Every day, we face challenges that require new and innovative solutions. At a time when the complexity of these challenges is growing exponentially, educators must prepare students to make sense of complicated facts, think critically, and come to informed conclusions. Put simply, education for the future must teach students how to think.
Educators and educational researchers alike are discovering that inductive methods--in which learners start with specific observations, problems, or cases and infer general laws from these instances--are more effective when higher-order thinking is the primary goal (Yadav et al. 2007). For decades, the case-study method has been widely used in law and business schools, but is less common in secondary education.
A common misconception is that cases should be used for reinforcement or as examples to demonstrate concepts. Although using cases in this manner can be effective for reflection and application, cases used in case-based teaching are the primary method of instruction--they draw students in with interactive stories or real-life situations and cover the content. Case studies are written more like novels than textbooks--often containing a plot, characters, and dialogue--and may even engage students in role-playing exercises.
In this article, I provide three examples of case-based teaching that can be effectively used in high school biology, environmental science, or astronomy classrooms.
Case study #1: The art of a deal
In today's interconnected world, solutions often require careful consideration of various borders, cultures, religions, and ideologies. Generally, there is no easy answer, and any
The Kyoto Protocol.
In December 1997, nations from around the world met in Kyoto, Japan, to discuss worldwide solutions to global warming. The summit resulted in an agreement known as the "Kyoto Protocol," a historic worldwide treaty to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases. When the treaty went into effect in 2005, 141 nations had ratified it. The United States was noticeably absent (CBC News 2007). favorable outcome will require compromise and artful negotiation. In the first case study, "The Art of a Deal: A Kyoto Protocol Simulation" (Cowlishaw et al. 2007), groups of three to four students represent various countries and negotiate agreements to limit global carbon dioxide emissions.
FIGURE 1 The "Art of a Deal: A Kyoto Protocol Simulation" questions. * What are two things that society can do to limit greenhouse gas emissions? * Describe the general relationship between per capita carbon dioxide emissions and per capita income. Briefly explain. * When comparing Australia to China, which country is more "efficient" at generating wealth if you consider carbon dioxide a waste product?
Following an introductory discussion on greenhouse-gas emissions and the Kyoto Protocol (see "The Kyoto Protocol"), groups begin negotiations to reduce carbon dioxide "units." Those groups that represent industrialized countries start with a certain amount of money and carbon dioxide units; developing countries start with less money, but have carbon dioxide credits for sale. Countries must cooperate to reduce emissions, or carbon dioxide units, but compete to end up with the highest score--the key is to spend as little money as possible and avoid harming the country's economy by giving up too many units.
This case provides a meaningful platform for discussing global warming and a comprehensive global solution in an environmental science class, and sparks discussion about politics, public policy, international relations, and sociology. Figure 1 is a list of the critical-thinking questions students address in this case.
Case study #2: The peculiar case of Pluto
In the second case study, "A Rose by Any Other Name: The Peculiar Case of Pluto" (Schulz 2005), students are introduced to Maria, the fictional chair of the Committee on Small Body Nomenclature for the International Astronomical Union. Maria's committee is faced with the decision of whether to reclassify Pluto as a minor planet.
Should Pluto be considered a planet?
In 2006, amid a storm of controversy, the International Astronomical Union officially designated Pluto as a "dwarf planet." The reason: Pluto has not cleared the neighborhood around its orbit--in fact, its orbit overlaps with that of Neptune (UCLA 2010).
FIGURE 2 "A Rose by Any Other Name: The Peculiar Case of Pluto" questions. * Compare the orbital and physical characteristics of Pluto with those of the other eight planets. Is Pluto more like a terrestrial planet, a Jovian planet, or neither? Support your answer with data. * What factors (orbital, physical, historical, social) do you think the Committee on Small Body Nomenclature should consider in defining the word planet? * Considering all the data you examined and all the arguments proposed, how would you define the word planet? According to your definition, what is Pluto?
This activity is used in astronomy or Earth and space science classes. While reading the story and working through the controversy, students must consider characteristics of planets and the solar system in their decision to reclassify Pluto as a minor planet, or not (see "Should Pluto be considered a planet?").
