DECKER, Mont. — A group of students took a field trip to the Decker Coal Mine this week, with an intention to teach, rather than learn.
Fourth- and fifth-graders from five elementary schools in Sheridan County School District 2 traveled to the mine on three separate days to present ideas for using mining material that otherwise gets discarded. Tuesday, students presented possible applications of nonel cords — part of the detonation process at the mine. The ideas included turning the cords into dog leashes, doormats and pieces of playground equipment.
SCSD2 special services teacher Molly Kinsey gave the students the assignment in January as part of their seminar class. The course meets once per week for two hours with highly capable students at the various schools. The main question they had to answer was: “How can we repurpose the detonation cord from Decker Coal Mine to help it have less impact on the environment?”
Kinsey said her seminar students hadn’t done anything similar to this in the past. The students came up with unique ideas, which Kinsey enjoyed.
“That’s the fun part,” Kinsey said. “Oftentimes I’ll say, ‘We’re doing something this way,’ and they’ll say, ‘Why Mrs. Kinsey? We should do it this way,’ and I’ll go, ‘Right you are, OK.’ With this group of kids, they keep you on your toes all the time.”
Students worked in groups of three or four and sometimes changed their idea until they could find a realistic proposal. After they settled on a solution, the students had to build a model and work on about a five-minute presentation.
Zander Cleland, a fifth-grader at Highland Park, said he came up with the idea for a doormat after trying to wipe gum off the bottom of his shoe. He said the doormat was easier to build than he thought and can also be cleaned easily with water.
Gideon Smith, a fourth-grader at Highland Park, was part of a group that proposed the idea of using the cord to help construct a playground dome climber. Smith researched metal poles to use, while the other two group members looked up how to keep the poles firmly in the ground and focused on problems they might encounter. Smith said he learned a lot of interesting info, like the fact that an 80-pound bag of cement only costs a few dollars.
The students were a bit nervous presenting to five managers from the mine but seemed to enjoy it. One student called the experience, “terrifyingly amazing.”
Don Kollekowski, Decker Coal Mine manager of safety and health, was one of the employees who sat in on the presentations. Kollekowski said about 150,000 feet of nonel cord is discarded by the mine every year, so a viable alternative could help reduce waste and also lower costs for the company, which takes the material to a landfill in Hardin, Montana, to be burned.
The material is plastic, which basically never decomposes. Kollekowski attempted to use the material as wire in his weed eater, but that didn’t work.
“If we can repurpose it, that’d be wonderful,” Kollekowski said.
He said students rarely visit the mine, so it was neat to hear their ideas, some of which he seemed seriously interested. Kollekowski added that the mine may work with local organizations to test out the applicability of the ideas.