This investigative case module was prepared as part of a BioQUEST faculty development workshop entitled Faculty Workshop: Implementing Investigative Cases and Technology in Biology and Chemistry at Center for Science Education in August 2004. The cases, resources, and implementation strategies were developed by participants for use with their own students. We invite you to adopt and adapt the following materials.

The BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium is committed to the reform of undergraduate biology instruction through an emphasis on engaging students in realistic scientific practices. This approach is sometimes characterized as an inquiry driven approach and is captured in BioQUEST's three P's (problem-posing, problem-solving, and peer-persuasion). As part of this workshop groups of faculty were encouraged to initiate innovative curricular projects. We are sharing these works in progress in the hope that they will stimulate further exploration, collaboration and development. Please see the following links for additional information:

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Investigative Cases
The Case: Do You Eat Dirt?

Ryan and Megan are having a cup of coffee at the local Starbucks. Megan says, "This is great coffee! I'm glad that they use real cream, too. Did you know that powdered creamer is made of clay?."

"No way!" says Ryan. "That's disgusting! You know, though, some people just eat plain clay, and that you can even buy it in stores, but I wouldn't ever eat something with clay in it! My grandma used to say that you should eat clay when you're pregnant, and it stops morning sickness."

Megan replies, "That can't possibly work. I don't know, though. My sister threw up for two solid months when she was pregnant. I guess if that was me, I'd try almost anything."

Case Author:
Julie Bartley State University of West Georgia

Case Analysis

Information students may have or may want to know:

There are many types of clay.

Kaolinite is a common clay in Georgia.

The most economically important use of kaolinite is in the paper industry, but it is also used as a filler and whitener in ceramics and food products, including coffee creamer.

Pregnant women, particularly in South Georgia, eat clay to prevent morning sickness.

Few clinical data exist to support the use of kaolinite to combat morning sickness.

Option: Include a know / need to know chart like the one below:

What do you know?
What do you need to know?

Learning Goals



Gather information about kaolinite in consumer products.

Gather information about folk medicine as it applies to kaolinite and other clays


Minerals are common in many consumer products.

Kaolinite is an economically important mineral in Georgia.

Kaolinite, in some cases, may be used to treat health problems.

Ingestion of kaolinite, in some cases, may have adverse health consequences.

Pica (eating of nonfood substances) and geophagy (eating dirt) are known from a variety of cultures and regions. The health effects are largely unknown.


Students should develop a realization that minerals are present in many everyday materials.

Folk medicine and home remedies are not always effective, and some may have adverse consequences

It is important to understand what is in the products we use.



Investigations and Activities

Research kaolinite in the textbook and online to determine whether the claims made in the narrative are accurate. Complete a worksheet that guides this process.

Further investigate one aspect of kaolinite that emerged during the initial investigation. Some possibilities include geophagy, clays in food products, kaolinite production, occurrence of kaolin deposits, formation of kaolin. Prepare a short presentation (oral, website, pamphlet, or classroom activity) on your topic.



Print Sources:

1. Textbook: describes general occurrence and properties of kaolinite.

2. Several books in the Ingram Library on kaolin deposits and kaolinite

Internet Resources:

1. The New Georgia Encyclopedia

Students will usually obtain additional references or resources
to help answer or explore their questions.

Special Data Items

Image of kaolinite. Source: New Georgia Encyclopedia

1. kaolinite.jpg


Student Products

Presentations to the class on one aspect of kaolinite use, mining, or origin.

Pamphlet informing the public about mineral(s) in everyday products

Case for K-12 students on kaolinite or minerals in everyday products.

Website targeting a specific audience to provide information on kaolinite or other minerals as medicinal products

Assessment and Evaluation Plan

Closed-ended: Worksheets guiding students through understanding of basic kaolinite information.

Open-ended: Various sorts of presentations, chosen by each student. Students are assessed according to whether they 1) appropriately addressed their target audience, 2) adequately researched available literature (both online and print), 3) summarized relevant information accurately.



This case will be used about halfway through the Geology of Georgia course to introduce students to the ubiquity of mineral resources in everyday life.

Course name:
Geology of Georgia
Likely sequence in syllabus:
At the beginning of the Coastal Plain section of the course
Time during term:
3 weeks
Small classroom; individual work (maybe pairs)
Students in course:
Collaborative elements:
presentations may be done by pairs
Additional notes:



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