Waco Gem and Mineral Club, Waco, Tx

16.7 Collecting and Classifying Sand


16.7: Collecting and Classifying Sand

A psammophile is a sand collector (psammo = sand; phile = lover of). And a heap of sand is basically a collection of microminerals and microfossils. Help your juniors become psammophiles by forming sand collections and exploring the world of sand grains with samples from at least five very different locations. Explore samples under 10x or 20x loupes or microscopes and discuss why they may look different. For instance, sand that has been transported a great distance and ends up along a beach or in an area of sand dunes is often well sorted; that is, it often consists of grains that are rounded and of relatively uniform size and composition. This is the case with nearly pure white quartz sands found in areas around the Monterey Peninsula in California or white carbonate beaches in parts of Florida. Sand that hasn‘t been transported far (as along a stream in a mountain valley) may have rough, angular grains of all sizes and may consist of a wide variety of rocks and minerals (poorly sorted). The color of the sand is due to the color of its constituent minerals. For example, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico holds vast fields of pure white sand composed of gypsum, whereas Papakōlea Beach in Hawaii has green sand due to the mineral olivine. Work with your kids to explore the differences in the shape, size, texture, color, and other characteristics of sand samples and encourage them to speculate about what caused those differences.

In building their collections, kids can conveniently store samples in small baggies, bottles with lids, or stoppered test tubes. This is one hobby involving little or no expense.

A couple great books have been published all about sand. As a reference in working on this activity, you may want to purchase these or see if your library has them:

Gary Greenberg, A Grain of Sand: Nature’s Secret Wonder, 2008. This is both a font of information about the diversity of sand and a gorgeous coffee table book filled with wonderful close-up photos. My top choice for a book that inspires!

Ellen J. Prager (author) & Nancy Woodman (illustrator), Jump Into Science: Sand, 2006. This book, published by National Geographic, is aimed squarely at kids, with a fun "sandpiper sleuth" seeking answers to what sand is, where it comes from, and how it gets to the beach. My top choice for young readers.

Michael Welland, Sand: The Never-Ending Story, 2010. A university press book for more advanced readers, this is still a great read with interesting facts and surprises.

Bagnold, The Physics of Blown Sand and Desert Dunes, 2005. A reprint of a classic text first published in 1954, this advanced tome is for the true scientist among us.

FRA junior leader Anne Lowe-Salmon in Connecticut has pointed me to the International Sand Collectors Society that publishes a quarterly newsletter called The Sand Paper. In the past, they‘ve sold an educator‘s kit for about $30 that included sand samples and a CD of sand-related activities. Check them out! This is the best resource I‘ve seen, with great information telling all about sand, the hobby of sand collecting, and how to become a psammophile.

Note: Kids can use this activity to satisfy requirements toward earning the Collecting badge simultaneously (Activity 5.1).