My 8th graders just finished up their unit on minerals and they had a blast! I decided to stray away from the book and have them discover on their own.
My students started off previewing the text and defining the different properties of minerals. Next, students chose a mineral of their choice and researched the characteristics of it including the colors, hardness, fracture, streak color, luster, etc. They then had to put all of their information into a PowerPoint and create an advertisement on their mineral based on what they learned.
After they finished, they completed a mineral scavenger hunt that reviewed the different terms and properties they learned.
Students were also able to test the minerals based on their streak, hardness, luster, color, etc and categorize them based on what they had found. To get students excited to do the lab, I actually had them complete the free Brain Pop game called MasterMines. Students got to play a video game (or so they thought!) and learn how to actually perform the tests to determine the properties of the mineral. I had never seen my students so on task and excited to play (I turned it into a competition where the highest score got a prize). Finally, the students completed the actual lab and moved from station to station to try and categorize the different minerals based on their properties.
To add an extra element, I had the students create a dichotomous key for 5 different minerals. They struggled with it at first but many groups succeeding in completing it correctly.
In the future, I would definitely put the mineral research project at the end of the unit. I think this would help students truly understand what the actual properties mean as many of them were confused by the words and descriptions as they researched. In addition, I would only allow students to choose from 10 different minerals to ensure they choose ones they encounter in the lab (many students decided to go with ice or diamonds.)