Cookie  Mining
Grades 3-8


Coal deposits, like many natural resources, are unevenly distributed throughout the world.
Mining, like other methods used to extract natural resources, affect the environment to varying degrees.
Many factors need to be considered when making decisions regarding the wise use of natural resources.

Objective: Students will

• Recognize that use decisions are complex.
• Learn that mining has environmental considerations that need to be addressed.

State Standards:


Understand energy, its transformations, and interactions with matter

Identify forms of various types of energy and their effects on matter.

Describe examples of energy transfer.


Understand the properties and limited availability of the materials, which make up the Earth.

Identify properties and uses of Earth materials.

Recognize that Earth materials are used in different ways based on differences in their physical and chemical properties.


45 minutes


A large Chocolate Chip Cookie for each student, a napkin and paper clip for each student, butcher paper or large graph paper, milk, juice, and cups

(E-mail Kathy Morgan ( to get: cookies, milk, and juice. Please allow three working days for delivery.)


1. Each student is given a cookie, napkin and paper clip. Students are not to eat any part of the cookie at this time

2. Ask students to suggest what the napkin, cookie, chocolate chips and paper clip represent in the simulation.

Napkin – space, the universe

Cookie – earth

Chocolate Chips – coal

Paper Clip – mining machinery

3. Suggest that students pick a role to play in the simulation. Tell them not to divulge their role at this time. Possibly role choices might include:

The President of a Coal Company – emphasis on mining a maximum amount of coal as a primary responsibility with little regard for environmental consequences.

An Extremely Environmentally Conscious Person – emphasis on taking care of the earth and its resources as a primary responsibility with little regard for economic consequences.

A Middle of the Roader - a person who tries to strike an even balance between economics and environment

Instruct students to count how many visible chunks of coal are in their earth. Students may turn the cookie over to include any surface coal visible on the bottom. Record data on butcher paper or graph.
Instruct students to begin “mining” their coal deposits. Students will mine their coal deposits from the perspective of the role they chose earlier.

Have students place their coal deposits in one pile and the earth’s crust in another. Have students continue “mining” until most appear finished (4-6 minutes) When students finish, have them record the total number of pieces of coal mined on the butcher paper or graph.
Quickly walk around the room asking students to guess the role of a particular student. A cookie mined from a President of a Coal company may appear to have most of the coal mined with the earth appearing disturbed significantly. Another cookie may appear nearly untouched with only one or two chocolate chips “mined.” This causes minimal impact on the earth. This cookie may be mined by a student taking the role of an environmentalist. Ask students to explain why they chose their particular role.
Before students are allowed to eat their cookie, instruct them to put their “earth” back together. Encourage them to try, even if their cookie looks like a pile of crumbs.
Discuss the following points with the class:
There are more coal deposits than could be seen on the surface
“Mining” the deeper coal took more time and was more trouble than mining coal near the surface. (It takes energy to get energy.)
The coal deposits were unevenly distributed. Some students had more coal deposits than others. Why?
Once the earth is disturbed by mining, if is very difficult to restore the earth to its original state.
What can be said about the employment of people vs. impacting the earth in obtaining those resources?
10.Allow students to eat their cookie. Provide juice or milk if desired.

Teacher Information:

At present, nearly 20% of the total United States domestic energy needs is provided by coal. This translates to nearly 3 tons per person per year. At the present rate of use, world coal supplies will last slightly over 70 years.

Fifty years ago when most coal mining was done manually, underground mines accounted for 96% of the coal produced each year. Today, almost 60% is produced from surface mines.

Before a company can surface mine, it must gather information about the site regarding growing conditions, climate, soil composition, vegetation, wildlife, etc. With this information, the company then applies to the federal government for a permit to mine. The company must post a bond for each acre of and it mines to assure that it will be properly reclaimed.