AusIMM Melbourne Branch works to inspire careers in mining and resources

  • By Gabriela Love, Paul Greenhill, Anne-Louise Moyles

AusIMM Melbourne Branch supports Earth Ed program in Victoria

Earth Ed is one of six discipline-focused, Government-established specialty science and mathematics education centres that deliver engaging and innovative curriculum to all Victorian schools.

Students in late secondary school are difficult to engage with STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) if the seed has not been sown while they are in middle school (upper primary to lower secondary). Earth Ed creates awareness of STEM in a manner that captures the imagination of middle school students. Studies confirm that this strategy can successfully build capacity in future generations to understand how the earth contributes to their lives and allows them to make better life and career choices. Earth Ed and the AusIMM Melbourne Branch hope that through this early stage engagement with earth sciences, some of these young Australians will be inspired to seek careers within the minerals and resources industry in the future.

Earth Ed Program focus on STEM areas including renewable energy, geology, climate change, chemistry, physics, robotics and palaeontology; however, with further development, funding and support, the AusIMM Melbourne Branch hopes the program can expand to include site tours, road shows and online resources that focus on the minerals sector.

Earth Ed works with a number of professional and educational partners including Federation University, Acciona Energy and Castlemaine Goldfields to ensure that its programs are cutting edge and use specialised equipment relevant to current industry practices by providing resources and expertise. In 2016 the AusIMM Melbourne Branch donated funds to develop and purchase ten rock  slide viewers (proxies of petrographic microscopes) to be used in the mineral identification activity within the ‘Rocks Minerals and Exploration’ session.

Through funding provided by the AusIMM Melbourne Branch, the Earth Ed1 education centre for excellence in Science and Mathematics in Ballarat, Victoria has developed and tailored an experiential classroom activity to help students see mineral crystals present in rock samples. Termed, ‘rock slide viewers’, the tool allows students to view thin sections of rock by looking through the magnifying lens at the top of the viewer. The polarised light exposes the mineral crystals present in the sample. The viewers replicate the function of petrographic microscopes and a total of 12 viewers were developed and purchased for around one per cent the price of a real unit.

Figure 1. ‘Rock viewers’ were developed using funding provided by the AusIMM Melbourne Branch.

Background of minerals education for middle schools

The Minerals Education Victoria (MEV) schools outreach program was initiated in 1993 and was part of the MCA’s National (schools) Education Programme (NEP) from 1995 until the end of 2005. The program delivered STEM-based resources and materials (aligned with the Australian Curriculum) supported by various industry bodies including MCA, PESA and others.

MEV’s strategy was to create awareness of STEM in a manner that captured the imagination of middle school students (up to the age of 14 years). Its key objective was to assist the Victorian education community deliver useful and accurate information about Australia’s mineral industry through classroom presentations, site tours and online resources.

All the prepared material was carefully aligned with the Australian Curriculum (and AusVELS) to ensure a high level of acceptance by the school communities.

From 2006, MEV operated as an independent entity within the Victorian Branch of the MCA with funding provided by the Melbourne Mining Club, the Victorian Branch of the MCA, the MCA (national), student attendance payments and some attendance sponsorship from PESA (Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia), Cement Concrete and Aggregates Australia and Think Brick.

MEV continued to deliver educational resource materials and classes about the minerals industry, and its underpinning science and technology links, to Victorian primary and secondary schools until 2014.  During its 21 year history, MEV worked with over 400 000 primary and secondary students and more than 33 000 teachers.

Earth Ed continues the MEV legacy

Earth Ed is funded as part of the Victorian Government Science and Mathematics Initiative. Earth Ed is one of six discipline-focussed, Government-established specialty science and mathematics education centres that deliver engaging and innovative curriculum to all Victorian schools. Current Earth Ed partners include Federation (Ballarat) University, Acciona Energy, Liongold Corporation, Geoscience Australia and Meridian Energy. Earth Ed is based in Ballarat and students’ transport costs to the facility are paid for by the Victorian government. Earth Ed is well supported by students, staff and the state government and their work with schools is well received and in demand.

Following the closure of the MEV program in 2014, all teaching and resource materials  prepared by MEV were made available at no cost and without intellectual property constraints to any organisation prepared to continue to deliver all or some of MEV’s programs as intended. At this time, the MCA held discussions with the Victorian-based Earth Ed about carrying on some or all of MEV’s programs.

