SENCER E-Newsletter, December 2004, Volume 4, Issue 4
Coal in the Heart of Appalachian Life: A Learning Community
Phillip J. Mason, Judy Byers, Debra Hemler, Andreas Baur, Galen Hansen, and Noel Tenney, Fairmont State University
Coal in the Heart of Appalachian Life is Fairmont State University's first Learning Community. It links a team-taught, integrated science course, Science in the Heart of Appalachia, with a humanities course, Introduction to Folklore. The integrated science course is organized around the following questions, which have both regional and global significance: What is energy and what will be the future demand for it? What are non-renewable resources? What is the future of coal as an energy source? 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? The humanities course places a number of these questions in a cultural context and examines the impact of the mining industry on Appalachia history and culture.
The exploration of coal enables students to learn some basic principles of geology such 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 science component of this Learning Community meets twice weekly for two hours, permitting group work and discovery-based activities. Students present their research in a poster session at the end of the semester. The folklore course includes three hours of classroom time as well as a laboratory component for experiential learning and field-based research in which students collect oral histories and family folklore, and document artifacts of the coal culture of Appalachia.
To view the full text of the Coal in the Heart of Appalachian Life model, visit: