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Lesson Plan: Iron Range

For Teachers - An Introduction:
This lesson is designed to introduce your students to historical research with primary sources. They will be presented with a set of six primary sources relating to a landform in Minnesota history. Students will be provided with source data, online Activity questions to direct their study, and a worksheet designed to help them draw conclusions about the sources they have seen and about conducting primary source research in general. The sections of this site are not intended to be complete histories of the people or events involved, but rather serve as examples of what students might find in their own research efforts.

What is the importance of the Iron Range:
The Iron Range has played an important role in the development of northern Minnesota and the nation. The Iron Range was formed slowly over millions of years. Volcanoes first scattered ore throughout the area. As rain and melting snows washed the ore into rivers and streams, they carried the ore into a large, low sea that covered northern Minnesota. Gradually the ore settled out of the water and gathered on the sea bed where it was eventually pressed into rock. During the Ice Age, galcial water washed away the surrounding material, leaving behind rich pockets of iron ore. The Iron Range is made up of three iron-rich regions—the Vermilion Range, the Mesabi Range, and the Cuyuna Range. This unit focuses on the Mesabi Range, which was, at the time of its discovery, the largest, richest source of iron yet found on the Great Lakes.

What You Will Need for This Lesson:

  • Access to a computer lab with Internet capability for at least one 40 minute class period.
  • Photocopies of the worksheet and a printed key (download both in the Student Materials section of the site).
  • If you have not already done so, we encourage you to explore the site for yourself ahead of time to become familiar with the navigation and features available to you and your students.

Skills Objectives:
The student will be able to:

  1. access primary sources online for research and study
  2. identify and summarize the different kinds of sources in the exercise
  3. identify advantages and disadvantages to using particular primary sources
  4. explain and synthesize source information to evaluate its usefulness and reliability

Using This Lesson in Your Classroom:
When the students are in the computer lab, lead them through the following sequence (you may wish to use an overhead projector screen):

  1. Go to the Communities web site.
  2. Click on Communities on the left hand side of the screen.
  3. Click on Hibbing.
  4. Click on Iron Range.
  5. Read the introductory material on Iron Range and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with drawings of different kind of ore-laden rock. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see an enlarged image by clicking on the View button underneath the thumbnail image. Show students the Activity button and have them click on it to view questions and possible answers about each source.
  7. Once students have studied these drawings and read the appropriate questions about it in the Activity section, direct them to the other sources that are accessible through the blue menu bar running across the top of the page. Each of these buttons will take them to another source to explore.
  8. Remind students to use the Activity button on each source to help direct their research.
  9. When the students have completed studying each source and reading the questions for each item, they should be able to complete the worksheet they were given (see below).

What Your Students Will See In This Lesson Online:
Below is a listing of each source provided on the Iron Range section of the web site and a transcript of the activity questions for each source. (The questions are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button.)

Art 1
Click on the Art 1 button to open the primary source.
These are drawings of different kinds of iron-bearing rocks.

    1.1) In the first image, the iron is in the outer layer of the rock. Why isn't it in the middle too?

    Possible Answer: In this example the iron soaked into the rock, probably because the rock was in iron filled water. But the water couldn't soak through all of the rock.

    1.2) In the second image the iron has spread to some parts of the rock, but not to other parts. How might this have happened?

    Possible Answer: In this case the iron-rich water has seeped into small cracks in the rock and left the iron inside.

    1.3) The last image has many layers of iron and rock. How might this have occurred?

    Possible Answer: This is probably a piece of a much larger rock. Here layers of sediments like sand and iron ore took turns covering each other. Over a long period of time the weight of the sediments pressed the layers together to form rock.

    1.4) From the answers above, what are some of the things that you need to have in order to form rocks with iron in them?

    Possible Answer: You need iron dissolved in water, and then rocks or sand. Of course, if all you had was iron, then the rocks would be made totally of iron powder.

Book 1

Click on the Book 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a description of what metal looks like where it is found.

    2.1) Of the properties listed here, which ones couldn't you say about most rocks?

    Possible Answer: While rocks can become hot and do not usually let light through, they do not conduct electricity very well and do not have the shine that metal does.

    2.2) According to this book, would you be very likely to find a shiny lump of iron on the ground?

    Possible Answer: No you wouldn't. The book says that metals (such as iron) are not usually found in their metallic form. If you did find a lump of iron, you would have found native metal.

    2.3) What does the book say an ore is?

    Possible Answer: An ore is a material in which a metal such as iron has combined with oxygen or sulfur. It is much more common to find metals in an ore state.

