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Lesson Plan: Prospecting

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 milestone 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 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 attempts.

Why was prospecting important?
The work of prospectors on the range was done with little fanfare but much hope. Test pits were dug in a systematic pattern to search for ore, and roads were built to accommodate the transport of the ore once it was found. The use of machinery such as the diamond drill brought to the area by E. J. Longyear made the process more efficient and less time-consuming for the miners. A productive mine could more than repay the owner for the struggles of prospecting, so many tried for years to locate the ore that would make them rich.

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 Prospecting.
  5. Read the introductory material on prospecting and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a drawing of a deck of cards. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this drawing 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 this drawing 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 Prospecting 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.
This pamphlet was distributed to convince people to support the iron range.

    1.1) Why do you think this picture used a drawing of a card game to discuss a business idea?

    Possible Answer: New business ideas are usually risky and a bit of a gamble. Since card games also involve chance, it makes sense to compare them to each other.

    1.2) The game being played is poker, and the hand is called a "straight flush," which is the best hand you can have. Why would someone show the best possible hand if the idea is risky?

    Possible Answer: They are probably trying to convince the reader that there's no way they can lose and that the risk is minimal.

    1.3) All of the cards are about Duluth except the last card, the ten of diamonds, which stands for the Mesabi Range. How could iron that is 100 miles away be good for Duluth?

    Possible Answer: The other cards point out that Duluth is on the Great Lakes and does a great deal of shipping. Once the ore was mined, it would have to ship from somewhere, and that would very likely be Duluth.

    1.4) Knowing what we know today about the mining industry, did the Mesabi turn out to be good for Duluth? Was this hand worth playing?

    Possible Answer: Definitely. Most of the ore went through Duluth for shipping, and that was very good for the city. The mining industry in northern Minnesota was so strong, in fact, that there was talk at times about dividing Minnesota into two states.

Book 1

Click on the Book 1 button to open the primary source.
This article was written to describe mining on the range.

    2.1) According to this source, what is the job of a prospector?

    Possible Answer: A prospector's job is to go to places that are likely to have a resource such as iron ore and to dig pits to determine exactly where the resource is located in the ground.

    2.2) What is the reason for digging a test pit?

    Possible Answer: Test pits were dug to see if there was any iron ore present, and, if so, exactly where it was and how far down you would have to dig to find it.

    2.3) When prospectors found iron ore in test pits, they did not stop but instead dug even more test pits. According to the article, why was this?

    Possible Answer: Prospectors would sink even more test pits to determine how wide and deep the ore deposits were. This helped the explorers figure out just how much ore there was.

    2.4) Did hitting water mean you could never dig any further?

    Possible Answer: No, it just meant that human diggers had to stop until a pump could be moved into the area to remove the water. This could only be done if there were reliable roads leading to the test pits.

Book 2
Click on the Book 2 button to open the primary source.
These two logs show the procedures for digging test pits.

    3.1) What is the difference between the experience in Log A and the experience in Log B?

    Possible Answer: Log A shows a test pit process that went very smoothly and efficiently, while Log B shows just how long and difficult the process could be.

    3.2) Did the Log A experience go better because they had better workers?

    Possible Answer: Not necessarily. The Log A group simply had the good fortune to be digging in an area that didn't present as many problems as the area where the Log B workers were digging.

    3.3) What are some of the things that made the process take so much longer for the Log B group?

    Possible Answer: The Log B group had 148 feet of surface to dig through compared to the Log A group's 21 feet. This is just one example of a difference between the two.

    3.4) Why would it matter if it takes more time to dig a test pit?

    Possible Answer: The longer it takes, the more money you would have to pay the workers, the more supplies you would need, and the more concerned you would have to be with the change in the seasons.

Book 3
Click on the Book 3 button to open the primary source.
This article describes the Mesabi Range and its value to the area.

    4.1) Why was it an advantage that the Mesabi Range was located near the Great Lakes?

    Possible Answer: The Great Lakes made it easy to carry the mined ore via ship to steel mills along the Great Lakes.

    4.2) If the iron deposits in Brazil are larger and purer than those on the Mesabi, then why not mine them?

