Popular Searches

NOTE: As with everything on this site, the following are merely suggestions and ideas to get instructors thinking about the possible range of ideas that might work. Nothing on this site is mean to be prescriptive. Each Catalyst course has its own specific learning outcomes and required assignments. Please refer to those for the course requirements.

Case-Study Problems: one to three class periods

Assign groups of three to six students a scenario that could happen in the given field of study or that is relevant to the course topic. The teacher should provide to the students a brief history/explanation of how the current situation happened and should be presented with some kind of “dilemma” that a key actor is facing in the situation.

Instruct the students that, on day one, they must develop a “learning plan” (identifying what knowledge they need to learn and how they will obtain it) and a “work plan” (how they would proceed to evaluate that knowledge to arrive at a consensus for a diplomatic solution). This would require students to research the historical, political, cultural and economic roots of the problem.

  • Imagine that a sculptor has been commissioned by a city to memorialize a controversial historical figure. On the one hand, the person being memorialized brought some good to the world. On the other hand, the person used many unethical means to achieve those positive goals. (The instructor can flesh out the details as he/she see fit.) The community is divided about whether or not such a historical figure deserves recognition at all. As an artist, you need to make a living while remaining true to your own artistic voice, but also represent a diverse community with passionately differing opinions. How might you proceed?
  • Imagine two countries nearly at war over x, y or z reasons (resources, religious conflicts, water/land rights, etc.) What diplomatic strategy would work best?
  • In recent years, a desire for safe travel and the legal right to privacy often have clashed. The Transportation Security Administration has faced criticism for how it conducts bodily (and property) searches. How might your group devise some solutions that appease critics of the TSA while still assuring safe travel?


Contemporary scenarios motivate students more than historical examples, so even if the example is from the distant past, it works better to frame it as a contemporary dilemma. Instructors should provide enough details to bring the scenario to life, but not too many details so as to bog students down or distract them.

Many disciplines and fields have “banks” of case study ideas published online. A search for “case studies in [area of study]” should reveal some examples that instructors can use or adapt.

Here are just a few examples:

Structured Problem-Solving: three to five class periods

The general goals for this type of project is to get the students to arrive at answers to the following questions: What do we already know? What do we need to know? Where and how can we find out?
Each instructor can develop something relevant to the content of his or her course. It can be “discipline-specific,” but, if possible, the instructor should attempt to offer analogies to similar problems in other disciplines.

Upon completion, the students can be required to report (orally, written or both) their solution(s) and explain to the class the steps they took to develop the solution(s).

A few ideas follow:

  • Have students evaluate the water quality of Green Lake and come up with several preliminary ideas to improve it. (Not a detailed plan at this stage; just something basic like, “We need to find ways to prevent fertilizer run-off from nearby agriculture, control x, y and z invasive species,” and …)
  •  Have students come up with ideas to increase voter turnout in U.S. elections. (National Election Holiday, weekend elections, mail-in voting, mandatory voting, etc.)
  • What measures can we take to lower gun-related violence in the United States?
  • How can we ensure that the future of education in the United States remains strong?


Have the students first develop a “work plan”: How will they proceed to figure out what they need to learn? Where can they find that? Who will be “in charge” of what components of that process? By what day/time should they have all the information they need to proceed to the next step? (This teaches them how to set realistic goals while holding each other accountable, etc.)

This can be part of the writing assignment component as well. Have the students write out answers to the questions stated above as the goals:  “What do we already know?” “What did we need to know?” “Where can we find out?”, and so on.