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Investigative Case - Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps

Developed by Monica Bruckner, Montana State University, based on the Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps WebQuest by Sarah Bordenstein, Marine Biological Laboratory.
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


The Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps WebQuest features a guided exploration of microbial diversity. It introduces students to the extreme habitat of the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp and encourages them to explore characteristics of the microorganisms that live there. The WebQuest applies the personification theme of Aesop's Fables as a means to acquaint students with protists. It challenges them to search for microbial "personality traits" and to implement these traits into a creative storyline. Through the use of on-line images, descriptions, videos, and reference sites, students will carefully research specific protists while independently developing observational skills essential to microbiology. Upon completion of this WebQuest, students should be able to differentiate protists based on physical characteristics and specialized forms of locomotion, describe the microbial diversity of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps, and apply learned observational skills to hands-on laboratory activities.

Learning Goals

At the end of this WebQuest, students will:

Context for Use

This WebQuest activity is appropriate for introductory Geoscience, Environmental Science, and Biology classes for major or nonmajors. It contains thought-provoking concepts that utilize internet resources in which students learn about the diversity of microbiota in the White Cedar Swamps as well as use their creativity to create a story that disseminates what they have learned about these creatures and their environment through the WebQuest experience. To learn more about the philosophy behind and design of WebQuests, read an introduction to WebQuests.

Teaching Materials

Materials and more detailed information can be obtained from the original Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps WebQuest, part of the Microbial Life Educational Resources project.

Beginning the WebQuest

Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps utilizes a centuries old tradition of storytelling called anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena. Before beginning this activity, it is recommended to introduce students to the term. While the word may sound intimidating, this form of storytelling is a common part of modern-day society. Many students have read Charlotte's Web or Animal Farm, and are familiar with Mickey Mouse. A class discussion about the use of this form of storytelling can be quite entertaining. For example, why are raccoons commonly portrayed as bandits, owls as wise, and penguins as plump aristocrats? Why are bats scary and bunnies lovable? It is also important to discuss that these traits are not scientifically accurate; rather they are often applied for entertainment value. Aesop used them to teach about morals and ethics, while many animals today have been personified to bring awareness to conservation issues.

This WebQuest is designed for groups of three students. Each student has two major responsibilities: biological background and contribution to the storyline. Prior to beginning the WebQuest, a formal Scoping Session is suggested where duties are assigned and where team members discuss milestones and timelines. As a group, students should first research protists, in general, and the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp habitat. This can even be done together as a class or the night before as a reading assignment. Students will then choose three microbes to investigate in detail, using carefully chosen resources. Resources include images, descriptions, videos, and reference sites. Once students are confident with their knowledge of the selected microbes, they will meet together as a group to share notes. Every member should share pictures and/or videos of their microbes accompanied with brief descriptions and speculative "personality traits." The group will then produce a creative story using anthropomorphism, possibly in the fashion of Aesop. Groups will present their story to the class in the form of a live storytelling performance and preserve their masterpiece in the form of an illustrated short story. These stories may be contribued to Microbial Life for review and potential publication on the site. Contact mler@mbl.edu for more information.

Variations and Interdisciplinary Applications

Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps can be adapted to fit your needs. Ten microorganisms from Atlantic White Cedar Swamps are highlighted in this activity. You can instruct students to include all of the organisms in the storyline or just a few. They may also be encouraged to research other microbes that live in this habitat and locate their own resources.

It is recommended to coordinate this activity with another teacher. Collaboration with an English/Literature teacher will enhance the background and understanding of stories using anthropomorphism, such as Aesop's Fables. For example, students can complete an in-depth study of Aesop's Fables in English class, focus on biological concepts and processes in your class, and combine the two to produce a relevant storyline about microbes. Collaboration with an Art teacher, on the other hand, might help students focus on the imaginative aspect of the project. Students benefit from having artistic guidance as they attempt to personify microbes in their illustrated story.

Teaching Notes and Tips


Evaluation can be carried out in a number of ways: storytelling performance, illustrated short story, group participation, and any reports you might require throughout the activity. It is recommended that students become aware of evaluation procedures prior to entering the WebQuest.

The evaluation rubric is designed to help ensure uniform evaluation of the storytelling performance, illustrated short story, and group participation. It is also in Word format (Microsoft Word 32kB Aug4 05) and may be modified to fit your needs.


At the end of this WebQuest, students should be able to:

Students' stories should be well-written and supported by evidence from credible web and non-web sources such as journal/magazine articles, textbooks, etc.

Another measure of success for this WebQuest activity is general student feedback-this may include comments made by students regarding the activity itself, if students continue discussing the topic after or outside of class time, or if students contribute to the discussion with their own thoughtful ideas (during the activity itself, subsequent class periods, or outside of class).

National Education Standards

The core of this WebQuest addresses the following National Science Education Standards:

The core of this WebQuest addresses the following NCTE English Language Arts Standard:

References and Resources

This WebQuest has been adapted from the Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps module, which is part of the Microbial Life Educational Resources Project. Resources specific to the Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps WebQuest may be found here.


Biology:Diversity, Microbiology, Ecology:Metabolism

Resource Type

Computer Applications, Activities:Project:Investigative Case Studies, Activities:Classroom Activity, Project

Grade Level

High School (9-12), College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level, Middle (6-8)

Ready for Use

Ready to Use

Earth System Topics

Biosphere:Ecology, Diversity, Biosphere


Microbiology, Diversity, Ecology:Habitats:Freshwater, Biosphere:Ecology


Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience

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