HHMI Teacher Institute July 2000

Authors Jill Beyer
Tracey McCall
Mary Beth O'Donoghue



A case study on the nervous system


Part 1: What's Wrong with Uncle Sam?

Your best friend, Pat, is spending the summer with Aunt Betsy and Uncle Sam in Washington, D.C. Pat is concerned since Uncle Sam seems different from 4 years ago when they came to visit with Pat's parents. Pat has sent you the following e-mail to describe Uncle Sam.

Part 2.

A month later, Pat includes more information about Uncle Sam.



This lesson is meant to be used in a human biology course, or a general biology course as an introductory activity for the nervous system.

Time Frame: This activity will require three 50 minute class periods.

Resources needed:

- Access to internet
- Poster board or brochure template or overhead sheets
- Textbook, medical resources, including a medical dictionary
- Markers, glue, etc.


1. Have students work in groups of 3 or 4.

2. Pass out Part 1. "What's Wrong With Uncle Sam?"

3. After students read Part 1, ask them to fill in the chart on the student worksheet.

Student handout.



1. To introduce students to learning through the use of a case study.

2. To have students research a disease of the nervous system.

3. To work cooperatively to present a possible explanation of a nervous system disorder.

Problem Solving

4. Once their chart is completed, have a class discussion on the possible diseases that Uncle Sam could have. From this list, allow each team to choose a different disease to research.

5. The students will then have 45 to 60 minutes to do their research. A good website to use is www.looksmart.com

6. Once their research is finished, then they must prepare a presentation using the format of their choice. We suggest: poster, brochure, overhead, or oral report from a written paper, etc. We have included a grading rubric below.

7. After the presentations, give students Part 2 of the case study. Challenge them to decide which disease they think Uncle Sam really has based on the additional information. They should base their decision on the information in the class projects.

Our intent was that Uncle Sam could have either Parkinson's disease or Multiple Sclerosis. It might fit another disease we have not thought of, but that is the intent of having a broader list of symptoms.



Medical resources

Medical dictionary

Internet Access


Websites for other examples of case studies:

1. http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/projects/cases/case.html At this webpage click on UB Case Study Collection
2. http://www. asmusa.org/edusrc/souvenir/index.html
3. http://www.niagara.edu/~bcliff



Rubric for grading group projects: