Case Studies in ESS

Paper 1 in the new guide for teaching September 2015 contains an extended case study on a potential novel area or theme. This paper will be one hour in length and worth 40 marks. In the last iteration of the course this case study was to be found in Paper 2 Section A and was only worth 25 marks. As you can see the importance of this section of assessment has increased. The paper contains data and information about a particular location or possibly a themed environmental problem but usually a combination of the two approaches. This section will consider approaches to teaching which could improve student preparedness for this aspect of the course.

Keeping up with the News

  • Students (and teachers) should be reading the environmental news regularly so that they hear about current problems. These may trigger an examiner's thought processes when constructing an exam paper!
  • Have students take turns at the start of a regular lesson slot to present a news story. Some teachers call this a 360 - i.e. given a full circle look at a topic.
  • Have students keep an environmental news story which could be given as an assignment and assessed. Here's an example assignment.

Scrap Book Assignment Here's a page about the assignment Environmental Scrap Book 

  • Build a library of documentaries. Here's some recommended documentaries  Media 
  • Watch documentaries in class or as assigned work at home.
  • Have students present clips from the documentary which highlight a particular concept. Here's an example I've used for environmental value systems and tribal societies.

Tribal Societies Presentations Here is the activity  1.1 Tribal Societies 

Case Studies in the Course

  • The syllabus has been written as a series of knowledge statements and examples have not been included.
  • Enrich the syllabus with authentic examples and case studies to engage students.
  • I have made a preliminary analysis of where there are obvious opportunities or requirements for case studies. I will add to these as I find more.
  • As a teaching / revision approach, I have students compile a list of their own case studies during the course

Case Study Summary Chart ​ Try here for an overview of Case Studies in ESS 

Topic 1 Case Studies

In topic 1 it is important to have students develop their understanding of EVSs as they will need to be able to contrast how two EVSs would approach a given environmental issue.

  • Have students evaluate what contributes to their own EVS at the start of the course

Students will need to know about the development of environmental awareness and understanding and should have three in-depth examples at their disposal.

  • Students could make an environmental timeline for the classroom
  • Students could debate who or what was the biggest influence on our current environmental awareness.

In order to understand the concepts of thermodynamics and their implications it is important to contextualise these concepts.

  • Investigate the consequences of eating at the first trophic level (being vegetarian)

Investigating the concepts of resilience and tipping points may be helped by using some examples or having students investigate some case studies

Environmental indicators are widely used in environmental action plans on local, regional and global scales.

  • Have students devise environmental indicators for a school based environmental action plan
  • Investigate the environmental indicators that different cities have used in their planning
  • Follow the progress of the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, Millenium Development Goals or the Sustainable Development Goals to be published in 2015 which will replace the Millenium Development Goals.

Ecologial Footprints are introduced in Topic 1 and revisited in more depth in Topic 8.

Topic 2 Case Studies

During Topic 2 you should try to encourage the practice of naming and describing ecosystems with specific examples. In an exam students are often asked to give a named example and 'tropical rainforest' just won't do! Here's an example:

Australia, Great Dividing Range semi-dry deciduous forests, Queensland

Gum tree → termites → Echidna → Dingo

This applies to all parts of topic 2, for example you should have specific examples of zonation and succession. I like to have students do case study posters for succession whereas for zonation I teach one or two local examples as students can easily see zonation in our local Swiss alpine setting.

For Biomes, we need a more detailed approach than the previous syllabus and so I will work on an assignment to prepare students for this.

  • Students prepare a presentation on a comparison of 2 contrasting biomes (in a class we should have at least 4 contrasting biomes).

In topic 2.5, students should have the opportunity to investigate real examples of ecosystems and so fieldwork will be very important.

Topic 3 Case Studies

These are some of my favourite case studies but it's important to have students think critically about the ecological, socio‑political or economic pressures that are impacting the species and why a species conservation may or may not be successful.  3.3 Conservation Case Studies 

  • Discuss the conservation case studies of three species, one that has become extinct due to human activity, another that is critically endangered, and a third species whose conservation status has been improved by intervention.

To save time, I have students conduct a case study of a protected area which is under threat from human activity but also has some interesting approaches to protecting its biodiversity. Students have to think critically here about how the area is being conserved and to what extent is it successful.

Topic 4 Case Studies

There are several required case studies in topic 4. As this is a largely revised topic I will need to prepare some new assignment and activity ideas but I will first highlight the case studies needed and provide some initial ideas.

  • Discuss how shared freshwater resources have given rise to international conflict. Examples could include India and Pakistan who have developed the Indus Water Agreement (this is considered one of the most successful water sharing negotiations), The La Plata Basin Treaty in South America, and others in on the Nile, in Jordan and the Ganges. Examples of these can be found in Oregon State University's Program in Water Conflict Management and Transformation.
  • Discuss the controversial harvesting of a named species. The most internationally controversial example is probably the harvesting of dolphins in Taiji, Japan which was brought to public attention through the documentary The Cove. Ethical issues need to be discussed over biorights, rights of indigenous cultures and international conservation legislation. Whaling is another good example and information can be found on the International Whaling Commission's website. An interesting blog article analyses the need for government subsidies to sustain whaling by Norway and Iceland.
  • Discuss a case study that demonstrates the impact of aquaculture. Several Past Paper Case Studies ​ have covered the impact of aquaculture. I particularly liked the November 2011 Gulf of Fonseca study on mangrove removal. Here are some useful starting points.