    2.4) The book describes metals as being masked, or hidden, when they are ores. Why might this be?

    Possible Answer: When metals are contained in ores they don't look like metal. Instead they show up as a colored powder, which can look a lot like plain rocks or even dirt and go unnoticed.

Book 2
Click on the Book 2 button to open the primary source.
This is a description of the process for getting iron from iron ore.

    3.1) What is the first step in getting the iron out of the iron ore?

    Possible Answer: The rocks are ground into smaller pieces so that none of the iron gets left behind and wasted inside large chunks of ore.

    3.2) Why might you need to add other materials such as charcoal to the ore in order to get it to become pure metal?

    Possible Answer: You might guess it's for heat, but actually the charcoal helps separate the iron from other materials in the ore such as oxygen and sulfur.

    3.3) Where will the metal eventually collect in the furnace?

    Possible Answer: It gathers into a liquid puddle at the bottom of the egg-shaped furnace.

    3.4) Why would you guess this process needs to happen in a furnace?

    Possible Answer: Heat does two things for the iron. It helps make the oxygen combine with the coal, and the heat melts the iron, letting it be poured into molds.

Book 3
Click on the Book 3 button to open the primary source.
This is a description of how the Mesabi Range was formed.

    4.1) What proof does this writer have that the rocks he says are on the Mesabi are actually there?

    Possible Answer: He has seen them, and comments that he picked up some examples of the ancient rocks between the cities of Gilbert and Virginia.

    4.2) What do the frequent references to God tell you about the writer?

    Possible Answer: He is probably a man of some strong religious beliefs who has found a way to combine his religion with his knowledge of science.

    4.3) How were the rocks on the Mesabi Range formed?

    Possible Answer: The writer mentions igneous rocks which means volcanoes must have been involved. He also mentions sedimentary rocks, which are formed when layers of sediment are pressed into rock.

    4.4) Since the area is dry now, how does the writer explain how sedimentary rocks could have formed?

    Possible Answer: He suggests that the area at one time was probably covered by the waters of an ancient sea.

Diagram 1
Click on the Diagram 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a cross-section showing layers of rock with ore deposits.

    5.1) Do all of the rocks in the Mesabi Range have iron in them?

    Possible Answer: Not according to this source. There are "pockets" of ore, and there is ore in taconite. Neither the quartzite nor the schist has any iron in it though.

    5.2) Does this chart give you any idea how large the ore deposit is?

    Possible Answer: Not directly. A scale of some sort would be helpful. It could be very small or very large. However, rock layers like this are commonly hundreds of feet thick.

    5.3) How could the loose layer of "drift" material have gotten on top of these rock layers?

    Possible Answer: Wind and water usually are responsible for moving material like this around. In this case, it was the glaciers that once covered the area that left the material behind.

    5.4) From above ground, is there any evidence that the ore deposits lie below?

    Possible Answer: The layer of taconite poking out could be a clue. Also the slight dip in the land right over the ore. A geologist might be able to spot some other clues that would help.

Map 1
Click on the Map 1 button to open the primary source.
This map shows the Iron Range and its cities in 1927.

    6.1) Where was the town of Hibbing located compared to the region called South Hibbing?

    Possible Answer: It was north of it, right in the middle of the iron deposits.

    6.2) When Hibbing finished moving to the South Hibbing region by 1927, how much of the town was then on top of iron deposits?

    Possible Answer: None of the new town was built on top of iron. The town moved to outside of the areas that might be mined for ore.

    6.3) Why didn't people in old Hibbing just build their home in South Hibbing instead of over the iron deposits?

    Possible Answer: There was no South Hibbing originally. It was created later on by building new buildings and moving old ones from the old city.

    6.4) Why would anyone start a town somewhere where they knew they would eventually have to move it?

    Possible Answer: It made sense for the miners to live close to where they worked, and they didn't realize the need for ore would someday cause them to move the city. Probably nobody thought about whether they would have to move eventually.

Thought Questions for online Exploration:
During the online lesson, your students should complete the accompanying worksheet for this section. (Download from the student materials the pdf file containing the worksheet and key.) The questions for this worksheet are provided below. Since questions relating to specific sources are used during the online activity, the following worksheet questions are designed to help students synthesize and apply the material they have learned from the online activity and to analyze the kinds of information and the credibility of various types of primary sources when taken as a whole.