Earth Ed commenced offering of the ‘Rocks Minerals and Exploration’ (RME) classroom program in 2016. The program has a minerals focus, specifically on the science and engineering involved in the minerals industry and targets technical disciplines currently supported by the AusIMM Melbourne Branch.

Since the introduction of the RME program at Earth Ed, it has been fully booked year round; however, it reaches only a small proportion of the students that could benefit from the program. Feedback collected following program delivery is overwhelmingly positive about the quality of the material, the skills and commitment of the presenters and the alignment of the content with the Australian Curriculum at both primary and secondary school levels. Typically, bookings consist of two full class groups per day, each of around 25 students travelling from across Victoria to take part in the sessions.

AusIMM Melbourne Branch assistance

Up until 2016, the AusIMM Melbourne Branch focus had always been to support tertiary level student education and projects. The change of focus to include middle school level was first suggested in 2014, following the transfer of MEV schools outreach program to Earth Ed.

The core program of Earth Ed is sustained with funding via the Victorian Government, however the development and presenting of an outreach program is beyond the current funding arrangements. Additionally, while the material for the RME program was largely in-place (with much of the previous teaching material made freely available to Earth Ed from MEV), the AusIMM Melbourne Branch saw a need to financially support the development of classroom resources and documentation and to ensure an appropriate industry focus was provided.

In response to this need, the AusIMM Melbourne Branch investigated the possibilities of funding support to Earth Ed and decided to become involved in 2016. Branch support was defined in terms of a financial contribution to the preparation and delivery of materials focused towards the minerals sector, for an initial two-year term.

In particular, some of the existing teaching materials requires adjustments to become focused on minerals industry practice and the AusIMM Melbourne Branch financial support was used to help facilitate the development and purchase of equipment to aid in the education experience.

The AusIMM Melbourne Branch funding was used to develop a practical tool to be used within the Mineral ID session of the RME program. A total of 12 ‘rock slide viewers’ were developed and purchased. These $150 versions of a $15 000 petrographic microscope were developed by using a simple LED light that shines upwards through two glass plates that have polarising film placed on them. The tool allows students to view thin sections of rock by looking through the magnifying lens at the top of the viewer. The polarised light allows the identification of the rock crystals.

Figure 2. Polarised viewers provide students with the ability to see crystals in slide samples.

‘Rocks Minerals and Exploration’ program overview

The ‘Rocks Minerals and Exploration’ (RME) program presents an engaging and hands-on approach to developing an awareness of the scientific field of geology and an appreciation of the role of geologists in industry and research.

The session starts with a video where students are introduced to the role of a geologist (a practicing geologist from a local gold mine is featured) and the role that minerals play in our everyday lives. Throughout the day-long program, student groups rotate through three activities, each taking around one hour to complete.

During the program, the pathways to studying geology at a tertiary level are mapped out for them and presented with the rage of employment options and specialist areas that can stem from having such qualifications, many of which are not just limited to ‘looking at rocks’ and discuss the positive benefits from such career paths.

Core sampling and ore modelling activity

In this session students are introduced to core sampling and its role in geological exploration concepts. Students handle actual core samples from the Ballarat gold mine and identify how these samples are used to locate gold bearing ore and then how that data is further used to develop a 3D model of an orebody.

The students are then guided through a hands-on exercise that models core sampling, including the process of developing the drilling target, retrieving and analysing the core and finally creating a 2D model of a gold ore body. A gridded sand-box, which represents the ‘exploration site’, and gold glitter in some areas within the sandy layers, represents the ‘gold’ orebody.

The students select a ‘drill’ site from a gridded map of the sand-box. Once they have drilled their selected plot, the students extract the core and are asked to identify if it contains ‘gold’, recording their results on the map. If gold is present, students also measure the length of the ‘ore’ present in their sample to determine whether it is a high grade or low grade sample.

Figure 3. An exploration site is represented by a sand-box for students to drill for core.

Students use this data to help build an overall 2D model of the ore body within the exploration site and use it to determine their next drilling target. Blue crosses denote a plot that has been drilled but the sample contained no gold ore, stripes denote low-grade ore and plots that are fully coloured in yellow indicate that the sample for that plot contained high-grade ore. The plots with yellow spots denote that nuggets of gold were found in the sample.