    Possible Answer: The deposits in Brazil were hundreds of miles from the nearest coast and ships. It was too difficult and expensive to transport the ore mined there.

    4.3) How was iron ore transported to Pittsburgh?

    Possible Answer: Ore went to Pittsburgh through a combination of moving it across land by rails and shipping it across the Great Lakes.

    4.4) If it's cheaper to ship by water than by rail, then why bother using the railroads?

    Possible Answer: Water doesn't reach everywhere, so sometimes it was necessary to use the rails to move the ore over land to the nearest waterway.

Book 4
Click on the Book 4 button to open the primary source.
This article discusses the role of railroads in the mining industry.

    5.1) Why were railroads important to the mining industry on the Mesabi Range?

    Possible Answer: The mines needed a way to move the ore, and railroads were an ideal way to transport the ore to the nearest water route.

    5.2) Why might the ore shipping season only run from May to November?

    Possible Answer: December through April would have been winter months. There would be heavy snowfalls covering the tracks, and the ports on the Great Lakes would be covered with ice.

    5.3) Using the information in the table, can you figure out about how much ore could be carried by a single ore car in a train?

    Possible Answer: Since the average number of loaded cars per train was 51.9 and the average amount of ore carried was 51.4 tons, that would be a little under one ton for each car.

    5.4) Why couldn't the ore be hauled by carts instead of by train?

    Possible Answer: It would take many animals and many carts to carry the same amount that one train engine could easily haul. Also, the roads were not sturdy enough to handle the heavy hauling that the rails could take.

Diagram 1
Click on the Diagram 1 button to open the primary source.
These diagrams show test pits.

    6.1) Which layers do all three test pits have in common?

    Possible Answer: They all have glacial drift at the top and a layer of paint rock just below the glacial drift.

    6.2) What do the numbers down the center of each test pit graphic stand for?

    Possible Answer: These are the number of feet below surface level at which each new layer began.

    6.3) Why were these pits not dug deeper?

    Possible Answer: All three of the pits were stopped when the diggers hit water. Once water was hit, the pit would have to be drained with a pump, or the prospector would switch to drilling in order to go deeper.

    6.4) Would these ore deposits best be mined by an open-pit mine, or by an underground one?

    Possible Answer: Since the actual ore deposits don't show up in these pits until about 50 feet of digging, this area would be best mined with an underground mine. Fifty feet of rock and dirt would be too much to remove for an open-pit mine.

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. Booklets like the one shown in Art 1 in this unit are often produced to convince readers to agree or disagree with a belief or an action. What can a researcher learn from an booklet such as this one? What challenges does this kind of source present for the historian? What can we as researchers do to evaluate how accurate a source like this happens to be?

  2. In Book 2 we are given two lists of activities that were performed to preapre mine for operation. What might we assume if we were only able to see one of these sets? What added information do we get from being able to see both sets? Why is information like this important to a researcher and historian? Where might we find other information if only one of these sets were available?

  3. Statistics about the production and transportation of iron ore during this time can give us a clearer picture of the success of the mining industry. What other kinds of information might also tell us about how successful these mines were? What information could we find to learn how successful Mesabi mines were compared to mines in other parts of the country?

  4. Edmund J. Longyear wrote an article about his work on the Mesabi Range. What are some advantages to using an article such as this about the work on the range? What might be some disadvantages to an article like this? What sources could we use to support or evaluate the information Longyear included in his article?

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 Prospecting
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 Prospecting. 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 Prospecting 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. Exploration and Discovery
2. Transportation and Discovery

Theme One:
Exploration and Discovery

The student will be able to:

  1. describe and interpret the importance and challenges of explorers on the Mesabi Range
  2. evaluate and explain the role of exploration in the mining industry
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.

  • Exploration requires a certain amount of risk. What personal qualities and interests do you think someone needs if they want to be an explorer? Do you have those qualities and interests yourself?

  • Another part of explorations like the ones on the range involves scientific knowledge and experience. List the knowledge or experience that you think would be helpful for someone trying to locate ore on the range. How would someone get that knowledge or experience?

