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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The Case: The Hike


Four high school students decide to go on a day hiking trip to Lookout Mountain during their spring break from school.

Pat, the nature boy, is president of the Environmental Club at their high school. Although he is very much considered a “hippie” by his peers he has gained Eagle Scout Badges for outdoor survival and first aid. He hikes frequently with his family and is very knowledgeable of the appropriate trails, equipment and techniques needed to be safe while hiking.

Pat invited Phil, the jock of the school, to join him on his hike. Phil is the all-american boy. He is a 6’5” college basketball prospect with blond hair and blue eyes. He is extremely popular with his peers.

P., the school’s drama queen, had plans for spring break that fell apart. Instead of staying home with mom and dad, she decided to invite herself on the hiking trip. She is the typical short, perky cheerleader. She is 5’3” tall and is always vying to be the center of attention. She avoids most physical exertion if at all possible, and getting in touch with nature isn’t high on her priority list.

Lastly, Judy, the school scholar joins the group. She however is an atypical scholar. Even though she is striving to be the class valedictorian and wants a challenging college education, she is not happy with just keeping her nose in a textbook. She is also very social and involved in many extracurricular activities at school, one of which is the environmental club.

The foursome sets out for their day. It is a beautiful day in the beginning of April and they are excited because the last week was extremely wet because of heavy rains. Pat packs up his backpack with his bottles of water, trail mix, butane lantern, flashlight and first aid kit. The basketball player, who in essence has never hiked before, noticed it was a nice brisk sunny day and grabbed a sweatshirt on his way out the door. Preetha made sure to grab her cell phone so she wouldn’t miss any potential calls from her friends. Always being conscious of her appearance, she wore her cheerleading shorts and a warm-up jacket. The last one to show was Judy. She too packed a small amount of water and energy food, but due to the beautiful start of the day, she wore her hiking boots and only a lightweight jacket.

About four hours into their hike, they realize they were about 3/4 of the way up Lookout Mountain. Pat, feeling proud of what they were able to accomplish, slowed down to appreciate their success for the day when he noticed through the treetops that the sky was beginning to darken. Just as he was noticing the sky he heard P. start to complain about how she was getting much colder. As Phil turned around to yell at P. to be quiet, the sky opened up and it began to pour on the foursome. Judy looked around and noticed a small entrance to a cave where they could be protected from the storm and figure out what they could do next.

They decide to wait out the storm in the cave since they are so far away from their starting point. Shivering and tired, they huddle together and eat the food that Pat and Judy had brought. As they finish up their food, they hear a rumbling in the distance that begins to get louder and louder. Then within an instant…the cave is silent and pitch black!


Immediately Pat takes out his flashlight and shines it around the cave. There appear to be no openings within the cave. Reality starts to hit P. and she begins to cry and freak out. She runs to the now covered entrance. She frantically starts to try and push her way out with no success. The others join in while she sits in the corner and wimpers, “That’s it, we’re trapped.”


P. then remembers she has her cell phone with her. “I’ll just call for help,” she proudly exclaims. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief because they now know help is not too far away. P. begins to scream…”NO, NO, NO!” She throws the cell phone down and collapses on the ground. Judy goes over to pick up the cell phone and realizes that there is no signal.

Phil is becoming very uncomfortable and antsy. When he stands upright, the cave is just tall enough that his head hits the top. He looks at P. sprawled out on the ground and realizes that there is just enough room for her to fit. His nervousness starts to intensify when he notices P. in the corner gasping for air.

Feeling the tension building, Pat rolls out his blanket so that he and Judy can sit down and formulate a plan. The blanket covers the length of the cave floor. (The blankets dimensions are 6’ by 5’.)

Suddenly, P. squeels, "That’s it WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!”




After 4 hours the amount of O2 left in the cave is 873.4 L.

Just as the group begins to give up hope…..P.’s cell phone rings! Tired out from all the stress, it takes the group a couple of seconds to figure out what was making the noise. P. answers her phone screaming, “HELLO, HELLO!” It’s the mountain rescue team. They and her mother have been trying to get in touch with the group since the storm blew in.

Due to the global positioning satellite on her phone the rescue team can locate their position. “P., calm down,” says Lt. Jordan. “We have located your position and we are only 50.0 miles away. But…” then her phone went dead!

