A Sample Case:

Fleaing Louisiana

Here is a short biology case. First, see what the case is about. Read it through to get a sense of the story and issues. One surprisingly productive case-learning method is to have one student read the case out loud while the others in the group read along silently. This gets everyone "on the same page" and my students say it helps them get started.

Hint: Have a good dictionary and reference books available to be able to look things up quickly.

Fleaing Louisiana

 Moses Anders hung up the phone after talking with Ella Cardinale-Jones about her troubles. She had ticks on the dog, roaches in the house and hungry mosquitoes chewing up her kids. "Now Mr. Anders, I'm used to seeing some bugs around -- this is Louisiana. But it seems no matter what I do there are more and more of them. How can I get rid of them? I don't feel like my children are safe." Ms. Cardinale-Jones was the 19th caller about these insects this month, and it was only January 7th.

Moses Anders is an intern with the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service while he finishes his BS in biology. Moses dug out the last of the old tick, flea, and roach pamphlets in the files to send a copy to Ms. Cardinale-Jones. It said that these insects shouldn't be significant problems until late spring, it didn't mention mosquitoes, and the pamphlet did not really answer Ms. Cardinale-Jones questions.

He talked about this situation with Fran Collins, his internship mentor, an agent who has been with the Service for several years. "Yeah," she said, "it's been really busy this winter. In fact, it's been this way all the time for a couple of years now." She agreed with Moses that the pamphlet needed to be updated and that he could take on the project, once he'd given her a work plan and time line.

Moses and Judy Yee, an intern in the public health office, traded stories over lunch at one of the city's crowded outdoor cafes. She told him that the first case of Lyme disease in the area had recently been reported, and he told her about his new project. Their talk turned to the weather as they made their way back to work.

Case author: Margaret Waterman, 1996.

 

How to begin?


Individuals approach learning with cases in very different ways. You may wish to consider having students do one or more of the following after reading a case:

· Recognize potential issues

Go back and read the case again, this time noting words or phrases that seem to be important to understanding what the case is about. If students have a hard copy, they may underline these phrases. They are looking for "learning issues' that they might explore further. They might jot down ideas and questions about these phrases. If students are working in a group, this approach might be done as a group discussion, with one person keeping a list of issues (maybe on the chalkboard) as they are raised.

Here's an example of some of the kinds of issues raised in one paragraph of Fleaing Louisiana:

 Moses Anders hung up the phone after talking with Ella Cardinale-Jones about her trouble. She had ticks on the dog, roaches in the house and hungry mosquitos chewing up her kids. "Now Mr. Anders, I'm used to seeing some bugs around -- this is Louisiana. But it seems no matter what I do there are more and more of them. How can I get rid of them? I don't feel like my children are safe." Ms. Cardinale-Jones was the 19th caller about these insects this month, and it was only January 7th.

What we know now: It's January in Louisiana. There are lots of insects, perhaps more than usual, and people with safety concerns are calling Moses Anders about this.

Potential learning issues: Insect populations and the factors that affect them. Problems posed to humans by insects. Insect control measures. Unusual insect occurrences in winter. The job held by Moses that would lead people to call him.

· Brainstorm for connections

There are several ways to do this. One way is to think about the case as a whole and see if there are underlying themes. Global warming, insect borne diseases and careers in biology are some themes many people identify for "Fleaing Louisiana."

Another way to brainstorm is to list questions students raise as a result of reading the case. Using the first paragraph again as an example, here are some questions raised by learners who have worked with this case:

Why are there lots of insects in January? What affects the number of insects at any given time of year? Are there more than usual? What is the usual pattern?

Why is Ms. Cardinale-Jones concerned for the safety of her children? What diseases do ticks, roaches and mosquitos carry? Are there other reasons besides disease to be concerned about these insects?

What can Ms. Cardinale-Jones do to control the insects? What advice should Moses give her? What is the biology of ticks? Roaches? Mosquitos?

Why are people calling Moses Anders about this? What do they think he knows or can do for them? What sorts of jobs deal with these issues?

· Pose specific questions

The questions raised by the brainstorming can lead to different learning activities. Remember that the goal with cases is to develop problems of interest to students, that can be investigated using the tools of science.

"One of the greatest challenges in biology is to frame appropriate and productive questions that can be pursued by the technology at hand. You have probably had a great deal of experience in solving pre-posed problems, such as those found at the end of textbook chapters. However, if you were asked to go into a lab or out in a field and pose a research question, you will find that this is often difficult to do without some practice....

