Case Study in Science Teaching


Student Performance Objectives:

Case Study Method of Science Teaching (national website)

Case Studies in Physics Teaching (PPT presentation)

Intelligent Design and Evolution

A concerned parent has come before the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board to ask that the concept of intelligent design be presented as a viable option in all science classrooms where the origins of life and/or evolution are addressed. He doesn't want anyone to teach intelligent design; rather, he merely wants a statement read to students about intelligent design before the aspects of evolution are addressed. He proposes the following statement (actual text of the intelligent design statement Dover, Pa., teachers were instructed to read to their students):

What is your understanding of intelligent design?

Are the claims of the above statement correct?

Because scientists admit they don't understand the origins of life, isn't such a claim reasonably admissible in a science classroom?

Should such a statement be read to students as a matter of fairness?

Pulsing Red LED Light Gives Relief?

Recently (winter 2006), there has been a television commercial about a product known as Light Relief™. The Light Relief™ device appears to be made out of about two dozen pulsing red light emitting diodes in and unit that conforms to the hand. The TV add shows a person waiving a Light Relief™ unit over but not touching arms, hands, shoulders, and legs, claiming that it will give "relief." The only real claim made in the commercial and on the company's website ( is " Experience the healing power of Light Relief." The general claim is therefore made that Light Relief™ can provide relief and healing, but to what maladies it is not clear. No specific medical claims are made. Nonetheless, the website notes, "If, within 30 days of receiving Light Relief™, you are not thrilled with your results, simply return it for a complete refund of your purchase price (less shipping and processing)." Imagine that a person purchases such a unit and uses it for 30 days. At the end of 30 days a friend asks, "Do you receive any relief?" The consumer says, "Yes, absolutely!"

What, if anything, is wrong with the promotion the Light Relief™?

Does the fact that no specific medical claims are made justify this unit's promotion and sale?

From a scientific perspective, what is wrong if anything with a consumer's anecdotal claim of efficacy of Light Relief™?

What do you think the sellers of Light Relief™ believe about the nature of their prospective customers?

What's the Explanation?

Tina is a 44-year-old woman with 3 kids, a great husband, and a nice home. She is a full-time pharmacist in a small Midwestern town. To the shock of her family and friends, Tina starts exhibiting bizarre behaviors. She has terrifying nightmares with sleep paralysis. She appears increasingly nervous during the day, and is exhibiting strong mood swings. One minute she is ecstatic; the next minute she's plunged into the depths of despair. She is beginning to lose contact with both her friends and reality. During one of her depressive mood swings recently, she attempted suicide. At this point Tina was hospitalized. Tina has no record of bipolar disorder; her whole life long she has had a gregarious and warm personality. Medical experts and family members and friends begin to search for the cause of this erratic behavior.

What are possible causes of Tina's behavior? List as many explanations as you can think of.

Which of the explanations are worth investigating, and which are worth rejecting without further consideration?

On what basis did you reject some explanations out of hand, while choosing to retain others for further investigation?

Additional case studies are available through the PHY 312 syllabus.