Figure 4. Core samples are analysed for gold and results recorded on a site map to model the ore body.

Mineral identification and crystal visualisation activity

In the guided mineral identification activity, students expand their knowledge of rocks to recognise that minerals are indeed the building blocks of rocks. Students develop an understanding that being able to identify minerals in the field is an important part of a geologist’s job.

Students work in pairs to see how many minerals they can identify from the collection of samples and the most successful team is awarded a prize. They use an iPad pro with Earth Ed’s mineral ID dichotomous key to assist them in the identification process. The distinguishing characteristics of minerals – chemical composition, crystal shape, colour, lustre, hardness, specific gravity and florescence – are used to identify a range of common minerals through the use of the Earth Ed Electronic Mineral Identification Key. The idea of rocks and minerals as a valuable earth resource is also explored and investigated during the session.

Figure 5. Rock samples are studied using a distinguishing characteristics key on a digital tool.

During the session, students use polarised viewing lenses (termed ‘rock viewers’)  to explore thin rock slides section of various igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks to further investigate different minerals crystals present in the sample. The rock viewers, were made possible by the funding provided by the AusIMM Melbourne Branch.

Figure 6. Rock samples in their natural state are used to assist students in learning about crystals.

Metal detector activity

As part of the RME program, students are briefed on the specific properties of gold as a rare and valuable metal. They are introduced to the science of coil induction technology used in the manufacture of commercial metal detectors. Students gain an appreciation of how these instruments can be used to locate metal objects in the ground. While they are very popular with amateur prospectors, students consider why they are not used by large scale exploration companies.

Students are instructed in the use of Minelab X-TERRA 505 metal detectors and then actually use them to locate hidden ‘treasures’ in the Woowookarung Regional Park located adjacent to the Earth Ed centre.

Where to from here

The Melbourne Branch visited an Earth Ed classroom session in late 2017 to learn more about the program and review its progress. The committee members also discussed future opportunities for industry to support the program. The committee is currently reviewing how the RME program could be further extended and what additional support could be provided.

Some of the suggested program enhancements include the following:

Develop and improve its web presence to allow follow-up with both students and teachers. This could take the form of continued engagement with students as ‘orebody’ knowledge increases as more students complete ‘drilling’ during the core sampling sessions. The opportunity exists to assist in the development of a low-budget 3D modelling app as an enhancement to the core sampling session.

The conversion of a redundant small lecture theatre at the centre into a virtual reality (VR) lab where 3D content could be screened, allowing students to feel the experience of being fully immersed in an underground environment providing high engagement with the real world geology setting.

The development of a mine robotics and automation session into the exciting and innovative field of robotics and automation in mining is in the early stages of discussions. This is a concept that leverages off the interest that students have in digitisation and gaming, and involves the creation of a scale model open-cut mine at Earth Ed where students would design and operate scale model dump trucks and front end loaders from a ‘remote mining operations centre’.

The AusIMM Melbourne Branch is also considering taking a position on the advisory committee to provide guidance and ensure an industry relevant focus is created and maintained within the RME program.

While the RME is currently part of the Year 8 program, it could be further developed with additional industry support. There is scope for making the program a travelling roadshow teaching opportunity (along with a number of other programs currently on offer) to extend the engagement to more students across the state, particularly in rural and remote areas to reach a wider audience. Schools in these areas struggle to access facilities such as Earth Ed for a range of factors, but primarily due to the distance and time needed to travel to Ballarat within a school day.

If you or your organisation are interested in providing financial contribution or in-kind support for the development, preparation and delivery of materials for these (and other) program extensions, please contact Jenny Bromley at Earth Ed on +61 3 5337 2090 or email admin@earthed.vic.edu.au (http://earthed.vic.edu.au/).

1. Earth Ed is funded as part of the Victorian Government Science and Mathematics Initiative http://earthed.vic.edu.au/ . Earth Ed has major partners Federation (Ballarat) University, Acciona Energy, LIONGOLD Corporation, Geoscience Australia (Aust. Government) and Meridian Energy. Based in Ballarat, student transport costs to the facility are paid for by the Victorian Government.

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