High School Case Teaching Initiative

Case teaching engages the heart of an issue. As practiced in law, medical, and business schools, the case is a real life challenge - and students are responsible for applying knowledge from their field to solve a problem or decide how to confront a challenge.

The purpose of this Initiative is support a new paradigm for achieving the civic mission of schools by developing case teaching as a major component of the secondary history-social science curriculum.

While teachers will find "guide notes" for how to use existing cases, the goal of the project is to build beyond a collection of case teaching resources. More important is the professional dialog - to develop questions, frameworks, and tools that better support students to study the human condition. It is the case teaching method of student-driven analysis that we seek to develop where teachers are equipped to guide learning with rigorous and clear accountability for depth and balance.

While university and professional school courses may assign lengthy readings, the high school program needs a large and wide variety of short cases. We are very grateful to National Public Radio and to Marketplace from American Public Media for permission to re-post their transcripts on our Activities Database as case-customized transcripts. Their broadcasts are a goldmine source for concise and compelling cases.  The audio complement for the case reading is an exceptional bonus in critical areas of literacy and student motivation. In required classes of World and US History, Government and Economics students use news to apply course content to conditions and events in their lifetime. Their studies are relevant and thus more efficient at building understanding and skills -- in reading & analysis and in civics & citizenship.

A feature piece of the case teaching method is the case discussion where students are responsible for having read the case and know they will be called upon to contribute to an analytical discussion. Students are expected to listen to the comments of others in order to build upon a point or to argue against an expressed opinion. They are expected to cite specifics or evidence presented in the case. Most importantly, the teacher will have selected the case based on its illustration of complexity of major issues in the course. The case thus affords an opportunity for students to apply concepts or theories, use analytical tools, test assumptions, see relationships, and make connections - the practice of critical thinking to construct deep understanding.

The goal of project dialog is to identify guiding questions, frameworks, and tools that promote skilled civic engagement in a global age. Topics are integrated in the context of governance in an era of increasing globalization and more complex impacts of technology. The case teaching method, as a problem-solving approach to content, requires the teacher to have a clear road map of course objectives with respect to relevance, significance, precedence, relationships, or multiple perspectives. When students are done with their World History semester that included coverage of WWI, WWII, and the cold war, what should they know about causes of war and security questions facing the world today? After senior semesters of Government and Economics, what should high school graduates be able to discuss regarding challenges to the American political-economy in their lifetime?

The case teaching method, as piloted in this Initiative, is an adaptation of the Pew Faculty Fellowship in International Affairs sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts in the early 1990s at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Our lead instructor, Professor Steven Lamy, was one of the three instructors for the Pew Faculty Fellow program and brought the case teaching method to the USC School of International Relations. A few of the pilot cases in this project are adapted with permission from Georgetown University's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy which now houses the Pew case collection. CALIS has permission to adapt more cases - and teachers are welcome to request a case they wish to adapt as part of this project.

Cases - as good stories - help students see the challenges or trade-offs that faced the players involved in an historic or current event. There are two types of cases:

"A retrospective or narrative case presents a comprehensive history of a problem - complete with multiple actors, contending interests, and the real outcome; students identify alternative options and analyze why this outcome resulted, when other - possibly "better" solutions - existed. A decision-forcing case stops short of revealing the outcome, thus forcing students to identify and assess the range of possible options for action. Typically, these cases have an "Epilogue," which tells "the rest of the story".*

A case is not always what we think of as a 'case study.' A case is an actual historical event, but in this high school adaptation, the case reading may be from different news media or a primary source document. The best case is an excellent reading - accessible and engaging. Teachers prepare students in advance of the case with a framework by which to approach the issue and concepts. Students prepare for a case discussion by "studying the reading" i.e. critical reading where they apply the framework as a guide to identify controversies, causes, choices, assertions, or assumptions.

This Initiative is a developmental process. As we continue our work, more resources and lessons are created. But the true challenge is to make the jump to a systematic integration of case teaching.  That is a true jump to hyperspace that will require greater professional dialog for "course mapping" and to sequence our questions of the human condition across the secondary social science program.

* From The ABCs of Case Teaching: Pew Case Studies in International Affairs by Vicki Golich, Mark Boyer, Patrice Franko, Steven Lamy, published by the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, 2000

Objectives of Case Teaching

  • place responsibility and expectations on students for high-level analysis
  • enable that analysis through identification of guiding questions, frameworks, tools
  • allow practice of analytical skills through relevant, complex and controversial cases

Use the News!

  • connect the relevance of course work to the urgency of keeping current
  • make explicit connections, past to present and across the globe
  • illustrate concepts and dynamics through policy challenges and achievements