the class into groups. She explained that the situation is obviously very complicated and she asked them to make a list of all the separate problems identified in the article. After about 10 minutes she asked each group for some suggestions and wrote them all on the board.

Finally, with all the class gathered round the front, they discussed some of the possible solutions.

The activity only took about half a lesson, but her students were still talking about it the next day and later on in the term. When they learnt about the different methods for extracting metals from their ores, they asked questions about where the ores came from and how they were mined.

Activity 3: Organising project work

Divide your class into groups of up to four students. Explain that you would like them to identify an issue to research about exploiting natural resources. Give them time in class to decide on the area they will research and to plan how they will carry it out. Access to a library or a computer would be helpful, but also encourage them to talk to their family and other friends to identify a local issue or concern. You could spend a short time with the whole class doing a brainstorming activity to generate ideas for suitable topics. Resource 6 has some ideas to start the students thinking. Tell them they have 3 weeks to do the research and prepare a poster, a set of leaflets or a scrapbook that will be displayed in the classroom. When they have done this allow them time in the lesson to go round the exhibition and to evaluate each others’ work. This is the sort of work that your students could show to a future employer to demonstrate their ability to process information.

2. Supporting students to find patterns

Resource 1: Problem Solving and Creativity