Rescue vehicles rate of speed is 11.00 miles/hr.


The hikers are ecstatic with the news that someone is coming to rescue them! All the tension escapes them and they are able to sit back and relax.

Phil begin to make fun of how Preetha over reacted so early on in their predicament. Pat and Judy relax by making shadow puppets with the flashlight. They are all in good spirits again and having fun. A few hours pass when Judy notices the flashlight has become dim. Within an instant, the cave is black!

Immediately the relaxed atmosphere changes to fear again. Phil becomes antsy and scared. He is a big man in close quarters and is terrified that he cannot see his surroundings. Phil stammers, “I can’t do this…I can’t sit in the dark until we are rescued!”

Judy calmly tells Phil to relax. She remembers that Pat packed his butane lantern. They will simply light the lantern so that they would not be in the dark.

Reaction of burning butane (C4H10):

2 C4H10 + 13 O2 ---> 8 CO2 + 10 H2O

Mass of butane in the lantern = 250.0 g
Burning time of lantern = 2.2 hours
Molar Masses:
CO2 = 44.0 g/mol
O2 = 32.0 g/mol
C4H10 = 58.0 g/mol

Molar Volume of any gas = 22.4 L/mol

Case Analysis

  • How much time do the four students have until they run out of breathable oxygen?

  • What other factors will affect the amount of oxygen?

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

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

Learning Goals


  • How to find volumes
  • Altitude of Lookout Mountain
  • Composition of Air
  • Percent composition of oxygen in air
  • Calculate amount of oxygen needed by each person
  • How to calculate percent composition
  • Conversion Factors
  • Carbon Dioxide output by a person
  • Toxic Levels of Carbon Dioxide
  • Effect of Altitude on percent of oxygen
  • Different oxygen consumption boy/girl, athlete/non-athlete


Georgia QCC's (Quality Core Curriculum) for 9-12 Chemistry

1. Topic: Inquiry, Process and Problem Solving
Standard: Uses science process skills in laboratory or field investigations, including observation, classification, communication, metric measurement, prediction, inference, collecting and analyzing data.

1.1 Designs and conducts a scientific experiment that identifies the problem, distinguishes manipulated, responding and controlled variables, collects, analyzes and communicates data, and makes valid inferences and conclusions.

9. Topic: Writing and Balancing Chemical Equations

9.1 Uses the law of conservation of matter and provides standard rules for writing and balancing equations.

9.4 Defines the term mole and uses this concept to determine relative amounts of reactants and products in a given equation.

9.7 Determines experimentally the percentage by weight or volume of a compound.

15. Topic: Solids, Liquids and Gases

15.4 Uses concept of molar volume in calculations of gaseous products of a chemical reaction.


Investigations and Activities

Calculations taken from the narrative.



Internet sites

Journal: Ecological Chemistry, vol. 9, 2000, Author: T.A. Pihlak, pgs. 123-142

Textbook: Human Phyisiology, Vander & Sherman, 1999

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

Special Data Items

1. cave.jpg
2. lookout.gif
3. hikers.jpg
4. a.jpg


Student Products

  • As a group, show calculations with predications on a poster.
  • Diagram of cave with dimensions labeled
  • Concept Map
  • Design a similar problem involving percent composition and dimensional analysis
  • What you know/need to know chart
  • Each group writes an epilogue for the end of the case.

Assessment and Evaluation Plan

  • Student should illustrate a logical progression in their calculations.
  • Peer self-assesment to evaluate team collaboration.
  • Quiz or "Sponge" activity in middle of case: calculate oxygen consumption at given times and create a graph of time vs. oxygen consumption (take into account human consumption and butane combustion - should not be a straight line graph!).



Introductory case to give students initial exposure to case based learning, laboratory process skills, and basic scinece/math skills.

Course name:
Chemistry or Honors Chemistry
Likely sequence in syllabus:
Introductory Unit - Science process & math skills
Time during term:
Beginning of first semester
about 10, 55 min class periods
Students in course:
10th & 11th graders; approx. 28 per class
Collaborative elements:
Small groups
Additional notes:



hikers picture
cave picture

Special thanks to Dr. Phil, Margaret, Ethel, Emory University, NSF and all the participants of PRISM!! :)

Disclaimer: No students were harmed in the creating of this case!

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