approach learning with cases in very different ways. You may wish
to consider having students do one or more of the following after
reading a case:
Recognize Potential Issues
Go back and read the case again, this time noting words or phrases
that seem to be important to understanding what the case is about.
If students have a hard copy, they may underline these phrases.
They are looking for "learning issues' that they might explore
further. They might jot down ideas and questions about these phrases.
If students are working in a group, this approach might be done
as a group discussion, with one person keeping a list of issues
(maybe on the chalkboard) as they are raised.
|Here's an example of some
of the kinds of issues raised in one paragraph of Fleaing
Moses Anders hung up the phone
after talking with Ella Cardinale-Jones about her trouble.
She had ticks on the dog, roaches in the house and
hungry mosquitos chewing up her kids. "Now
Mr. Anders, I'm used to seeing some bugs around -- this
is Louisiana. But it seems no matter what I do
there are more and more of them. How can I get
rid of them? I don't feel like my children are safe."
Ms. Cardinale-Jones was the 19th caller about
these insects this month, and it was only January
What we know
now: It's January in Louisiana. There are lots
of insects, perhaps more than usual, and people with
safety concerns are calling Moses Anders about this.
Potential learning issues:
Insect populations and the factors that affect them.
Problems posed to humans by insects. Insect control
measures. Unusual insect occurrences in winter. The
job held by Moses that would lead people to call him.
Brainstorm for connections
There are several ways to do this. One way is to
think about the case as a whole and see if there are underlying
themes. Global warming, insect borne diseases and careers in biology
are some themes many people identify for "Fleaing Louisiana."
Another way to brainstorm is to list questions
students raise as a result of reading the case. Using the first
paragraph again as an example, here are some questions raised by
learners who have worked with this case:
Why are there lots of insects in January?
What affects the number of insects at any given time of year?
Are there more than usual? What is the usual pattern?
Why is Ms. Cardinale-Jones concerned for
the safety of her children? What diseases do ticks, roaches and
mosquitos carry? Are there other reasons besides disease to be
concerned about these insects?
What can Ms. Cardinale-Jones do to control
the insects? What advice should Moses give her? What is the biology
of ticks? Roaches? Mosquitos?
Why are people calling Moses Anders about
this? What do they think he knows or can do for them? What sorts
of jobs deal with these issues?
Pose Specific Questions
The questions raised by the brainstorming can lead
to different learning activities. Remember that the goal with cases
is to develop problems of interest to students, that can be investigated
using the tools of science.
"One of the greatest challenges
in biology is to frame appropriate and productive questions
that can be pursued by the technology at hand. You have
probably had a great deal of experience in solving pre-posed
problems, such as those found at the end of textbook
chapters. However, if you were asked to go into a lab
or out in a field and pose a research question, you
will find that this is often difficult to do without
(The BioQUEST Library
IV: A Note to the Student 1996)
Here is an analysis of some
of the different types of learning that might follow from some of
the questions on the brainstorming list.
Further brainstorming. "Why
is Ms. Cardinale-Jones concerned for the safety of her children?"
or "What affects the number of insects at any given time
of year?" or "What sorts of jobs deal with these issues?"
Searching out basic facts.
"What diseases do the insects carry?" or "What
is the biology of ticks?" These questions in and of themselves
do not pose a scientific research problem, but learning more about
these may lead to other questions that are scientific.
Finding information, analyzing it and
finding patterns. "What is
the usual pattern of insects in Louisiana?" and "Is
it different this year?" These questions might lead you to
the Internet or elsewhere to get insect sampling data for analysis.
"What advice should Moses give her?" You will need to
understand the issues, and evaluate the consequences of the options
before you can answer this question.
Scientific investigations. "What
affects the number of insects at any given time of year?"
could be refined to focus on climatic variables. These could then
be investigated by modeling (with Biota or EDM), by actually collecting
weather and insect population data, by using data sets collected
by others, or by finding published information on the topic.
Brainstorming can lead to a long list of questions,
not all of which there is time to pursue. Have groups spend time
identifying a few key questions of interest. Students are usually
careful to use the contextual clues provided by the course title,
syllabus topics, etc., as ways to help them narrow the list of potential
topics. But you never know, a student may become very interested
in a good question that is only tangential to the case. If the goal
is to learn to pose questions, solve problems, and argue convincingly,
and if the student's question is about biology, some teachers might
decide any topic related to the case is fair game.
Obtain additional references/resources
No matter what type of question learners pose,
it is likely they will seek and use other resources to help them
support and research a reasonable answer. Resources may include
textbooks; other library materials; results of computer simulations;
results of lab or field research; articles, data sets, maps, emails,
or other electronically based resources; pamphlets from organizations;
interviews with experts; museum exhibits, etc. Encourage students
to be creative in seeking information.
Define problems further by sharing views and
Why are some
research questions considered better than others? What
are the cultural, personal, and political biases that
influence what questions are posed and how they are
(The BioQUEST Library IV: A Note
to the Student 1996)
As learners define problems and frame specific
questions to investigate, it will be important for them to consult
with others: most likely members of the group or other classmates.
Talking about ideas and plans with others is an important step in
refining problems, and can lead to different perspectives that might
help shape good research problems. Encourage learners to continue
this practice of sharing with others as they gather evidence in
answer to the problem and as they prepare to present conclusions.
Such conversation and collaboation is a hallmark of the work of