  • Any new discovery or challenge involves some risk. What risks do you think these explorers faced? How would you have handled those same risks?

  • Exploration also costs money, and explorers often got loans or funding from wealthy supporters who expected to be repaid when the ore was found. What problems might arise for the explorer if ore was not located and they were not able to repay their supporters? Mining could be very profitable if you were able to locate enough ore and set up a mining and transportation system to deliver it. Do you think the possible profit was worth the risk? Would you have taken that risk?
Optional activities:
  • Ask students to choose an explorer from history and research that person for a report or presentation. Students may wish to do this activity in groups and act out scenes from that person's life as part of their report. They may choose to write a radio interview with the person or prepare an artistic display of events from the person's life.

  • Have students brainstorm a list of discoveries in modern times. (You could also do this in the form of a scavenger hunt, in which you ask students to locate and list as many discoveries as they can from newspapers, their home, and magazines.) These could be recent medical discoveries, archaeological discoveries, or other scientific discoveries that have been made. Choose one or more of these discoveries to study as a class project. You might want to invite a doctor, archaeologist, or scientist to class to discuss the potential impact of the discovery. Create a class bulletin board of newspaper clippings, pictures, and other information about the discovery.

  • Take students on a journey of discovery. You can do this in a number of ways. You can hand out artifacts that students might not recognize and ask them to think about how the object was used or how it worked. Take them on a field trip to a local park or forest and ask them to think about how they would have felt if they were the explorer who discovered this area years ago. Describe the food they would have eaten on the trip, what they would have worn, and how they would have lived while they were exploring.

  • Create an in-class "Discovery Fair" with displays made by students showing past and present discoveries of all kinds. Students can make displays showing the discovery of continents, medical cures, or treatments, new technologies, or other discoveries made throughout history. Invite other classes to visit your Discovery Fair and have students discuss their projects with the visitors.

Theme Two:
Transportation and Discovery:

The student will be able to:

  1. demonstrate and explain the role transportation plays in mining success
  2. evaluate and identify current forms of transportation and their effectiveness
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.

  • Once ore is located and mined, it needs to be transported to a place where it can be sold. What other products can you think of that need to be transported from their original location in order to be profitable? Can you think of any examples of products that might be sold where they are found?

  • Before railroads were used, it was almost impossible to transport ore long distances. What other methods do we have today to transport products from the grower or manufacturer to the place of sale? List as many as you can.

  • The transportation of ore was often very expensive. What would make spending money on transportation worthwhile for the iron mining companies? What might happen if the price of the ore were to drop and they could not sell at a high profit?

  • Think about the forms of transportation you use every day. What might you do if one of those methods of getting around were to disappear for a day? What alternatives could you use in your community to get from one place to another? How would it change your activities for a day?

Optional activities:

  • Ask students to list the major forms of transportation in your community. Break students into groups and have them research each form of transportation for its cost, convenience, efficiency, and environmental impact. Choose a location a few hours away from your community, and have students determine the time and cost required for each mode of transportation to arrive at that point.

  • Have students develop a new, efficient transportation system for your community. Ask them to draw diagrams of the mode of transport, calculate its potential costs for the user and the community, and create a map of the areas that would be served by this mode of transportation. Study efforts made by other communities (usually larger cities) to provide mass transport for their residents and evaluate their success.

  • Bring a box of objects and a scale to class and have the students calculate how much it might cost for that box to be shipped via regular mail, package shipper, train, airmail, courier, or other mode of transport. Which would get the package to its destination in the shortest time? Which do you think would be most dependable? Which might get the package there in the best condition? You can gather information about shipping costs and weights from brochures, advertisements, and other sources to give students the materials they need for this exercise.

  • Ask students to study a local industry that depends upon transportation for the delivery of its product. Students might choose agriculture, mining, grocery stores, retail stores, or other industries that rely on transportation. What effect might the loss (via strike, natural disaster, or company collapse) of that form of transportation have on the industry? You may wish to discuss and evaluate some of the concerns that have been expressed about the year 2000 and the transportation of goods.

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