University of Arizona
Institute for Mathematics and Education

Making the Case for Cases

Report on the 2008 IM&E workshop on Using Cases to Develop Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics

What are Cases?

Katherine K. Merseth (Harvard GSE)


Cases are descriptions or artifacts of real events or objects presented for discussion within a professional development or educational setting. They are not "made-up." They are based on situations or concepts known to be challenging. They are a "case of something." They are purposeful and come in many forms including videos, narratives or artifacts.


Cases for various forms are tools to stimulate and structure conversations about teaching. These tools can help develop new culture, vocabulary, syntax, and norms of exchange about teaching. They can be representations of exemplary practice, everyday practice or reflective of one's personal practice.


Case-based conversations help define vocabulary, help develop and practice norms of exchange, help focus on the work—teaching—and help develop cultural norms of support.


Effective cases

  • Portray real people in moments of decision, faced with a need to take action and accept the consequences.
  • Present enough material for student-readers to make imaginative reconstructions of the world in which the case events took place.
  • Find a provocative, puzzling story and recreate it for your readers. Make it come alive

Weighty Decisions

In this video case a teacher asks an 8th grade class a question about averages.


The Case of Randy Harris

In this text case a student pursues a novel strategy for shading 3/8 of a rectangle.