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Investigative Case - "The Sky is Falling"

Developed for Lifelines Online by Tiffany Davidson, Sharlonne Rollin, and Nicohl Shelton. (www.bioquest.org/lifelines/)
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project
Initial Publication Date: May 13, 2008 | Reviewed: November 25, 2019


Students will generate maps of ozone concentrations, graph air quality indices, and propose solutions to problems with the ozone and air quality, specifically smog.

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Learning Goals

Students will:
  1. Analyze and interpret data.
  2. Make oral and visual presentations working cooperatively and demonstrating critical thinking skills.
  3. Investigate causes of smog and ozone depletion and propose solutions.

Context for Use

This case is appropriate for use in an entry level Earth Science, Environmental Science or Meteorology class. It requires no field work and could be conducted in class or in lab.

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


The state of Georgia is suffering from enormously high levels of smog. In addition, the climate is dangerously hot and humid. It has been suggested that the high levels of smog and hot weather can be attributed to the high volume of automobiles in use in Georgia, as well as the depletion of ozone via increased use of aerosols. State officials, along with the EPA are proposing two solutions to Georgia's problem:

  1. Limiting the use of aerosol sprays in households and businesses, and
  2. Restricting the number of vehicles that may be in use per household during a given period of time.

At this time, the state of Georgia is looking for qualified individuals to develop and implement a plan of action based on the above two proposed solutions. Qualified individuals should possess 3-5 years of working experience in the areas of environmental science and air quality/pollution. The term of the assignment will be five to seven years with a salary of $200K per year. If interested, please contact A. Jackson at (404) 543-2100.

Be prepared to submit a detailed plan of action proposal.

Suggested Student Questions for Exploring the Case:
  • What is ozone and how is it depleted?
  • What causes smog?
  • What are specific examples of aerosol sprays?
  • What component of aerosol sprays are pollutants?

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.

Suggested Student Products for use in Assessment of Learning

In addition to their plan of action, they should have graphs from the air quality indices over the past 6 months, the ozone-generated map of the state or city, information explaining smog (cause and effect), and information on the ozone layer and ways in which it can be depleted. All of the above should be compiled and displayed on a project board.

Additionally, students should:

  • Display high levels of team work in the creation of an action plan.
  • Successfully transfer observable data onto graphs and charts.
  • Effectively present and defend their action plan to the clean air committee (role played by the remainder of the class)

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

www.epa.gov: This site will provide information about air quality, pollution, and other environmental issues for your state. Students can search this site for further information.

www.accessatlanta.com (Keyword: Smog): Students can look up air quality indices for the past 6 months and develop a graph interpreting this data.

www.accessexcellence.org/AE/ATG/data/released/0291-JonFiorella/description.html: This website uses a rating systems to indicate the environmental air quality of your community. Students will be able to access this website, rate the quality of their community and present their findings in the form of a graph.

www.epa.gov/airnow (Go to OZONE MAPS, then click on the Maps Generator): Students can access this site and generate a map of their state with the different ozone levels.

www.glc.k12.ga.us/passwd/search/srchqcc/homepg.htm: This site deals with human interactions with the environment. Students can perform a pollution experiment, which estimates the effects human beings have on pollution and the environment.