LifeLines OnLine
2002 Summer Faculty Workshop
The Case: Home, Home on the River

Ben and Tammy chuckled and reminisced over a cup of coffee at Barnes and Noble one Friday afternoon.  It had been a few years since they had seen each other.  Ben was studying to be an architect at the U of Minnesota, and Tammy was just starting graduate school in Botany at Colorado State.  Now, they were both back home for a week before their summer jobs began elsewhere. 

"Hey, I've got a great idea!" exclaimed Ben, "Let's go find that spot where we used to camp for weeks down by the Missouri!

"Yeah," agreed Tammy, "That place was the best!  Great fishing, too.  And now with my all-knowledgeable degree in Botany, I'll be sure to not get caught up in the poison ivy."

The two chums drove to the park's edge in which they used to spend hours exploring, and found the faint trail that led to their recreational haven.  However, much to their surprise, when they pushed their way through the underbrush of the cottonwoods, they were faced with a 2-story home that covered at least 3500 ft2, complete with columns around the front door and landscaping right up to the river's edge.

"Gee, Tam, this isn't quite how I remembered it," Ben sighed.  "I guess they decided to upscale the camping facilities around here."

"You're so clever Ben," Tammy said sarcastically.  "So much for your great idea.  You know, isn't this supposed to be a publicly accessible park, and a conserved one at that?  Look at the lots cleared for even more homes.  Don't people realize that their manicured lawns and ornamental plants can affect the native plant species habitats?"  

"It is disappointing, but look on the bright side, Tam, at least they used a simple cottage design for their dream home.  Though the columns are tacky, I must admit.  Hey, they kept a cottonwood in their backyard," Ben offered.

"Seriously, Ben," Tammy retorted. "Development can have many effects on biodiversity and the quality of the natural environment."

"True, but you have to consider other perspectives," replied Ben.  "This scenery and the view are important in architectural design.  I'm not so sure about the building codes so close to the water's edge, but I doubt they're doing that much damage.  This area is important to a lot of people in our area.  Not everyone's a biologist."

Case Author: Sara Simmers
Bismarck State College, Bismarck, ND

Case Analysis

Underline keywords and list probable issues that are involved in Ben and Tammy's dialogue.

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

Learning Goals

  • For students to evaluate the importance of the ecological communities in their area, specifically a freshwater river ecosystem.
  • For students to be exposed to possible problems or controversies arising from development, including its effect on the environment.  
  • To relate these issues to each student's career interests.
  • To improve critical thinking and collaboration skills.

Investigations and Activities

Group discussion (groups of 3-5) and brainstorming of the issues that could be involved in this case.  Students should complete a know/need to know chart.  Within the groups, students should also discuss a job in their major or career area that could be affected or involved with any of these issues.

Field trip to the Missouri River in order to assess differences in developed and undeveloped areas.  Sampling of turbidity, water properties, invertebrates, erosion, etc. could be done.  Complete a worksheet comparing the 3 areas, including a prediction and conclusion section.  This could be a simulated activity with fictional data if access to a river is not possible.  (Students could direct their own ecological investigation and choose the aspects of the river they want to test or observe.)

Student research on the perspective of interest using the internet, library, interviews, etc.  Instructor may want to channel their personal connection by requiring student to include an ecological perspective.

Possibly complete an EcoBeaker simulation.

Calculate their personal ecological footprint.


Ecological Footprint Calculator:

Ecobeaker Simulation from Bioquest Software

The Missouri River Geographic Information System Project (maps and detailed list of groups involved in riverbank development issues):

Missouri River Communities Network:

USGS Maps of the Missouri River in 1894:

Special Data Items

Links to files your reader can adopt for their own use with your case. (i.e, large images, data sets in Excel, other handouts)


Student Products

Issues/Know/Need to know worksheet.

Field trip comparative worksheet.  

Position paper written from their perspective as an expert in their field.  Paper must include valid reasoning for their opinions and must take into account their ecological analysis.

Ecobeaker simulation graphs and data.

Ecological footprint analysis.

Assessment and Evaluation Plan

Know/Need to know worksheet (10%)

Group Participation (in discussion and field trip) - Instructor Evaluation (10%) and Peer Evaluation (10%)

Field Trip Worksheet (20%)

Position Paper (50%)

(Ecobeaker simulations and Ecological Footprint results could be graded as well.)


Identify the specifics for using the cases in your classes.

Course name:
 Concepts of Biology Lab
Likely sequence in syllabus:
Time during term:
Dependent on weather if field activity is included.  Currently in final one or two labs.
2 - 3 lab periods
Lab and field.
Students in course:
Non-biology majors.  Mostly freshman and older than average students.
Collaborative elements:
A mixture of group and individual work.  
Additional notes:



Much help and encouragement from the Lifelines Online staff.

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