  1. According to the sources you have been looking at, many processes played a part in placing iron on the Mesabi Range. How did volcanoes contribute? What role did water play in forming the Iron Range? How did having a large sea in the area contribute? Through what processes did the iron get into the rocks? Did the glaciers play a role in forming the Mesabi Range?

  2. Before people began using iron, the metals that civilizations used were mostly soft metals such as tin and copper. What can you do with soft metals that you could do just as well with iron? In what ways is iron not as good as soft metals? In what ways does the hardness of iron make it more valuable?

  3. When the Mesabi Range was discovered, part of people’s excitement was over finding so much ore in one place. They thought it would last indefinitely. What are some things that could affect how quickly the iron could be removed from the range? What kinds of things were being built and used in cities that might affect how quickly the ore was mined? What types of events throughout the world might cause a need for ore? What might cause the world demand for ore to decrease?

  4. Oil, timber, and water are examples of other natural resources that we consume. For each of these, say whether you think it is mostly like or unlike iron as a natural resource, and explain why.

After your students have completed these questions, you may either collect them to be graded and discussed later or go over them in class as a discussion outline. When you downloaded the file with these questions you also downloaded a teacher's key for your use.

Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes Iron Range
You can also use the sources provided on this site to encourage higher-order thinking about a number of historical themes and issues that relate to the Iron Range. Below are possible activities and discussion starters to extend student application of the content material provided in the sources. The information provided in the sources about the Iron Range does not provide a comprehensive picture of these issues, but it can serve as an introduction to a theme or as supplementary material to enhance your work with a theme that is already part of your curriculum.

Possible Themes:
1. Natural Resources and Communities
2. Conserving Resources

Theme One:
Natural Resources and Communities

The student will be able to:

  1. identify different kinds of natural resources.
  2. explain how the presence of natural resources can encourage communities to grow nearby.
Class Discussion:
In small groups, have students discuss the following questions. You may wish to provide these questions on an overhead transparency or supply a handout for student reference.

  • What kinds of natural resources do cities and businesses depend on in order to function?

  • What resources are necessary for life to exist?

  • What would it take for a city to have access to every kind of natural resource? Is this a possibility, and are there any actual cities like that on the earth? Which cities come closest?
Optional activities:
  • Have each student pick a major city and do a report on the natural resources that have shaped that city's history. What kinds of jobs and businesses exist in this city that are less common in other cities? What kinds of goods is the city known for exporting? For importing?

  • The class could study a particular country or state. Have the students make maps should feature a particular kind of natural resource, and should show major cities and their populations. Display all of the maps so that students can compare the location of the cities to the locations of the region's natural resources. How many major cities have grown where there are no resources? How many cities are near more than one kind of natural resource? Does the number of resources available seem to have anything to do with how large the city is?

  • Have the students create a list of all the things in their desk or locker. The students then should make a second list of the resources that were necessary to make each item. Which of these resources could be found locally? Which would have come from another city or another country?

  • Have students consider a natural resource in their area that has not yet been developed. This could be a form of energy that might be more environmentally-friendly, or a kind of production that would use the resource more efficiently. Ask students to describe how this resource could be used (or used more efficiently) in your community and what effect more efficient use of that resource could have on the local environment.

Theme Two:

The student will be able to:

  1. discuss the importance of making natural resources last.
  2. list ways that they can conserve natural resources.
Class Discussion:
In small groups, have students discuss the following questions. You may wish to provide these questions on an overhead transparency or supply a handout for student reference.

  • What may happen to Iron Range cities like Hibbing when all the iron has been taken from the ground?

  • How does the future of the Iron Range affect other cities in the state, even if they are not Iron Range cities?

  • How might conservation efforts such as recycling affect the rate at which iron is mined?

  • What are some other resources that, like iron, can eventually be used up if we are not careful?

Optional activities:

  • Have your students keep track of the number of times that they encounter or handle something that contains a given natural resource: perhaps specifically iron or steel. How regularly do they use the things that appear on their list? How often do these items get thrown away or replaced? What can they do either to change the amount they use these things, or to extend the lifetimes of these items?

  • Take a field trip to a local recycling center, or have an expert come into the classroom to discuss the kinds of things that can be recycled, and the processes involved in recycling them. Have students consider recycling as an industry. What jobs are created by recycling efforts?

  • Find an area near your school where the class can take on a clean-up project. Collect loose trash in the area and examine it for materials that can be recycled. What percent of the material is somehow recyclable or reusable?

  • Have students examine waste in their own homes, and set up some ways that they can begin or increase the amount of recycling they do at home.

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