This investigative case module was prepared as part of a BioQUEST faculty development workshop entitled PRISM Workshop: Implementing Investigative Case-Based Learning at Center for Science Education in June 2003. 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: Metal Mania

Session One

Page 1
As Brian walks home from basketball practice, he sees his friend Alex walking towards his direction. Alex is pushing a shopping cart loaded with what appears to be metal scraps.

Brian calls to Alex and asks him where he is going. Alex tells Brian that he is taking this metal to a warehouse and he is getting paid over $100. Brian decides to walk with Alex not believing that his friend would get so much money for this junk.

Once at Acme Cleaning Inc., they walk to the back of the warehouse where Alex completes his transaction and gets ready to leave. Brian notices brown gas coming out of huge troughs lined along one side of the room, apparently under fume hoods. As they were leaving, Brian also noted a brown haze around the building. He overhears close-by residents complaining about the fumes and smell coming from the site.

Page 2
Later that night Brian is listening to the news for his civics class. He tunes in just in time to hear. "…and now here are the latest precious metal market values! …"

Au......$368.00 / oz
Ag......$4.51 / oz
Cu......$3.00 / oz
Al......$0.78 / oz
Pt......$665.00 / oz

The news reporter continues, " … In a completely unrelated story; a rare bronze Buddha was reported stolen from the local library. This has caused some concern among law enforcement officials since there has been a marked increase in reports of stolen metal pipes, gutters and other products from housing projects around the city in recent months.

Page 3
The next week at school, Brian notices Alex has been dressing like he could be on the cover of Vibe magazine (bling-bling). He figures that Alex is making good money at the warehouse so decides to go back to find a job at the place.

He returns to the warehouse a few days later and is hired to work as a laborer. While working there he notices large containers of a blue solution and some looking dirty black. He also finds large amounts of acids and lye. Scraps of metal are still constantly being dropped off by people, but he has yet to locate a storage space for this metal.

In the meantime, the blue solution is transported out to another location by trucks and Brian notices black flakes in some of the tanks.

He asks his boss, "Why does some of the solution have black flakes in it?"

After this seemingly innocent question, the boss gets enraged and fires him immediately. When Brian gets home, he notices that he has accidentally carried a small bottle of blue solution along with him.

End Session One

Page 4
Brian takes the blue solution with him to school the next day. He consults his chemistry teacher. She asks about the specific kinds of acids he saw at the warehouse. He remembered seeing a label for nitric acid. She told Brian that she would help him research the information together for extra credit.

Page 5
After some research they had formulated several hypotheses. They decided to test them in the lab at school.

(Insert lab here.) Students will shadow Brian and teacher's procedures.

Page 6
Brian's teacher advised him to go to the police with this information fearing that suspicious activity was at work at the warehouse. Brian does as he is told and goes to the local police station.

The police investigator wants to know where the copper solution was being taken. Brian wants to go with him and the policeman agrees. They follow one of the trucks to a location a little outside the city and learn that this new company manufactures Copper wiring sold at a very reasonable price. The investigator decides to snoop around and looks in the window of the warehouse. He tells Brian that the only thing he sees are containers of chemicals. Brian asks what chemicals he sees and the investigator looks again and gives him a list of chemicals he sees inside the factory.

Sulfuric acid

The investigator shakes his head and says, " I don't know what this means. We have to get someone else over here." Brian however gets up excitedly a few moments later and exclaims, " I know what they are doing!"

End Session 2
<hr noshade>

Page 7
Brian and the police investigator go back to his high school where the chemistry teacher helps them test his hypothesis. Insert lab here. Students shadow Brian and co.

That night on 11'o clock news, " …A high school student was helpful in solving the mystery of missing metal parts all over the city in recent months. The thieves were stealing copper products to melt and make cheap copper wires that they sold at a high profit. In addition, police investigators found the missing bronze Buddha in the warehouse where they were manufacturing copper wires. The missing Buddha was being replicated using stolen copper and bronze to be sold on e-bay.
Brian was rewarded for his efforts with ten thousand dollars. He also received full scholarship to Emory University to study Chemistry."

Case Analysis

- Properties of metals
- Properties of acids and bases
- Chemical Reactions with metals
- Air pollution
- Chemical/industrial waste - regulations
- Properties of alloys
- Components of different alloys
- Solutions
- Mixtures
- Precipitates
- Law of conservation of mass
- Uses/applications of metals

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

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

Learning Goals


- Inquiry, process and problem solving
- Writing and balancing chemical equations
- Naming and writing chemical formulas
- Laboratory procedures


1. Uses science process skills in laboratory or field investigations including observation, classification, communication, metric measurement, prediction, inference, collecting and analyzing data.

2. Uses traditional reference material to explore background and historical information regarding a scientific concept.

3. Learns and uses on a regular basis standard safety practices for laboratory or field investigations.

4. Gives examples of industrial processes that have been derived from scientific research and describe the impact on society.

5. Writes formulas for and names a variety of compounds.

6. Classifies four types of chemical reactions.

7. Writes formulas for and names a variety of acids, bases, and salts.


Investigations and Activities

Copper-copper experiment

Library research

Computer internet research



Lab procedure


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

Special Data Items

1. flask.jpg
2. acme.jpg


Student Products

Lab report

Video of news announcements of epilogue

Posters about chemical waste and its effect on the environment.

Assessment and Evaluation Plan

Lab report

Rubric for video

Poster and/or another visual presentation



Chemical reactions
Element classification
Writing and balancing chemical equations
Laboratory procedures

Course name:
Likely sequence in syllabus:
after Chemical reactions unit
Time during term:
Spring semester
6 contact hours
Classroom/ laboratory
Students in course:
High school
Collaborative elements:
Ecology, environmental science, biology
Additional notes:



Phil Gordon (Keller and associates)
NSF grant supporting PRISM fellowship
Jeff Gross (other group member; not listed

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