T2 - The Alhambra Restoration
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Learning Issues
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  Investigation/ Exploration
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  Resolution/ Refinement
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The goal of the first phase of a problem-based unit is to motivate students, to rouse their interest, and to cause them to ask questions - to engage them in the problem situation. You do this, first, by presenting them with an intriguing scenario, and second, by initiating a lively discussion about the situation you have initiated.


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You saw the newspaper article last week reporting a mild earthquake in the area of Granada, Spain. The article indicated that some of the precious mosaic panels in the Alhambra, Granada's famous palace/fortress, had been damaged. Bad news indeed, not only because of the damage to priceless art work, but also because many of the most beautiful rooms in the palace have had to be closed. This will have a serious impact on tourism and ultimately the economy of the city.

You are in the business of art restoration and this morning you received a phone call from your director. She has asked you to join a team that has been hastily put together to research and make recommendations to the Granada Municipal Council on whether it would be economically feasible to restore the panels of the Alhambra and, if so, how this might be done. Unfortunately, an expert on 14th century Moorish art and culture could not be found on such short notice, so you and your team will have to learn what is necessary to make an informed recommendation on your own. Furthermore, time is an important factor. The Council wants your report in two weeks so it can request funds from the Ministry of Culture before they finalize their annual budget.


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You begin the discussion with general questions, then you guide students to identify what they know and what they need to know to begin work on this problem situation. You want to help them formulate good questions, identify their assumptions, recognize relevant issues, and finally to begin to plan their investigation.

Questions you might ask just to get the discussion started:

  • What is this all about?
  • What are we being asked to do as art restoration professionals?
  • What is an art restoration professional?
  • What do you suppose those panels looked like?
  • How would we find out?
  • etc.

Inquiry is essential in PBL. If you would like to read more about the metacognitive aspect of inquiry (i.e., helping students think about their own thinking and learning) please see the brief paper on Metacognitive Inquiry PDF in the Professional Information Center.


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After you and your students have discussed the situation a short while, you can introduce a Learning Issues Board. This is a simple visual organizer that guides students to consider and record what they know and what they need to know in order to investigate the situation. Some teachers add a third column that has students list where they could get the information they need.

Questions you might ask and record on Learning Issues Board:

  • What do we know about the Alhambra situation?
  • How do we know that?
  • What do we need to know?
  • Why is that important to find out?
  • Can any of these items that we've listed be grouped together or combined in some way?
  • How shall we order/sequence our investigation?
  • Are any pieces of information especially important?
  • Are there questions we should answer first?
  • Where might we find the answers?
  • Should we divide the questions among us?
  • Who is interested in finding out ___?

You probably will want to add a What We Found Out column during the Investigation phase, so it's a good idea to put the chart on big sheets of paper to post on a classroom wall and leave up for the duration of the unit. The Learning Issues Board should be visible, revisited, and updated throughout the problem-solving experience. Regular updating is a good instructional technique, too, in that it provides opportunities for review and information sharing. Click below to see a sample Learning Issues Board for The Alhambra Restoration or to get a blank version to give to your students. A blank version is also available to students in the Student Investigation Center.

Alhambra Sample word

Alhambra Blank word


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As an extension of the Engagement Phase, or as you begin the Investigation Phase, you might want to lead your students through the steps of a problem-solving strategy, particularly if they are new to problem solving. Click below to take a look at a strategy we call the "PGP HAM" strategy. Teachers and students who have used it have found it to be helpful. For some tips on how to teach a strategy to students, see the paper on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) PDF where you will find a section on scaffolding strategy instruction.



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Go to the Investigation/Exploration HTML section to get started on your investigation.


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Before you proceed, please take a moment to share your experiences HTML with us in the Communication Center HTML.

Photo of Alhambra
Photo courtesy of Joe Frank Jones, III

Copyright © 2004 Elon University.