(The BioQUEST Library IV: A Note to the Student 1996)

Here is an analysis of some of the different types of learning that might follow from some of the questions on the brainstorming list.


 Further brainstorming.   "Why is Ms. Cardinale-Jones concerned for the safety of her children?" or "What affects the number of insects at any given time of year?" or "What sorts of jobs deal with these issues?"
 Searching out basic facts.   "What diseases do the insects carry?" or "What is the biology of ticks?" These questions in and of themselves do not pose a scientific research problem, but learning more about these may lead to other questions that are scientific.
 Finding information, analyzing it and finding patterns.  "What is the usual pattern of insects in Louisiana?" and "Is it different this year?" These questions might lead you to the Internet or elsewhere to get insect sampling data for analysis.
 Decision making.  What advice should Moses give her?" You will need to understand the issues, and evaluate the consequences of the options before you can answer this question.
 Scientific investigations.  "What affects the number of insects at any given time of year?" could be refined to focus on climatic variables. These could then be investigated by modeling (with Biota or EDM), by actually collecting weather and insect population data, by using data sets collected by others, or by finding published information on the topic.

Brainstorming can lead to a long list of questions, not all of which there is time to pursue. Have groups spend time identifying a few key questions of interest. Students are usually careful to use the contextual clues provided by the course title, syllabus topics, etc., as ways to help them narrow the list of potential topics. But you never know, a student may become very interested in a good question that is only tangential to the case. If the goal is to learn to pose questions, solve problems, and argue convincingly, and if the student's question is about biology, some teachers might decide any topic related to the case is fair game.

· Obtain additional references/resources

No matter what type of question learners pose, it is likely they will seek and use other resources to help them support and research a reasonable answer. Resources may include textbooks; other library materials; results of computer simulations; results of lab or field research; articles, data sets, maps, emails, or other electronically based resources; pamphlets from organizations; interviews with experts; museum exhibits, etc. Encourage students to be creative in seeking information.

· Define problems further by sharing views and concerns

Why are some research questions considered better than others? What are the cultural, personal, and political biases that influence what questions are posed and how they are posed?

(The BioQUEST Library IV: A Note to the Student 1996)

As learners define problems and frame specific questions to investigate, it will be important for them to consult with others: most likely members of the group or other classmates. Talking about ideas and plans with others is an important step in refining problems, and can lead to different perspectives that might help shape good research problems. Encourage learners to continue this practice of sharing with others as they gather evidence in answer to the problem and as they prepare to present conclusions. Such conversation and collaboation is a hallmark of the work of scientists

 

We've got a question, now what?


Once the students clearly define a problem they wish to investigate, you might consider proposing that they do any of the following:

· Design and conduct investigations utilizing:

laboratory /field methods
computers (software modules, spreadsheets, graphics, etc.)
new sources (further references, interviews, etc.)

· Initiate debate on views or outcome

(For "Fleaing Louisiana," a debate on global warming might be something teams of students might choose to prepare. )

 

How to end? (peer persuasion)


"... you must confront the issue of closure in research. How do you know when you have a "right" answer? When is research done? Scientists do not arrive at a final answer; usually research is abandoned for a variety of reasons, including time, resources, and most importantly when the scientific research team is "satisfied" with their conclusions, that is when the solution is "useful" for some purpose."

(The BioQUEST Library IV: A Note to the Student 1996)

When learners are ready to present their own conclusions, consider asking them to do one or more of the following:

· Develop analyses/reports to persuade others of your ideas

"Research is not complete, no matter how many experiments have been conducted, no matter how many puzzles have been solved, until peers outside of a research team are persuaded of the utility of the answers. Persuasion is a social process and an essential one for you to experience in order to understand the nature of scientific theories and paradigm shifts. Communication in the science community is an active process full of controversy and debate. The productive side of science involves open criticism of the methods and conclusions made by a research group. This controversy and debate is important to the creation and acceptance of new scientific knowledge."
(The BioQUEST Library IV: A Note to the Student 1996)

· Produce materials that support understanding of the conclusions you are making

The possibilities for these materials are vast: posters, poetry, plays, videos, booklets, pamphlets, consulting reports (if you are role playing), artwork, designs for new technology, scientific reports, a new case study, etc.

For Fleaing Louisiana, learners might produce a new pamphlet, a scientifically based public talk of the kind extension agents offer, a set of insect control guidelines, or a fictional email exchange between opponents and proponents of global warming. Any of these would depend on student scientific investigations of the questions.

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