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Investigative Case - "Goodbye Honey Buckets"

Developed by Lana McNeil, College of Rural Alaska, Nome for Lifelines Online. (http://bioquest.org/lifelines/index.html)

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: May 13, 2008

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


Students will investigate arctic geology and hydrology as well as tundra ecology as they consider options for sewage treatment. Public safety, environmental impact, and issues of construction and engineering will be explored.

Learning Goals

Context for Use

The case can be used in introductory geoscience, environmental science, and introductory biology. Lecture, lab, and field activities are available.

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

"More than 20,000 rural Native residents in Alaska live in communities without running water and where homes, local government offices, commercial buildings and even medical clinics use plastic buckets for toilets –euphemistically called "honey buckets." The waste from these toilets is often spilled in the process of hauling it to disposal sites and these spillages have led to the outbreak of epidemic diseases such as Hepatitis A. " – An Alaskan Challenge: Native Village Sanitation, US Congress, 1994

Even in 2001, there are still villages without a municipal sewer system. John Kepaaq is a member of the Tribal Council in Icy Valley and he is concerned about the type of sewer system that is being considered. Everyone in northern Alaska has heard stories about outside developers who did not realize the unique problems of construction in the arctic.

Icy Valley is a village of about 200 people who know what it is like to live with permafrost, darkness, and long cold winters. John wants to be sure that the sewage system proposed for their village is appropriate for the cold temperatures and safe for the tundra environment.

Note: John Kepaaq and Icy Valley are fictitious, but the problem is real.

Case Analysis Worksheet (Word 23.5 kB)

Teaching Notes and Tips

How To Use Investigative Cases with Examples. Note: Goodbye Honey Buckets is used as the example case for implementing investigative case-based learning in classrooms. Extensive teaching notes are presented here.

Student Questions for Exploring the Case:

Potential Activities to Use with the Case:

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


Assessing the Use of Investigative Cases

Student Products for Assessment
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

Selected Web Resources:


Geoscience:Hydrology:Surface Water:Water Management and Policy, Environmental Science:Ecosystems:Biogeochemical cycling, Environmental Science:Policy:Local Policy, Environmental Decision-Making, Geoscience:Hydrology:Surface Water:Water Quality/Chemistry , Biology:Microbiology, Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climatology

Resource Type

Activities:Project, Assessments

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Ready for Use

Ready to Use

Environmental Policy


Earth System Topics

Biosphere, Surface Processes:Rivers and Lakes, Climate, Earth's Cycles:Hydrologic Cycle, Biosphere:Ecology, Human Dimensions:Policy, Waste, Hydrology:Surface Water, Human Dimensions:Land Use


Human Dimensions/Resources, Hydrosphere/Cryosphere:Surface Water:Water Management and Policy, Water Quality/Chemistry, Biosphere, Climate, Energy/Material cycles


Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Biogeoscience, Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Public Policy, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Hydrology/Hydrogeology, Atmospheric Science, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Climate Change, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Water

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