T2 - The Alhambra Restoration
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Investigation/ Exploration
Knowledge and Skills
Instructional Techniques
PBL Techniques
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  Resolution/ Refinement
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The goal of the Investigation/Exploration phase is for students to acquire, organize, and analyze the information the problem scenario leads them to gather. They will need a good understanding of the content and the issues surrounding the situation before they can narrow the problem and frame a problem statement.

Your students' investigation should be built around the questions generated during the Engagement phase and continue to be generated during the Investigation. Remember to revisit the Learning Issues Board often and to help your students prioritize and refine their questions. Click below to see a sample of The Alhambra Learning Issues Board as it might expand during Investigation.

Alhambra Sample 2 word


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At this point you will want to work with your students to begin to plan their investigation. Click below or go to the Professional Information Center to find the QD4R Research Strategy with its accompanying Research Guide visual organizer. All of your students might not need this structured strategy, but some undoubtedly will. Again, refer to the paper on Universal Design for Learning PDF for tips on how to scaffold the use of learning strategies with your students.

QD4R Strategy PDF | QD4R Research Guide Word


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Though you cannot anticipate all the questions your students will generate, you can anticipate many of them and be prepared for them. In fact, there are some content areas that you want to make sure are addressed during the course of the unit, so if necessary, you suggest ("seed") those questions yourself. In The Alhambra Restoration, you should be prepared to have students investigate the topics listed below. We have suggested a few Learning Tasks for each topic, though you will want to add others and/or change these to suit your needs. The numbers of the tasks do not imply any sequential order. They are simply the numbers we gave them as we devised them, and then we placed them with the topics they seemed to match. All tasks are not designed to be used with all students, of course, but instead to provide for a wide variety of interests and abilities in keeping with the flexibility principle of Universal Design for Learning PDF. You will notice, too, that many of the tasks have built-in content enhancements (see explanation below) and strategy reminders, again as part of the universal design of the unit.

  1. The Alhambra Palace
  2. Geometric patterns
  3. Economic issues


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Deductive and Inductive Approach to the "Big Idea" PDF

One decision you will have to make early on is whether you are going to take a deductive or an inductive approach to the "big idea." That decision will guide the questions you develop for this phase of PBL. Regardless of which approach you use, the Big Idea is an important component of The Alhambra Restoration unit. It is what ties the major concepts together, and it is what facilitates transfer of what is learned during this unit. Use of a Big Idea is discussed in the Universal Design for Learning PDF paper in the Professional Information Center.

Embedded Instruction ("just in time" teaching)

As students engage in their Learning Tasks, they will find they need some knowledge and skills that they do not have. This provides opportunities for "just in time" teaching, or embedded instruction. This may take the form of mini-lectures, demonstrations, interviews, readings, videos, etc. During the Investigation phase, you should probably be prepared to provide information on:

  • the economics of tourism
  • interpretation and use of maps
  • tessellations and transformations
  • spreadsheet construction and use
  • making tables, graphs, etc.
  • other – (complete the list with items of your own)

You will want to plan ahead for the grouping and instructional structures you will use and to establish effective ways for students to acquire and manage the information they need. Consider the strategies below.

Mediated Scaffolding

Scaffolding, an essential teaching technique, refers to the guidance teachers give to students as they gain new knowledge and learn new skills. On difficult tasks, scaffolding is substantial at first, but then is gradually withdrawn as students become increasingly able to perform independently. The amount and duration of scaffolding will change with the needs of the learner as well as the difficulty of the task. To read more about scaffolding, please see the Universal Design for Learning PDF paper in the Professional Information Center.

Content Enhancements

Content Enhancements are memory and/or organization aids, such as maps, graphic organizers, mnemonics, study guides, etc., that do what their name implies - enhance content. Their use is advocated for students with learning disabilities, but they should be used by any student who finds them helpful. We have prompted students to use content enhancements in some of the Learning Tasks as part of the unit's UDL feature. You will find a description of content enhancements in the UDL paper PDF in the Professional Information Center.

Reciprocal Teaching PDF

Reciprocal teaching is a well-researched and highly regarded strategy for comprehension and concept development. We have found it also works well with small groups in a problem-solving situation. A brief description of reciprocal teaching can be found in the Professional Information Center.

Jigsaw PDF

A very effective grouping strategy is the jigsaw, a cooperative learning structure that provides a strong design for teaming students. If you clicked on some of the Learning Tasks above you will have found several that are appropriate for small group work. You might want to use the jigsaw to segment and assign those tasks.

Inquiry ("stop and think")

As students work, periodically ask them to stop and think about the implications of their tasks for the problem at hand. Ask questions such as:

  • How has the history affected the culture of Granada?
  • How has history and culture affected the appearance and design of the Alhambra?
  • Why is authenticity of design important? What makes a design authentic?
  • How will the tourist business influence this problem/solution?
  • How does the location of Granada affect the problem/solution?
  • What patterns are we beginning to see? in the panel designs? in the cost of panel replacement?
  • How has your thinking about the situation changed?
  • How is this information relevant to our situation?
  • What forces are operating on this problem?
  • What are the real issues here?
  • What more do we need to know? How can we find out?


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Pointers and Kickers


Students will need more information regarding the scenario as they begin to explore their situation. In The Alhambra Restoration unit you will have to get information to them regarding:

availability and cost of the tile
their timeframe and budget

As you give students this information, stay within the framework of the scenario. Make the information as realistic and authentic as you can. These pieces of information, or "Pointers," are often in the form of some communication such as a letter or email or phone call, etc., but they can be whatever provides the most authentic format. An example of a Pointer in The Alhambra unit is a letter and catalog from the Nasrid Tile and Art Company PDF regarding tile cost, materials, etc.


Occasionally you will want students to consider something they haven't considered or to think about something in a different way. To accomplish this, you introduce a "Kicker." For example, if the students decide that they should recommend that the Alhambra be demolished in order to build a shopping mall, you could deliver a letter indicating that the Department of Tourism already has plans for a shopping mall in another part of the city, or you might deliver a letter that tells them that a significant amount of money has been given by an anonymous donor to be used ONLY for restoring the damaged panels in the palace.

Problem Statement

When your students have acquired a clearer understanding of the situation, you will need to lead them in developing a problem statement that focuses further investigation and leads to the Resolution phase of PBL.

A problem statement should include the issues to be resolved and the conflicting conditions that must be met so the proposed solution will be workable. It can be stated in the following format:

"How can we [take/recommend this action] in a way that [takes into account this constraint]?"

Sample problem statements for The Alhambra include:

How can we design a panel that is consistent with the style of the Alhambra and stays within the Ministry of Culture budget?

How might we design a panel that is contemporary in design but retains the geometric patterns of the original mosaic?


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A variety of assessments can be used during the Investigation phase:

  • Checkpoint "quizzes" for each of the topic areas: history, tessellations, geometry, Moorish art, etc.
  • Daily entries in students' Problem Logs
  • Rubrics for classroom participation and teamwork
  • Rubrics associated with task products/performances
  • Concept maps updates

Visit the Assessment section of the Professional Information Center.


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Go to the Resolution/Refinement HTML phase to begin making decisions regarding your proposed solution.


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Before proceeding, please take a moment to share your experiences HTML with us!

Photo of Alhambra
Photo courtesy of Joe Frank Jones, III

Copyright © 2004 Elon University.