Linking Science and Social Issues

Why is this course a SENCER model?

"I am Appalachia! In my veins Runs fierce mountain pride: the hill-fed streams Of passion; and, stranger, you don't know me! You've analyzed my every move – you still Go away shaking your head. I remain Enigmatic. How can you find rapport with me – You, who never stood in the bowels of hell, Never felt a mountain shake and open its jaws To partake of human sacrifice?

What are the civic questions or problems addressed in this learning community?

Fairmont State University continues to develop and refine its first ever Learning Community (LC), Coal in the Heart of Appalachian Life. The LC comprises a new integrated science course, Science in the Heart of Appalachia and the existing humanities course, Introduction to Folklore. National undergraduate science education reform guides our project, and our overarching goal is to help students to learn and value science by making an emotional connection with it.

The integrated science course is organized around the following local/regional/global questions: What is energy and what will future demand mean? What are non-renewable resources? What is the future of coal? What alternative sources of energy will emerge to supplement fossil fuels? What responsibilities do I have as an energy consumer? What are the ecological, public health and social/cultural consequences of extracting and burning coal? These consequences include: mountaintop removal, acid mine drainage, acid deposition, global warming, and black lung disease. The humanities course places a number of these questions in a cultural context and examines the impact of the mining industry on Appalachia culture.

Many of our students are the first generation of their families to attend college, and have a cultural heritage steeped in the economy, history and traditions of coal mining. We want to demystify science by helping students relate to it in the context of the importance of coal to their communities. We want to unfold the story of coal in Appalachia and investigate the intractable social issues that have significant future implications. We want to empower students to consider their responsibilities within a global context.

*This Learning Community Project is supported by the National Science Foundation's Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement's Adaptation and Implementation Program under grant DUE-0310653.

What basic science is covered?

The exploration of coal enables students to learn some basic principles of geology such as stratigraphy, classification of rocks and minerals, and geologic time. They explore chemistry fundamentals such as bonding, acidity, combustion and the organization of matter. Physics helps them to better understand energy, energy transformations, heat and thermal emissions and power plant functioning. Using biology/ecology they investigate photosynthesis, aquatic community structure/responses to acid pollution, carbon cycling/global warming and respiratory physiology/disease.

The course is intentionally structured around student-centered learning with an emphasis on hands-on activities during each class period rather than in a separate weekly laboratory. A constructivist strategy is utilized in all lessons with student exploration being followed by concept development and application. Through this approach we strive to reveal students' misconceptions, expand their understanding and challenge them to utilize new knowledge in novel circumstances.

STEM/Civic Issues Table (Acrobat (PDF) 110kB Aug5 08)