Science Education Needs Case Studies

My very first year teaching, I was humbled by a student in my animal physiology class at the University of Alaska.

Clyde Freeman Herreid
Feb 27, 2005
<p>Figure 1</p>

Courtesy of SUNY, Buffalo

Herreid (center) uses case studies in class to generate lively discussions.

My very first year teaching, I was humbled by a student in my animal physiology class at the University of Alaska. I was talking about temperature regulation, ticking off the adaptations for low temperature survival, when suddenly an older student in a flannel shirt interrupted: "I wonder if that is how the rock rabbits survive the Alaskan winters?"

I was floored. This student had just done something I had never done: leave the classroom and textbooks to connect concepts to his own first-hand experiences in the wild, all in a flash. It was my first glimpse into a classroom where a science course was truly relevant, where students could learn science by actively discussing it instead of passively taking notes in lectures.

During the past fifteen years, in my undergraduate biology courses, I...