Human Effect on Ecosystems in the Appalachian Mountains  as a Result of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining


Webquest by Mary Reide for Project Critical

Grade 7 - PS/MS161



Everything that is made from resources in this earth is mined. These resources are the reason we enjoy the quality of life that we have today.  From the materials our homes are made of the contents of our electronics, and the electricity that gives us light and the ability to run all our gadgets, all depends on mining.  However, there is another side to mining. Mining can be destructive to the environment. One particular part of our country, the Appalachian Mountain region, has been hard hit by pollution in the water and destruction of habitats by a particular process of mining which is called mountaintop removal. The resource they are removing is coal, which for a long time has been used to power electricity, among other things. In this process the top of a mountain is blasted off, flattening the surrounding area along with the life that it contained. The rock and mineral dust gets into the water and kills the organisms living within it.  All of this disrupts food chains and eventually has an impact on the health of the people living in the surrounding communities.




The EPA  and a grassroot organization called  Appalachian Voices, have asked for your help in coming up with some new ideas, or building on their existing ideas, to minimize the impact of mountaintop removal and the resulting problems it is causing while still being able to get at the important resource we need for our daily lives. It is also your task to decide if we really need coal at all or are there alternative forms of energy? Your group is to write a report of your ideas to be given to Appalachian Voices and the Governor of one of the states affected.




You will work in groups of four (chosen by the teacher) to complete this task using the steps of the PPA . In order to do this you will be coming up with a claim (problem), gather evidence, identify the causes of the problem, evaluate any policies that are currently in place (what is the EPA and grassroots organizations doing already?), develop some ideas in your group on how to best get the message out and come up with the best idea based on the cost and how easy your policy suggestion would be to put into place. You can choose to produce a PowerPoint, video, or formal report with your findings and solutions as the final product of this task. You must present your work in front of the class. Use the worksheets as the outline for your final project. You can split up the work, but you must all be able to speak to all parts of the presentation. Choose one person to ask questions for your group. This person will be the only one to ask questions of the teacher during this process.


Step 1: Defining the Problem

We will be defining the following problem as Human Effect on Ecosystems in the Appalachian Mountains as a Result of  Mountaintop Removal Mining 

Worksheet 1: Defining A Problem


Step 2:  Gather the Evidence

Worksheet 2: Gathering the Evidence

Resources to fill out worksheet 2

     What is Mountaintop Removal Mining?

     Ecological Impacts of Mountaintop Removal

     Human Health Impacts from Mountaintop Removal


Step 3:  Identify the Causes

Worksheet 3: Identify the Causes

Resources to fill out worksheet 3

     The History of Coal Mining in Appalachia

     What is Coal Used For?

     American Dependency on Coal


Step 4:  Evaluate the Existing Policy

Worksheet 4: Evaluating the Existing Policies

Resources to fill out worksheet 4

     The Stream Protection Rule

     EPA Enforcement Activities

     Alternatives to Coal Mining



Raise your hand if you have finished all of the work above


Time to put on your thinking caps!

Now is the time to take all of the information that you have collected and come up with some ideas on how to solve this problem in a new way.

thinking cap.jpg


Step 5:  Develop the Solution

Worksheet 5: Develop the Solution

By this section, you should all have a good idea what the problem is, why it happened, and how you can improve on what has already been done.  You can use some of the same ideas, but maybe there is a more effective way to get the message across!



Step 6: Select the Best Solution (feasibility vs. effectiveness)

Worksheet 6: Select the Best Solution (feasibility vs. effectiveness)

Idea/Cost/Effectiveness Table

Use the feasibility vs. effectiveness matrix or the cost vs. effectiveness chart to decide which of your ideas you should send to the EPA.





·         Writing Rubric

·         Video/Pamphlet/PPT

·         Oral Presentation




By completing this WebQuest, you should:


1.  Understand the reasons why it is important to help organizations like the EPA and    Appalachian Voices come up with some ideas to fight this type of mining practice, considering the amount of coal obtained this way is not cost efficient or risk adverse.

2.  Explain verbally and in written form the more efficient solutions to this problem and trying to persuade people in the Government to reconsider the practice of mountaintop


3.  Have class and group conversations about the problem, the causes, and the solutions for Mountaintop Coal Removal.




NGSS (Science):

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to include constructing explanations and designing solutions supported by multiple sources of evidence consistent with scienti c knowledge, principles, and theories.

Construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources (including

the students’ own experiments) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future. (MS-LS1-3)

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to evaluating the merit and validity of ideas and methods. Gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and method used, and describe how they are supported or not supported by evidence. (MS-LS1-8)                                                          


ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things. (MS-ESS3-3)


Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data. (MS-ESS3-2)

Cause and Effect

 Relationships can be classified as causal or correlational, and correlation does not necessarily imply causation. (MS-ESS3-3)

Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems. (MS-ESS3-1), (MS-ESS3-4)


Social Studies                                                                                          

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the necessity for establishing governments; the governmental system of the U.S. and other nations; the U.S. Constitution; the basic civic values of American constitutional democracy; and the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of participation.                                                                                                                                

      evaluate, take, and defend positions on what the fundamental values and principles of American political

life are and their importance to the maintenance of constitutional democracy (Adapted from The National

Standards for Civics and Government, 1994)

       take, defend, and evaluate positions about attitudes that facilitate thoughtful and effective participation in public affairs

      consider the need to respect the rights of others, to respect others’ points of view (Adapted from The

              National Standards for Civics and Government, 1996)

      participate in school/classroom/community activities that focus on an issue or problem


      prepare a plan of action that defines an issue or problem suggests alternative solutions or courses of action, evaluates the consequences for each alternative solution or course of action, prioritizes the solutions based on established criteria, and proposes an action plan to address the issue or to resolve the problem


Use text features and search tools (e.g., key words, sidebars, hyperlinks) to locate information relevant to a given topic efficiently.

Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)

With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

Recall information from experiences or gather information from print and digital sources; take brief notes on sources and sort evidence into provided categories.

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Ask and answer questions about information from a speaker, offering appropriate elaboration and detail.

Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

Demonstrate command of the conventions of Standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Demonstrate command of the conventions of Standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.