Coal Mining - An Introduction

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Students will be able to explain the uses of coal, the basics of how it is mined, and the environmental impacts of coal use and mining.

Big Idea

Coal is a natural resource we all depend on that has an effect on the quality of the natural environment.

Engage: How do YOU use coal?

11 minutes

I start of this lesson by putting up the first slide of the presentation, Introduction to Coal.  I ask students to answer the question, "How do you use coal?" on their Coal: Student Study Guide.

After they answer the question I have them share their ideas with their neighbors and then I write up about 6 of the ideas students have shared.  I live in a community that does not mine coal, and I found that students' ability to answer this question was very limited.  They primarily thought of coal as something with which to make a fire or heat up a barbecue grill.

Then we go through the rest of the short introductory presentation and discuss each general use of coal.  The concept I want students to come away with is that even if they have never seen a piece of coal before, much of the products and power we use comes from coal generated electricity. This makes us all indirect users of coal.  I believe this to be a very important concept.  We hold ourselves many steps removed from the dangerous and environmentally detrimental processes of mineral extraction, yet there are none of us that can claim to live free from the benefits of using these minerals on the production side of the items we consume.

Explore: Environmental Impacts of Coal Generated Power

40 minutes

Next, I give students this Environmental Impacts of Coal Power. student notetaking guide.  The article comes directly from the Union of Concerned Scientists and is about the general environmental effects of coal use.  I have most of my class read and work on this article with a partner but if I were teaching the lesson early in the year, or working with English language learners, I would read this with them as a small group.  I prompt students to write down details that contribute to their understanding, words that help them understand the topic (language of the discipline) and also challenge them to see this through the lens of multiple perspectives.  This is based on the icons of depth and complexity by Sandra Kaplan.  A students ability to generate multiple perspectives from this article will largely depend on their experiences with mining.  I have several students with family members in the copper mines, so their additional perspective on this article is that coal mines or coal-fired electric plants provide jobs.

I have provided this Environmental Impacts of Coal Power Teacher Guide to demonstrate the types of work I support the students in completing.  It has examples of their unanswered questions, details and vocabulary (language of the discipline).

If you would simply like a plain copy of the article, here it is.

I also created this short video to assist both students who learn more visually and also those who speak English as a second language.  At the same time, this video also offers enrichment, as it provides, in simple form, the names of many byproducts of coal mining.

After the majority of the class has finished reading the article and taking notes, we reconvene at the carpet and share our thoughts, questions, vocabulary and multiple perspectives with the whole group.  I write students responses on a copy of the study guide and project it using a document camera so students can add the information to their own study guides.

Exit Ticket - Homework

6 minutes

At the conclusion of this lesson, I ask students to think about one new piece of information they learned today about coal mining and how it can affect the environment.  For their homework, I ask them to share this piece of information with someone at home OR to write 3 questions they have that, if answered, could deepen their understanding of the impacts of coal mining.  I tell them that tomorrow they will choose one of two types of coal mining to examine a bit further, surface mining or deep underground mining.  

Enrich/ Extension: Thinking About Mineral Use in Our Everyday Lives

15 minutes

If you want to start students off with a more general discussion of mineral uses, I found several quick pages from the Mineral Education Coalition that can facilitate that discussion. They areAnimal, Vegetable, Mineral 1Animal, Vegetable, Mineral 2, and 2015 Mineral Baby.  This is how they can be used: