Flip-flops, shorts and the beach? No thanks. I chose safety vests, hard hats and a coal mine for a vacation. Yes, a coal mine.
I spent one week at the Texas Westmoreland Coal Co. mine in Jewett for a free Texas Mining and Reclamation Association teacher workshop. The camp was one of five offered by the association and about 15 teachers attend each one. More than 600 teachers applied.
From the moment we arrived at the Westmoreland mine, we were greeted and treated like celebrities.
In the classroom, we learned about the mining industry, and the basic steps needed to plan and design a lignite mine. Topics included permits, aquifers, soils and land reclamation. We learned more in one week about the mining industry than many people could imagine.
The fieldwork we participated in was beyond words. We saw how the coal was taken from the ground and transported to a nearby NRG Limestone Electric Generating Station to create electricity for the Houston area.
We also were able to see reclaimed land that has been restored to better than its original condition. This part of the tour was absolutely breathtaking.
The week ended with a mock public hearing in which each teacher was given a role to play. Whether a mining employee or a townsperson, we had to use the knowledge we learned throughout the week to play our part. This was our opportunity to show what we learned and have a little creative fun, too.
This whole experience will help me in the classroom tremendously. I had the opportunity to see it, touch it, and experience it myself. I now can pass the knowledge I gained on to my students. I can explain to them that coal is more than just “a fossil fuel formed from dead plants.”
I learned so much more than I expected on topics such as classifying matter, weathering, erosion, and deposition, and all of the activities we participated in can be performed or modified to use with my students. Needless to say, this week was the perfect vacation for a science teacher.
Charitie Wright is a science teacher at Chapel Hill ISD’s Kissam Intermediate School.