Earth Science Week Classroom Activities

Birdseed Mining

Women in Mining

Activity Source:

“Birdseed Mining,” Women in Mining Education Foundation, 2005. Adapted with permission.


Mining is a complex process in which valuable or useful materials are removed from large masses of rock.


  • Wild bird food - any birdseed mix that contains sunflower seeds and at least two other seed varieties
  • Shallow pans
  • Small beads (approximately 2mm) in blue, gold, and silver
  • Medium beads (approximately 4-6 mm) in white


  1. Organize groups of four to six students.
  2. Pour approximately one pound of birdseed into each pan
  3. Mix two gold beads, four silver beads, eight blue beads, and three white beads into each pan of birdseed.
  4. Search through the seed mixtures and separate out or “mine” beads, sunflower seeds, and other grain products, making piles of each. Allow your group five to 10 minutes to finish mining.
  5. Assign a value for each type of bead or seed.
Bead/Seed Value Chart
Type Destination Cost
Gold beads Gold $5.00 each
Silver beads Silver $4.00 each
Blue beads Copper $3.00 each
Sunflower seeds Iron $2.00 each
Other seeds Waste $0.00 each
White beads Reclamation -$100.00 each

(Reclamation must be done at all mining operations)

  1. Count the sunflower seeds and blue, silver, and gold beads from your piles and calculate your earnings based on the values given above. Note your earnings in a spreadsheet similar to the one found below. Also, pay special attention to any environmental damage that was done because of the mining. You can be fined for a messy table.

Earnings Spreadsheet Sample

Gold Bead = Gold
Number of beads x $ = $ Price value

Each group should total up the dollar value of its mining operation, subtracting the environmental damage fines and reclamation costs. Each group will present its success with the other grou