In all, students "cover" as much as two chapters of a typical astronomy textbook while working their way through this story (Figure 2). But, more important, students use the information instead of simply memorizing it; their knowledge becomes a tool used to solve a dilemma--much the way scientists use new knowledge to solve problems.
Learning in the context of meaningful situations helps students remember information in a logical, unified way that fosters understanding and the ability to transfer their new understanding to similar situations (Goldman, Petrosino, and Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt 1999).
Case study #3: Cell phone use and cancer
"Alisa, please. Get off your cell phone already," says Alisas mother.
"But, Mom, I want to talk with my friends!" Alisa whines in response. Annoyed by her mother's impatience, she mumbles: "Anyway, weekends are free, you know."
"This is not about the money, this is about your health. I've heard that there is a link between cell phones and cancer," Alisas mother explains (Colon Parrilla 2007).
Through the scenario presented in this third case study, students are drawn into what is likely a familiar situation.
They explore scientific inquiry and question the validity of scientific statements as they compare media reports of a link between cell phone usage and cancer using a research article published in the journal Epidemiology (Lonn et al. 2005).
This case study is divided into three parts. Part I requires students to read and think about several headlines, all reporting on the same study:
"Long-Term Cell Phone Use Spurs Tumor Growth" (Mercola 2004),
"Study Indicates Mobile Phones Increase Tumor Risk"
(USA Today 2004),
"Mobile Phone Use and Acoustic Neuroma" (Swedish Research Council 2004),
"Study Links Mobile Phones, Benign Tumors" (Associated Press 2004), and
"Cell Phone-Tumor Link Found?" (Cosgrove-Mather 2004).
Immediately, students can see notable differences among the headlines.
In Part II, students work in groups of three to four, read the articles that coincide with the headlines from Part I, and answer a series of questions designed to foster critical thinking according to principles of scientific inquiry.
Students read the Epidemiology research study in Part III and compare those findings to the information the articles report. Figure 3 is a sample of the critical-thinking questions students grapple with in this case.
Although this case was originally written for use in a postsecondary general biology course, it can easily be used in a high school biology class. The guiding questions are well within the ability of high school students. Reading the original scientific paper might be a challenge, but teachers can have students read limited portions of the paper, or let them tackle the entire thing--a little challenge can be good!
FIGURE 3 "Cell Phone Use and Cancer" questions. * What information about the scientific research can be inferred by reading the headlines? * What is the purpose of the research outlined in these news articles? * When analyzing the headlines, what questions arise about the methodology and conclusions of the experiment? * Compare the scientific data in the press articles with those in the scientific paper. * How do scientists report the results of their experiments? Why is it important to disseminate this information?
Stories engage students' interest, imagination, intuition, insight, and wisdom, so it is no surprise that teachers report strengthened critical thinking and increased understanding when using case-based instruction. In a national survey of postsecondary faculty and high school teachers, Yadav and colleagues (2007) found that the majority of respondents agreed on a multitude of instructional benefits of case-based instruction (Figure 4). These benefits include stronger critical-thinking skills, deeper understanding, and the ability to see an issue from multiple perspectives.
How could a methodology with such obvious benefits not be more common? Yadav and colleagues (2007) found two perceived obstacles: assessment of student learning and the pressure to cover more content. Pertinent content can be covered using a case-based approach and students can answer standard multiple-choice questions, but a thorough and authentic assessment of their learning must include much more. These strategies may include questions that require higher-level thinking--such as synthesis or evaluation--but will more than likely also include student products (e.g., concept webs, drawings, letters), classroom discourse (e.g., discussion, debates), and various other methods that require students to use knowledge in a way that demonstrates understanding.
Science learning research indicates that higher-level understanding requires students to actively engage with information by thinking critically about ideas, making informed conclusions, communicating their findings, and reflecting on their learning (Collins 2006). Case-based teaching promotes these habits of mind. It models scientific reasoning and creates a classroom environment that simulates the type of real-world problem solving congruent with the nature of science.
When scientists are confronted with a problem, they gather information to solve that problem. Why shouldn't students learn the same way? In the words of E. Kim Nebeuts, "to state a theorem and then to show examples is literally to teach backwards" (Eves 1988). Let us instead teach forward, with case studies!
