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: The Sky is Falling

Dr. Andrea Smith, an amateur astronomer stargazing from the Mt. Haleakala Observatory notices a collection of previously unknown objects in the night sky that pose her some concern. Dr. Smith consults you, a team of experts at North Springs High School to confirm her suspicion. Measurements over the past three days in November indicate the objects are moving quickly through space, in the same plane as Earth’s orbit.

See data and space map in "special data items".

Scene 2
Your team has determined that Object 3 will collide with Earth on May 15th of next year. Based on this finding the President is contacted, and he orders that NASA designate a committee of experts (including yourselves) to submit a report on the consequences of the impact and to propose measures to protect the Earth.

Case Analysis

Need to Know

  • What is the path and orbital speed of the earth
  • How fast is the comet traveling
  • Is it accelerating
  • When will the comet cross earth's orbit
  • What are the potential consequences of impact
  • Is there any other evidence of impact(earth, planets, moon)
  • What role does mass and composition of both objects play in the consecquences of impact?
  • Existing plans to prevent impact
  • Identify current NEO's, potential hazard
  • What is the "Toriono Scale"
  • Development of Asteroids, Comets, orgin points etc

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

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

Learning Goals


  • Calculate direction and velocity of object
  • Calculate acceleration of comet, if any
  • Define a circle by an equation
  • Calculate point of intersection, assuming earth follows a circular orbit
  • If it intersects, determine at what time will it intersect and is that the same as the earth is in that area
  • Solve collision problem graphically and numerically
  • Analyze force of impact
  • Determine potential consequences of impact
  • Propose solutions to avoid impact or survive impact


Standards are based on the QCC's for Georgia for Physics Semester 1


  • Demonstrate an understanding of kinematics in 1 and 2 dimensions
  • Explain and apply Newtons Laws of motion
  • Describe the relationships between work, energy and power and aply the laws of energy conservation
  • Demonstrate an understanding of impulse, momentum and the law of conseration of momentum
  • Explain and apply the universal law of gravitation and demonstrate an understanding of the laws of mechanics as the apply to objects experiencing rotational motion


Investigations and Activities

Students will drop different masses from different heights into different materials and determine

  • How speed effects size of impact crater
  • How mass will affect size of impact crater
  • Relate size of impact crater to work and power
  • The exchange of gravitational potential energy into kinetic energy





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

Special Data Items

1. collision.jpg
2. observ.jpg
3. SolarSystem.jpg
4. Data.doc


Student Products

  • Student presentation to the President
  • Lab note book on cratering experiment
  • Graphical/numerical solution to comet problem
  • Analysis of assumptions and simplifications made to problem and conjectures about what effect they have on solutions

Assessment and Evaluation Plan

  • Follow the logic of their calculations
  • Vector diagrams of the comet and earth system
  • Peer evaluation of presentation to President



The case will use 4 class periods (90 minutes each)

1 for discussion of learning objectives
1 for hands on "crater experiment" and scene 1 calculations
1 for description of impact and discussion of solutions
1 for conclusion and presentation of results and assessment

Much of this will be done outside of class and will be evaluated in a portfolio for continued improvement throughout the semester

Course name:
Physics Semester I
Likely sequence in syllabus:
Early in semester (Vectors, Forces, and Newton
Time during term:
3 class periods and homework
3 weeks
Students in course:
Collaborative elements:
Additional notes:
The problem is simplified.In this problem, the Earth has a circular orbit, the asteroid is not accelerating and is traveling in a straight line. Data is completely simulated



Emory University for its continued support and excellence in promoting education and collaboration between all academic levels.
The National Science Foundation (Grant NSF 03-532) for their suport of the project "Problems and Research to Integrate Science and Mathematics (PRISM)."

Comet collision graphic y2001/ast05apr_1.htm


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