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The Case For Case Studies: 4 Reasons Every Teacher Should Incorporate Them in Lesson Plans

image taken with permission from Wikimedia Commons, copyright expired

“‘No, no! The adventures first,’ said the Gryphon…’explanations take such a dreadful time.'” from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The above line that goes with the caption to the left, features a dialogue between the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle in Carroll’s novel for children. I think our students often have the attitude of the Gryphon when talking to Alice. Our students crave Relevance in their learning. Sitting through a lecture or working through a lab, I’m sure they often wonder: “How am I going to use this?” They pine for situations when they can see the profit that the 7 hours they sit in desks will give them someday. Can I use this for a lifetime? Or at least when they are in the “Real World.” Often, we as teachers, struggle to give it them. There is content to master, skills to develop, and continuous bureaucracy to sort through during the school day. They are like the Lobster in the dialogue. Teachers want to get through all of the foundational details. Yet, if we dig deep, I think we can give students the kind of adventures they desire in ways that support our content and skill objectives.

I think one of the best ways to give it to them is through Case Study Methodology. By this I mean, we take a situation that is likely to come up in the “Real World” that relates to the content we are studying and put the students in the center of it to use what they are learning and deal with the issues of the situation. Situations can be tied to ethical studies (Bible/Government/History). They can center around a diagnosis (Science/Anatomy/Biology). They can be used in financial analysis (Math/Economics). They can be used in Athletics (Time/Score Management).

Here are 4 Reasons why Case Studies should be incorporated into your lesson plans regardless of the grade level you are teaching. Do it now this summer while you have time to think and explore:

1. Case Studies are good educational practice. Those of you who have gone through Master’s level education courses know that you used case studies and they worked. In my Educational Leadership Courses For Private Schools through the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools in conjunction with the University of Hawaii (HAIS MEd Programs), we read and wrote a bunch. Yet, the best part of our courses put us in the situations of a Head of School, Business Officer, Principal, or other positions. The classes were so rich and the level of engagement prior, during, and after the Case Studies opened my eyes to the potential of this method. I did wonder, however, why I hadn’t gotten many of these learning opportunities prior to graduate school. Now, one might say our students aren’t ready for such situational analysis because they don’t yet have the context. I disagree. I think by expecting your students to work through these situations they will be motivated to do the back study required to have context. Ultimately, because there is more meaning to them to solve issues in the case study, they will do on their own the kinds of things with regard to research that we normally have to prod them to do.

2. Case Study Methodology teaches empathy. Most 21st Century curriculums demand that our students develop empathy in their studies. It is one of the pillars of former NAIS President Pat Bassett’s Demonstrations of 21st Century Learning. Putting Students into situations develops empathy that they can later use for themselves when they are confronted with a similar situation. I thought about this the other day with regard to my parents and the financial dilemmas they, and many other Americans, faced in the late 1970’s and early 1990’s as I looked at the economic landscape of the last 6-8 years in America. Who prepared me to analyze interest rates on mortgages? Who prepared me to be a landlord and to weight the prospects of whether or not to sell a home or keep it on the rental market? When there is a difficult decision to be made about a child’s schooling, how does a parent properly assess the situation? Most are not put into these situations. Most students look at their parents without any awareness and understanding when the parents inevitably go through situations like these. All of these situations require empathy and unfortunately our students lack it. Each asks us to use experience, an academic ability like math (in the case of the interest rates) and to tackle the emotional issues that may be gnawing at us as we try to make the decision. These are processes that would often be well experienced for the first time when less was on the line, when students were in the classroom. Doing so may also help students have empathy for their parents, not to mention how we might develop empathy and a more cosmopolitan outlook in students studying languages and geography of other nations.

3. Case Study Methodology allows students to practice emotionally challenging subjects without real emotion. In #2, I mentioned situations filled emotional potency. Much has been written on the poor economic decisions individuals make when they are placed in an emotionally-charged situation. A whole field of academia combining Economics and Behavioral Psychology has sprung up over the last quarter century studying just such an issue. A key development of study in this area recognizes that if one knows about and practices situations that may eventually occur in advance, one is much more likely to make a wise decision. The practice before hand takes the emotion out of the decision. Why would we not want to give our students these opportunities early in their educations rather than allowing the “Real World” to test them first?

4. Case Studys simulate another discipline students love: sports. If you ever watched a great coach prepare a team in a practice a day or two before a game, you probably noticed him/her leading the team through a scouting situation. In basketball, a team might run through the upcoming opponent’s out of bounds plays, half court sets, full court press and defensive formations. Similar items are found in a football practice. This type of practice helps players visualize what they will encounter when the get into the “real situation.” The power of knowing what is coming has been known to relieve players of nervousness and anxiety and enabled them to execute better. Simulations in practice also develop creativity. While the coach may have something in mind, players put into the actual situation may come up with something even better. I can remember the vivid imaginations of my 7th grade basketball players when I allowed them to design their own out of bounds plays and scrimmage using them during the last twenty minutes of practice. The level of engagement they demonstrated in that section of practice was off the charts. They also had immense “buy-in” to the plays since they had designed them. Inevitably, we used some of the best plays in later games.

I hope you will take the opportunity to develop several case studies or simulations into your pedogogy. Regardless of the discipline within which you teach, I think you will find the learning process using case studies will be beneficial to your students. I think you will also experience a recharge of your teaching when hear the ideas students develop. As I started write this last week, I was heading to the ISM Middle School Heads Conference in Salt Lake City. During the conference, we had significant opportunities to work on simulations with our cohort of 21 Middle School Heads. It was the most stimulating and thoughtful learning opportunity I have had since the aforementioned graduate work. Don’t our students deserve as much?


Photo taken from Mount Vernon Presbyterian School on school visit

Until next time, have fun pretending…

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