By her own admission, Magnolia Sixth Grade Campus teacher Vivian Rogers has a passion for science. She wants her students to share that passion, so Rogers recently participated in a free hands-on teaching workshop at the Sabine Coal Mine in Longview, sponsored by the Texas Mining and Reclamation Association (TMRA).
It gave her the opportunity to learn helpful exercises her classes will be enthusiastic to try and to receive innovative class materials that will help keep them engaged.
"I love watching the students get thrilled about something involving science," Rogers emphasized, "and earth science is not only fun to learn about, but also a growing field that some of them may want to enter when they get older."
TMRA provides free summer workshops that offer Texas teachers in grades 4 through 12 a chance to learn about classroom activities and hands-on labs that will stimulate students' thinking skills about earth science and energy. The Sabine Coal Mine is owned by North American Coal, and TMRA pays for all the class expenses and lodging for the 25 teachers who are selected to attend the annual camp.
Francie Hutchins, TMRA Education Director, explained how the teacher workshops started. In 1990, one of the members was an eighth-grade science fair judge and was appalled at how little the students seemed to know about earth sciences. He wanted to start a program to help change that and the teacher workshops were born.
The plan was to provide a fact-based training laboratory for teachers, who would, in turn, be better able to teach the students. A key goal was to give teachers an idea of actual jobs their students could fill in five or ten years and the training they would need to do them. This early interest on the part of students is important for the energy industry as a whole because the pool of skilled workers is drying up as many near retirement age. Hutchins, who started with the teacher workshops in 1993, is proud that they are still continuing 20 years later.
"TMRA raises all the money for the workshops, which makes them self-sustaining," said Hutchins. "The workshops are very popular with teachers, and attendees in every class want to apply for another one."
Rogers was able to learn the coal mining process from start to finish – and how the land is restored after mining to its original, or better than original, condition. She admitted she went in against the use of fossil fuels, but after the camp, she understood how Texas can benefit from a diverse energy portfolio that includes renewable and non-renewable resources.
Part of the experience was meeting with not only the TMRA teachers, but many North American Coal employees, from executives down to machine operators.
"This experience was provided at no cost to teachers or MISD and gave me a chance to bring some excitement into my science classes next year. I feel extremely lucky to have been selected," said Rogers.
TMRA is an industry trade association of approximately 100 state and national mining industry members that represent thousands of mining employees. As the voice of the Texas mining industry, the organization says that they strive to communicate the need to create a balance between mineral production, environmental protection, economic strength and public welfare, and seeks to inform the public, regulators and legislators of the value of mining to the Texas economy and lifestyle.
Teachers can apply for workshops online at the TMRA website: www.tmra. com/teacher-workshop. Coal Camps, Industrial Minerals Camp, and Uranium Camp are held from June 16 through August 2 in locations throughout Texas.