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Investigative Case - "Home, Home on the River"

Developed for Lifelines Online by Sara Simmers of Bismarck State College, Bismarck, ND. (http://bioquest.org/lifelines/index.html)

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Students will examine the complex issues that result from human use of ecologically sensitive areas. The students will investigate these issues from the point of view of their major/career path.

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Learning Goals

  • For students to evaluate the importance of the ecological communities in their area, specifically a freshwater river ecosystem.
  • For students to be exposed to possible problems or controversies arising from development, including its effect on the environment.
  • To relate these issues to each student's career interests.
  • To improve critical thinking and collaboration skills.

Context for Use

This case is appropriate for use in a college level non-majors Biology Laboratory, especially of freshmen or non-traditional students. It is designed to include field work if weather permits. It is a mixture of independent and group work.

Considering Class Size - Different types of objectives can be accomplished by implementing case-based learning in different sized classes.

How Do Investigative Cases Fit into Courses?- What issues need to be taken into account before introducing cases to your class?

Teaching Materials


Ben and Tammy chuckled and reminisced over a cup of coffee at Barnes and Noble one Friday afternoon. It had been a few years since they had seen each other. Ben was studying to be an architect at the University of Minnesota, and Tammy was just starting graduate school in Botany at Colorado State. Now, they were both back home for a week before their summer jobs began elsewhere.

"Hey, I've got a great idea!" exclaimed Ben, "Let's go find that spot where we used to camp for weeks down by the Missouri!"

"Yeah," agreed Tammy, "That place was the best! Great fishing, too. And now with my all-knowledgeable degree in Botany, I'll be sure to not get caught up in the poison ivy."

The two chums drove to the park's edge in which they used to spend hours exploring, and found the faint trail that led to their recreational haven. However, much to their surprise, when they pushed their way through the underbrush of the cottonwoods, they were faced with a 2-story home that covered at least 3500 square feet, complete with columns around the front door and landscaping right up to the river's edge.

"Gee, Tam, this isn't quite how I remembered it," Ben sighed. "I guess they decided to upscale the camping facilities around here."

"You're so clever Ben," Tammy said sarcastically. "So much for your great idea. You know, isn't this supposed to be a publicly accessible park, and a conserved one at that? Look at the lots cleared for even more homes. Don't people realize that their manicured lawns and ornamental plants can affect the native plant species habitats?"

"It is disappointing, but look on the bright side, Tam, at least they used a simple cottage design for their dream home. Though the columns are tacky, I must admit. Hey, they kept a cottonwood in their backyard," Ben offered.

"Seriously, Ben," Tammy retorted. "Development can have many effects on biodiversity and the quality of the natural environment."

"True, but you have to consider other perspectives," replied Ben. "This scenery and the view are important in architectural design. I'm not so sure about the building codes so close to the water's edge, but I doubt they're doing that much damage. This area is important to a lot of people in our area. Not everyone's a biologist."

Potential Activities
  • Group discussion (groups of 3-5) and brainstorming of the issues that could be involved in this case. Students should complete a Case Analysis Worksheet. Within the groups, students should also discuss a job in their major or career area that could be affected or involved with any of these issues.

    Field trip to the Missouri River in order to assess differences in developed and undeveloped areas. Sampling of turbidity, water properties, invertebrates, erosion, etc. could be done. Complete a worksheet comparing the 3 areas, including a prediction and conclusion section. This could be a simulated activity with fictional data if access to a river is not possible. (Students could direct their own ecological investigation and choose the aspects of the river they want to test or observe.)

    Student research on the perspective of interest using the internet, library, interviews, etc. Instructor may want to channel their personal connection by requiring student to include an ecological perspective.

    Possibly complete an EcoBeaker simulation.

    Calculate their personal ecological footprint.

Case Analysis Worksheet - A helpful aid in guiding students through the use of cases.

Teaching Notes and Tips

How To Use Investigative Cases with Examples - This area of the site lays out the phases Investigative Case Based Learning and key strategies for using it in your class.

Preparing Students for Cases and Collaborative Learning - Hints and advice on how to introduce cases into your class.


Assessing the Use of Investigative Cases - There are many informal opportunities to assess the performances of students who use investigative cases.

Student Products for Assessment
  • Issues/Know/Need to know worksheet.
  • Field trip comparative worksheet.
  • Position paper written from their perspective as an expert in their field. Paper must include valid reasoning for their opinions and must take into account their ecological analysis.
  • Ecobeaker simulation graphs and data.
  • Ecological footprint analysis.

Student Survey on Using the Case (Word 24 kB) Note: You may find it helpful to use this form to gather information from students if you wish to see how they view learning with cases.

References and Resources