Seventh grade students at Knoxville Middle School recently had the opportunity to tour mine reclamation sites around the county, to learn what it takes to convert former mine sites back into useable farm ground.
Randy Cooney, Project Coordinator of the Mines and Minerals Bureau of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, was contacted by seventh grade teacher Sara Finnegan about the mines. After previously presenting to the students, he set up a field day, involving rotating tour of three sites, each at a different stage of reclamation, for the students to visit on April 26.
“As the year has went on we have discussed the environment and ecology at length and have engaged in several activities to increase student awareness of these topics,” Finnegan said.
When the year of seventh grade Science is complete, students should know matter and energy together support life in an environment, living things within an ecosystem interact with one another and the environment (Students learn the terms abiotic and biotic factors.) and that humans and human population growth affects the environment.
They should also understand that living things meet their needs by interacting with the environment and each other for nourishment, reproduction, and protection; water and soil quality of an area affects the diversity of life in that area and can affect areas beyond the immediate location and they should be able to distinguish between different biomes.
Students should be able to identify and label the roles of living things in an ecosystem: producers, consumers, decomposers, predators, and prey; gather data and monitor the water quality of a local body of water and create a food web or food chain made up of organisms that would fit into our biome here in Knoxville.
Nearly 80 percent of the mines, like the ones showcased on the field day, are located in Marion and Mahaska Counties. The Goff Mine, south of Knoxville, has been featured during many of Cooney’s presentations to people throughout the state. The mine was also featured in a coal magazine last year.
“This year I wanted to make the learning even more linked to the community of Knoxville. Coal mining has been such a huge part of the history to those living in Marion County, I wanted to make them aware of how it affects not only our landscape but out soil and water quality,” Finnegan added.
She has welcomed those with knowledge of this history to speak to her class. In talking with students, Finnegan said most of them were unaware of Marion County’s coal mining history, and the county’s place in the history of the industry in Iowa.
“In fact, most parents were surprised to learn this information too!” Finnegan said. “This is a small piece of history that is being lost but can be a great springboard for learning about the ecology of our area.”
Her students wrote thank you letters to those who helped lead them on the tours. Some of them were surprised that cow droppings make good fertilizer, while others made their own discoveries.
“I learned a lot about terraces and how they protect the land from erosion,” Megan Moore wrote. “Thanks again for teaching us about all the things that coal mining has done and what you guys are doing to make it look like nothing happened and making the land useable again.”
“Learning about the endangered plants and animals was interesting, too,” Lili Hartley wrote. “The field trip was very fun and interesting!”
“I thought the most interesting part of the field trip is when we got to test the water with the strips,” Michael Nichols wrote.
The students, back in the classroom, have since moved on to the study of the respiratory system. Finnegan said a great deal of learning has taken place this year, in and out of the classroom.
“To sum it all up, I hope that students have a greater understanding of how an area’s history and geology can affect the quality of the water and soil and that both the small and big things that students do can have a great impact to both destroy or improve the quality of life for other organisms and themselves where ever life may take them in their future,” she said.