For more information on the possible link between cell phones and cancer, see the Health Wise column in the March 2009 issue of The Science Teacher (Liberatore 2009).
On the web
National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCST) at the University of Buffalo: http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs
Associated Press. 2004. Study Links Mobile Phones, Benign Tumors. October 14. www.redorbit.com/news/general/93891/study_links_ mobile_phones_benign_tumors/index.html
CBC News. 2007. Kyoto Protocol FAQs. February 14. www.cbc.ca/ news/background/kyoto
Collins, A. 2006. Cognitive apprenticeship. In The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences, ed. R.K. Sawyer, 47-60. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Colon Parrilla, W.V. 2007. Cell-phone use and cancer: A case study exploring the scientific method. Journal of College Science Teaching 37 (1): 20-24.
Cosgrove-Mather, B. CBS News. 2004. Cell phone-tumor link found? October 14. www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/10/14/health/ main649429.shtml
Cowlishaw, R., C. Hunter, J. Coy, and M. Tessmer. 2007. The art of a deal: A Kyoto protocol simulation. Journal of College Science Teaching 37 (1): 17-19.
Eves, H. 1988. Return to mathematical circles. Boston: Prindle, Weber and Schmidt.
Goldman, S.R., A.L. Petrosino, and Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. 1999. Design principles for instruction in
content domains: Lessons from research on expertise and Learning. Handbook of applied cognition, ed. F.T. Durson, 595-627. New York: Wiley and Sons.
Herreid, C.F. 2006. Start with a story. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.
Liberatore, S. 2009. Health Wise: Do cell phones really harm the brain? The Science Teacher 76 (3): 70-71.
Lonn, S., A. Ahlbom, P. Hall, M. Feychting, and the Swedish Interphone Study Group. 2005. Long-term mobile phone use and brain tumor risk. American Journal of Epidemiology 161 (6): 526-535.
Mercola. Mercola.com. 2004. Long-term cell phone use spurs tumor growth. October 27. www.mercola.com/2004/oct/27/cell_phone_ tumor.htm
Schulz, T.M. 2005. A rose by any other name: The peculiar case of Pluto. The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science Case Collection. www.sciencecases.org/pluto/pluto.asp
Swedish Research Council. 2004. Mobile phone use and acoustic neuroma. October 13. www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-10/ src-mpu101304.php
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). 2010. What makes a planet? www2.ess.ucla.edu/~jlm/epo/planet/planet.html
USA Today. 2004. Study indicates mobile phones increase tumor risk. October 14. www.usatoday.com/news/health/2004-10-14 mobile-tumor-risk_x.htm
Yadav, A., M. Lundeberg, M. DeSchryver, K. Dirkin, N.A. Schiller, K. Maier, and C.F. Herreid. 2007. Teaching science with case studies: A national survey of faculty perceptions of the benefits and challenges of using cases. Journal of College Science Teaching 37 (1): 34-38.
The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCST) at the University of Buffalo (see "On the web") is a gold mine for information on case-based teaching. The center's collection of free cases covers a broad range of disciplines and topics in science and other related fields. Each case includes student pages and a teaching guide and is often accompanied by answer keys and PowerPoint presentations.
Start With a Story is a compilation of over 40 essays from the Journal of College Science Teaching that offers strategies, tips, examples, ideas, and resources on case-based teaching (Herreid 2006). Although directed toward postsecondary teachers, the information in this book is easily transferable to secondary education.
Anthony Derriso (acderriso@crimson. ua.edu) is a former high school teacher and Toyota TAPESTRY recipient, who is now a doctoral candidate in educational psychology at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
FIGURE 4 Student learning perceptions: Critical thinking (Yadav et al. 2007). Disagree Agree Students are better able to view an issue from multiple perspectives 91.3 1.3 Students develop a deeper understanding of concepts 90.1 1.3 Students demonstrate stronger critical-thinking skills 88.8 2.5 Students make connections across multiple content areas 82.6 0 Students have increased their discussion of ethical issues 8.8 81.3…