Wild vs Farmed Salmon

Salmon Aquaculture

TED Talk - How I fell in love with a fish

Useful resources from FAO (UN)

Greenpeace report on Challenging the Aquaculture Industry on Sustainability (this is a direct link to a pdf report).

  • Two contrasting fisheries need to be compared with respect to how they have been managed for sustainability. The suggested example in the syllabus is to compare the cod fisheries in Newfoundland and Iceland. Issues that should be covered include - improvements to boats, fishing gear (trawler bags) detection of fisheries and boats via satellites. Management aspects should include; use of quotas, designation of Marine Protected Areas (exclusion zones), restriction on types and size of fishing gear including mesh size of nets).

The Ocean Review has a useful starting point for information

Topic 5 Case Studies

There continues to be the need for a comparison of two named food production systems. The way I tackle this is to do one example as a whole class and then have each student choose another contrasting example which they present as a shared resource. We prepare a system diagram for the class example so that students can then produce their own system diagrams. The example I have used is Maize (Corn) farming in the American mid-west as there are several Documentaries about this type of farming. Which ever example you use, it is important to clearly name and describe the example giving a location. Cereal farming will not get credit but North American cereal farming will gain credit. When students choose their own food production system it is useful to have a contrasting example with different environmental impacts. You can cover the soil management strategies as part of the class exercise if desired.

  • Compare and contrast the inputs, outputs and system characteristics for two named food production systems. Evaluate their relative environmental impacts and discuss the links that exist between socio-cultural systems and food production systems.

Students of mine have had success developing case studies on the following food production systems (I'll add some resources as starters):

Beef production in Brazil

Spice production in Indonesia

Rice-Fish farming in China

Sheep farming in Scotland

Rice-prawn farming in Kerala, South India

  • Evaluate soil management strategies in a named commercial farming system and in a named subsistence farming system. Here are some interesting resources:

Subsistence agriculture in Tropical Ecosystems

Impact of Fire in the Amazon

Stone or Earth Dikes in Africa

No-till farming in America mid-west corn farming

Topic 6 Case Studies

I probably won't require students to produce a case study in this topic but some are suggested. I will probably include these in our class discussions but it could be a class exercise depending on how your course is paced.

  • Inter-governmental situations involving acid deposition could include

Midwest US and Eastern Canada (see Air Quality Agreement or this Nature article)

Industrial Britain, Germany and Poland on Sweden or Norway (see Norway's State of the Environment and investigate the Convention on Long-range Trans-boundary Pollution)

Topic 7 Case Studies

Students find it very interesting to research and produce case studies on the energy choices of different countries and I have always had an assignment for this purpose. A useful trick is to ensure that students choose contrasting countries which have different pressures on their energy choices so that they can evaluate the strategies taken by the country. By allowing students to choose different countries and then summarise these in a table gives weaker students a back-up solution. Allowing or encouraging students to choose a country to which they have a particular attachment can lead to some interesting research. I also combine this with a comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of a fossil fuel, a renewable source of energy and nuclear power. We usually brainstorm energy resources using a padlet wall. See this activity  Energy Resources Analysis  See page on Energy Security  7.1 Energy Choices and Security

  • Compare the energy resources and strategies of two contrasting societies.  Comparing Energy Resource Choices 
  • Compare the strengths and weaknesses of a fossil fuel, a renewable source of energy and nuclear power

A new aspect to climate change in the syllabus is the need to understand mitigation and adaptation strategies. As two mitigation and two adaptation strategies should be considered I would be tempted to have students prepare case studies on these and prepare a compilation of these strategies. I will develop an assignment / class exercise.

Topic 8 Case Studies

An interesting class exercise might be to find examples of natural capital whose status has varied over time and why. I'll develop a worksheet for this. Students need to know at least two examples. Be warned that once you go below the surface of this topic it is never straight forward, for example as demand reduces, production is cut and prices may actually increase!

  • Identify the reasons (cultural, social, economic, environmental, technological and political) for the dynamic status of at least two examples of natural capital, e.g. cork, uranium, lithium.  8.2 Dynamic Nature of a Resource 

The issue of waste management is a global problem but how it is tackled varies widely depending upon viewpoints, location, laws and enforcement of these laws. I would encourage students to investigate how waste is generated and dealt with in different locations. There are an increasing number of Documentaries ​on this topic to help students from different locations visualise other societies strategies (or lack of them).

I have students investigate the factors which contribute to the ecological footprint of two contrasting countries. To do this I give them a set of guiding questions and ask them to produce posters. This includes thinking about how EVSs would reduce an ecological footprint. Here's my assignment:

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