This investigative case module was prepared as part of a BioQUEST faculty development workshop. 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: Goodbye Honeybuckets

“More than 20,000 rural Native residents in Alaska live in communities without running water and where homes, local government offices, commercial buildings and even medical clinics use plastic buckets for toilets--euphemistically called 'honey buckets.' The waste from these toilets is often spilled in the process of hauling it to disposal sites, and these spillages have led to the outbreak of epidemic diseases such as Hepatitis A. “
An Alaskan Challenge: Native Village Sanitation, US Congress, 1994

Even in 2001, there are still villages without a municipal sewer system. John Kepaaq is a member of the Tribal Council in Icy Valley and he is concerned about the type of sewer system that is being considered. Everyone in northern Alaska has heard stories about outside developers who did not realize the unique problems of construction in the arctic.

Icy Valley is a village of about 200 people who know what it is like to live with permafrost, darkness , and long cold winters. John wants to be sure that the sewage system proposed for their village is appropriate for the cold temperatures and safe for the tundra environment.

Case Author:
Lana McNeil University of Rural Alaska

Case Analysis

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

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

Learning Goals


  • To learn how a sewage treatment plant works.
  • To develop awareness of microorganisms (including bacteria) as other than agents of disease.
  • To appreciate the special challenges of municipal construction in arctic environments.
  • To suggest modifications to existing systems that can improve performance in arctic conditions.



Investigations and Activities

Interview elders to learn traditional ways of dealing with human waste.

Independent investigations using the Internet to learn how a sewage treatment plant works.

Class session for everyone to share what was learned and brainstorming to develop ideas for possible appropriate technologies.

Individual designs for sewage treatment facility for Icy Valley.

Oral presentations



Community elders htm

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

Special Data Items

1. honeybuckets2.jpg
2. honeybuckets3.jpg
3. honeybuckets4.jpg
4. honeybuckets5.jpg
5. honeybuckets6.jpg


Student Products

Reports from elders; preliminary report on sewage treatment plants
[1-2 pages]
Sharing/ brainstorming session
Individual designs- 2 page reports with sketch and explanation]
Oral presentations

Assessment and Evaluation Plan

Teacher evaluations
Preliminary report 20%
Sharing session 10%
Individual designs 35%
Oral presentation 20%
Student evaluations
Assessment of designs 15%



Course name:
I ntroductory Biology
Likely sequence in syllabus:
Introduction to Ecology
Time during term:
one week
Distance learning
Students in course:
Majors and Non-majors
Collaborative elements:
Work with community and elders
Additional notes:



Special Note Although John Kepaaq and the village of Icy Valley are imaginary, the situation is real. The scenario could be applied to rural villages throughout Alaska.

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