New search
download case
  • Overview
  • Teaching Notes
  • Supplemental Materials
  • Comments/Replies

Winning by a Neck

A Case Study in the Scientific Process


Stephanie J. Toering Peters
Department of Biology
Wartburg College


This interrupted case study is designed to introduce beginning biology students to the process of science by exploring a question that is accessible to students with limited scientific background. The giraffe (Giraffa camelopardialis) is the tallest terrestrial mammal and has a disproportionally long neck. Historically, this trait has been hypothesized to be an adaptation for competition between the giraffe and other herbivore species. Guided by a PowerPoint presentation and (optional) worksheet, students will propose hypotheses to explain the giraffe's uniquely long neck and will examine the results of field experiments to test the prevalent historical hypothesis that the long neck allows the giraffe to exploit high food sources. They will find that the data do not support this initial hypothesis and will use other field observations to propose and examine an alternative hypothesis. Throughout the activity students will engage in the process of science; they will propose hypotheses, design experiments, make predictions, and draw conclusions from published field observations.

  • Understand the scientific process, including the fact that not all hypotheses are supported by experimental evidence.
  • Propose testable hypotheses and possible observations or experiments to test those hypotheses.
  • Interpret simple graphs and make conclusions based on the information they contain.
Keywords: giraffe; neck; hypothesis testing; natural selection; sexual selection; Giraffa camelopardialis; sparring
Topical Area: Scientific method
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division, General public & informal education
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: N/A, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biology (General)   Science (General)   Science Education  
Date Posted: 3/1/2017
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

Teaching Notes

Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering here.

Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

  Download Teaching Notes

Supplemental Materials

An optional worksheet for students to complete is available for download below.



City State:
security code
Enter Security Code: