Ted's teaching tips;The big picture

15th October 1999 at 01:00
Gold is the symbol of wealth, but this picture of teeming humanity shows the dirty and dangerous reality of extracting it.


What is gold (beautiful heavy metal, chemical symbol Au; easily worked into jewellery or beaten thin into gold leaf; good conductor of electricity and heat; doesn't corrode or tarnish; almost indestructible, especially as an alloy, hence its use in teeth)? What is its importance in history (used for coins; underpinned the value of currency, the "gold standard", until the 1930s; used and traded since early times by Egyptians, Greeks, Romans)?


What other things do we mine from the earth (coal, silver, copper, tin)? How would you set up a mine (dig a holeshaft; need air supply; labour intensive if the deposits are small, hence all the figures in the picture; transport and disposal of large quantities of earth and rock a problem; safety often poor, so accidents happen, people killed or injured). Some metals or minerals have to be extracted from ores, which may contain a mixture of metals and minerals, for instance silver, copper.

Greed or need?

Why do people kill for gold, risk their lives, travel huge distances to find or steal it (California gold rush,1849; Klondike, Canada, 1896; pirates in ships)?


You are on holiday with a friend, digging in the sand, when you find a gold nugget. Write the story of what happened.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at University of Exeter

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