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Investigative Case - "Swampeast Missouri"

Developed for Lifelines Online by Michelle Fisher at Three Rivers Community College, Poplar Bluff, Missouri. (http://www.bioquest.org/lifeline/ ( This site may be offline. ) )

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


Students will explore wetland hydrology and biology and decide whether or not to restore a wetland or retain dams and drainage systems. They will examine the complexity of decisions regarding wetland restoration as well as investigate viewpoints of various stakeholders in the draining of wetlands. While set in Missouri, the case can apply to any wetland conservation or restoration project.

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Learning Goals

At the end of this module, students will be able to:
  • explore the structure and functions of wetlands.
  • use standard field sampling tools and techniques to identify the various types of wetlands.
  • analyze a case study.
  • consider various alternatives for use of wetlands.
  • research biological, social, political, and economic components of decision making.
  • understand the importance of ecological interactions and the impact of humans.
  • simulate and evaluate field sampling of wetlands.

Context for Use

This case is appropriate for introductory Geoscience, Environmental Science, Biology classes for major or nonmajors. It has lab and field components in which students conduct water quality sampling in the field independently and then bring the data back to class for discussion. Suitable for starting a unit on wetlands.

http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/icbl/size.html - Different types of objectives can be accomplished by implementing case-based learning in different sized classes.

http://serc.carleton.edu/introgeo/icbl/adapt.html- What issues need to be taken into account before introducing cases to your class?

Teaching Materials

Scenario - Swampeast Missouri!

Nate Eddleman had just graduated from college and become an ecological preservationist. Before beginning his new career he wanted to spend some time discovering his roots. He came to the Bootheel of Southeast Missouri to grow closer to his great-grandfather Sam and learn more about how Sam kept his family afloat during the Great Depression. While in the region, Nate also wanted to enjoy the outdoors and historical sites.

He chose to camp at Lake Wappapello with his great-grandfather to enjoy his company and do some fishing. One evening, the two sat at the campfire and Grandpa shared some stories of helping to develop the region. Nate took notes:

Grandpa helped build the miles of channels and ditches to drain the region of swamps. The land was considered uninhabitable. Only Indians would come to the swamps seasonally to hunt the abundant animals and to fish. By then, railroads were being built and the cypress trees from these "useless" swamps were strong and made excellent railroad ties. The trees were also used to build homes, such as the Hunter-Dawson home in New Madrid.

Once the swamps were drained, they found that the soil was rich. More people began to settle in the region hoping to make a buck. Early, the land was practically given away, now it is one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the United States.

Grandpa also told about helping build the dam in the '40's to control flooding and create this beautiful lake. The recreation area helps the region economically. Many people are now building homes along the lake to "get away from it all".

Of all that his great-grandfather said, what surprised Nate the most was to learn the area was once covered by swamps. He wondered how much of this swamp land was removed to develop the area.

Nate felt very passionately about wetlands. While in college, Nate studied the hydrology of wetlands and how species depend on the changes in water level. He understood the value of wetlands. He loved his great-grandfather, but was disappointed at the destruction of the great swamp. But, then Nate realized that people didn't know about the value of wetlands to people and wildlife in his grandpa's day.

Nate began to wonder how the great swamp might be restored. Can we tear the dam down? How else could these swamps be brought back?"

Sample Questions Resulting From Case Analysis
  • Economic Issues: How do agriculture and recreation bring income to the area? Could restoring the wetlands bring income by improving water quality or providing habitat for ducks for hunters?
  • Biological Issues: What species are found in Wappapello Lake? Would these populations be harmed in the dam was destroyed? What species depend on wetlands for their life cycle? Are any of these species rare or endangered? Could wetland restoration increase population size of these organisms? What roles do wetlands play in water recycling?
  • Political Issues: Who is responsible for the dam? Who maintains the drainage ditches? Who monitors the species present in the area? How would each of these organisms feel about this issue?
  • Social Issues: Who lives in the area? How would these people be affected by the decision made? How do people in the area feel about this issue? Would their opinion change if educated on the topic?
Potential Activities and Investigations

Note: investigations may be entirely student generated or investigative laboratory experiences that the instructor arranges for the entire class. Sometimes a combination of both works well.

  • Activity 1: Read Dam Fools, by James V. Long and answer questions regarding the material for discussion.
  • Activity 2: Read case scenario Dam It! I'm in Swampeast Missouri! Students will work in groups of four and decide what the case is about, what they already know, and what they want to learn. Students should be directed to consider biological, social, economic and political aspects of the issue. Groups will prepare a poster to convince the class of their decision.
  • Activity 3: Locate maps of the region prior to draining of the swamps. Compare to current maps. How do the bodies of water differ over time?
  • Activity 4: Collaborate with the Missouri Department of Conservation-Long Term Resource Monitoring Program to conduct comparison studies of water quality of Lake Wappapello and Mingo Wildlife Refuge, considering biological, chemical, and physical components. Identify plant and animal species in both location. How do they differ? Are any considered to be rare or endangered?
  • Activity 5: Research organizations that are helping to conserve wetlands in Southeast Missouri. What are they doing? What can you do?
  • Activity 6: Visit WebQuest Site: Cracking Dams ( This site may be offline. )

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

Students will work as groups to develop a poster showing background information, issues addressed, and their decision made. Students will present their poster and convince the class of their decision.

Students will write a laboratory report on their observations of Lake Wappapello and Mingo Wildlife Refuge. Data showing biological, chemical, physical will be giving. Based on data, students will determine the quality of the water.

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

DeLong, James V. "Dam Fools." Reason April, 1998. Online. Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, Government & Political News/Legislative News.
Internet Sites:
WebQuest activity: Cracking Dams ( This site may be offline. )
Mingo National Wildlife Refuge: http://midwest.fws.gov/Mingo/
Wetlands in Missouri - Wetland Values: http://www.mdc.mo.gov/landown/wetland/wetmng/2.htm
The Wetlands of Missouri: http://mdc.mo.gov/landown/wetland/wetmng/1.htm
The Little River Drainage: http://gideon.k12.mo.us/town/river3.htm
St. Francis River Watershed - Inventory and Assessment: Inventory and Assessment
Habitat Conditions: http://mdc.mo.gov/fish/watershed/stfranc/habitat/380hctxt.htm
Report: Wetlands Restoration in Waiting: http://www.sierraclub.org/wetlands/reports/wetland_restoration
Supreme Court Removes Wetlands Protections: http://www.sierraclub.org/wetlands/news/jan9_01.asp
Sierra Club - Wetlands: http://www.sierraclub.org/wetlands/
A Tree in Paradise: http://www.mdc.mo.gov/conmag/2000/05/20.htm
Malden Historical Museum: http://www.maldenmuseum.com/display7.html
History of Mingo Swamp: http://midwest.fws.gov/Mingo/history.html
Lake Wappapello State Park: http://www.mostateparks.com/lakewappapello.htm
US EPA - Environmental Documents: http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-IMPACT/1999/July/Day-12/i17621.htm
Missouri Department of Agriculture: http://www.mda.mo.gov/