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Investigative Case - Los Angeles and the Future of Mono Lake

Developed by Monica Bruckner, Montana State University, based on the Los Angeles and the Future of Mono Lake WebQuest by Sarah Bordenstein, Marine Biological Laboratory.

This resource received an Accept or Accept with minor revisions rating from a Panel Peer Review process

These materials were reviewed using face-to-face NSF-style review panel of geoscience and geoscience education experts to review groups of resources addressing a single theme. Panelists wrote reviews that addressed the criteria:

  1. scientific accuracy and currency
  2. usability and
  3. pedagogical effectiveness
Reviewers rated the resources:
  1. Accept
  2. Accept with minor revisions
  3. Accept with major revisions, or
  4. Reject.
They also singled out those resources they considered particularly exemplary, which are given a gold star rating.

Following the panel meetings, the conveners wrote summaries of the panel discussion for each resource; these were transmitted to the creator, along with anonymous versions of the reviews. Relatively few resources were accepted as is. In most cases, the majority of the resources were either designated as 1) Reject or 2) Accept with major revisions. Resources were most often rejected for their lack of completeness to be used in a classroom or they contained scientific inaccuracies.

This page first made public: Aug 30, 2006

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


The Los Angeles and the Future of Mono Lake WebQuest leads students in a guided exploration of Mono Lake's extreme environment and asks them to consider the preservation of this environment in relation to the needs of humans. It introduces students to extremophiles - particularly alkaliphiles and halophiles- by placing them in a personal and social issue. It uses the theme of students acting as political advisors, chosen to analyze the natural history and biological diversity of Mono Basin in the context of Los Angeles's need to drain water from the area. They are to create a persuasive presentation to be delivered in a mixed forum of Los Angeles citizens and Mono Lake environmentalists. You can be the skeptic and play the role of the devil's advocate.

Information regarding the philosophy behind and development of WebQuests is available.

Learning Goals

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

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 biology and ecology of Mono Lake as well as the controversy over whether or not to disturb the Mono Lake environment for human needs (i.e. water). More about the philosophy behind and design of WebQuests is available.

Teaching Materials

Materials and more detailed information can be obtained from the original Los Angeles and the Future of Mono Lake WebQuest, part of the Microbial Life Educational Resources project.

The Task:

Los Angeles is out of water! For years the population increased while the freshwater supply steadily decreased. The city is now dry and citizens of Los Angeles are desperate for help. Many people remember a time in history when water was diverted from the Mono Basin to supply the city's needs, although it harmed the lake. They are demanding that the action be repeated! In response, the mayor requests YOU to serve on an advisory panel of experts. He gives you his full trust and support, and will stand by any decision you make. The future of Mono Lake is in your hands...

Your advisory panel will consist of three experts. Together, you have been chosen to represent the biology and natural history of the Mono Basin. Your goal is to analyze the impact water diversion would have on Mono Lake and to represent the issues relating to our custodial responsibilities for our environment. Is Los Angeles justified in taking water from the Mono Basin?

Advice to the mayor should include the following background information:

Conclude the report with a recommendation and projections of what this might mean for the future of Mono Lake and/or Los Angeles.

Present your decision in a mixed forum of Los Angeles citizens and environmentalists. Your ability to persuasively communicate your position is essential to the future of both the Mono Basin and the City of Los Angeles.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This WebQuest is designed for groups of three students, each fulfilling an essential role of the advisory panel. First split the class into groups of three and then assign each individual in the group a particular role from the Process section of the WebQuest. A formal Scoping Session is suggested where duties are assigned and where they talk about 'milestones' and timelines. Students will research their roles by answering a set of directed questions- complete with web links- from the Resource section. Make sure students read the evaluation rubric prior to beginning the activity.


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

Student responses should be supported by evidence from credible web and non-web sources such as peer-reviewed journal 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/debating the topic after or outside of class time, or if students contribute to the discussion with their own thoughtful questions (during the activity itself, subsequent class periods, or outside of class).

National Education Standards

The core of this WebQuest satisfies the following 9-12 National Science Education Standards:


This is where you- and other teachers or students- can have some fun! To carry out the entire theme of the WebQuest, act as the mayor and invite other teachers or students to act as the mixed forum of citizens and environmentalists. Ask the presenters questions as if they were in a press conference. If the groups are split in their decisions, arrange the presentations in the form of a debate. You can judge the presentations based on how persuasive and informative they are. You may use the evaluation rubric (Microsoft Word 36kB Oct7 04) to assist in your grading.

References and Resources

These activities have been adapted from the Los Angeles and the Future of Mono Lake module, which is part of the Microbial Life Educational Resources Project. Resources specific to the Los Angeles/Mono Lake WebQuest is available.


Biology:Diversity, Environmental Science:Land Use and Planning, Water Quality and Quantity, Biology:Ecology:Metabolism, Biology:Microbiology

Resource Type

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

Grade Level

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

Ready for Use

Ready to Use:Meets Peer Review Standard:Anonymous Peer Review, Ready to Use

Earth System Topics

Human Dimensions:Resources, Land Use, Environmental Quality, Biosphere:Diversity, Biosphere, Ecology


Human Dimensions/Resources, Biosphere:Microbiology, Ecology:Habitats:Freshwater, Biosphere:Ecology


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

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