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Investigative Case - "Malama Keone'o'io"

Developed for Lifelines Online by Ann Coopersmith at Maui Community College. (http://www.bioquest.org/lifelines/)
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Students will learn techniques for conducting a local environmental assessment in an ecologically sensitive area. Identification of native plants and methodologies for sampling will be taught in the classroom and then reinforced in the field. The module also includes a community awareness and conservation aspect.

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Learning Goals

At the end of the module, students will be able to:
  • Analyze a case study
  • Recognize common Hawaiian leeward coastal native and introduced plants
  • Use standard field sampling tools and techniques
  • Simulate and evaluate field sampling strategies
  • Design and carry out a field survey project
  • Prepare community conservation information materials

Context for Use

This case is appropriate for entry level Environmental Science or Botany class. The case can involve field work as well as class and lab activities.

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


Auntie Pua and Uncle Bully came over to Maui from O'ahu for the weekend to visit their family. After a morning of swimming and a picnic lunch on the sunny, white sands of Makena Beach, they drove south across the stark, black lava fields to Keone'o'io.

The road ended at a beautiful bay. People were fishing, children were playing in the water, a tent was set up, and some kayakers were paddling off shore.

They approached a local woman resting under a keawe tree. "Who owns this place?" they asked. "I don't know that anyone does," she replied. "But we hear talk that developers want to make it into a tourist place."

Pua and Bully spent several hours exploring the rugged lava fields where they found ancient Hawaiian home sites, unusual ponds, and some plants they had never seen before.

When they got to their nephew, Kimo's, house they told him about the special place they had visited and people they had met. "That place reminds me of what Hanauma Bay on O'ahu used to be like 40 years ago before it was overrun with people," said Auntie. "What can you boys who work down at the Department of Land & Natural Resources do to help protect it?"

Kimo expressed his concern and said that the plants they were describing sounded like some rare and endangered endemic Hawaiian species. He went on to explain that there needed to be a survey of the natural resources of the area and a thorough environmental impact statement prepared if any development was planned.

When Kimo got to work on Monday, he told his boss, Bob, about the situation. Bob got right on the phone and arranged for a local environmental assessment company to investigate and begin the survey immediately.

You work for that company and you have been assigned to manage this project.

Suggested Student Questions
  • What and how many rare and endangered plants are found in this area?
  • How should the survey be conducted?
  • How can it be done to protect this area from further development?
Potential Student Activities
  • Plant identification and keying at the Maui Community College and the Maui Botanical Garden: Students use dichotomous keys, native plant web sites and references to learn to identify the common leeward coastal plants.
  • Classroom simulation of sampling: Students use objects of different colors or shapes (such as animal crackers or seeds) to simulate field sampling techniques and limitations. Methods include transects and quadrats. Data will be collected, graphed, and evaluated. Short reports will be written.
  • Field sampling and mapping using transects, quadrats, and GPS/GIS equipment: Students will survey the plants at Keone'o'io and prepare an ArcView GIS map of the area.
  • BioQuest EcoBeaker: Random Sampling Simulation and analysis.
  • Conservation strategy group projects. In collaborative groups, students will discuss various methods for preservation of the natural habitat they have studied. Each group will present a community awareness method (such as pamphlet, poster, video, public service announcement, slide show for community meeting presentation, fair booth)

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.


Suggested Student Products for use in Assessment of Learning
  • Data and written analysis of lab activities and EcoBeaker random sampling simulation
  • Distribution data and map of plants in the Keone'o'io coastal region
  • Field observation notes
  • Group conservation strategy materials (such as pamphlet, poster, video, public service announcement, slide show, community meeting presentation, fair booth)

References and Resources

Field Identification Guides
  • Merlin, M.D. 1980. Hawaiian Coastal Plants
  • Wagner, W.L., D.R. Herbst, and S.H. Sohmer. 1999. Manual of the Flowering Plants of Hawai'i
  • Whistler, W.A. 1994. Flowers of the Pacific Island Seashore
Web Sites
Laboratory & Field Methods
  • Hendry and Grime. 1993. Methods in comparative plant ecology
  • Coopersmith. 1999. Classroom simulation of random sampling


Biology:Ecology:Principles, Environmental Science:Ecosystems:Habitats:Invasive species, Biology:Plant Biology

Resource Type

Assessments, Activities:Project

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Ready for Use

Ready to Use

Earth System Topics

Biosphere:Ecology, Biosphere


Human Dimensions/Resources, Biosphere


Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science