T2 - Hurricane Season-Prepare!
T2 Home
    Professional Information Center | Student Investigation Center | Communication Center
horizontal line
Learning Issues
Additional Info
horizontal line
  Investigation/ Exploration
horizontal line
  Resolution/ Refinement
horizontal line
horizontal line


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.


back to top

Here it is September, and your Emergency Operations Plan is not yet complete. When you accepted the job of Emergency Management Coordinator for Suffolk County in North Carolina you did not know how much work would be involved in completing the plan. Though your county agency was established soon after required by the NC Emergency Management Act HTML, the required emergency plan somehow never was completed. Oh well, the good news is that most of it is done now, just a few pieces remain. The bad news is that what remains should have been completed in June, the official beginning of hurricane season. Now you are really worried, knowing that in the past North Carolina has experienced its worst storms in the fall - like about now! You are determined to get the Suffolk County plan finished in the next two weeks. You pick up the phone and call the fire chief, the police chief, and the town manager to arrange a series of meetings to work on the remaining pieces.


back to top

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 would an Emergency Operations Plan include?
  • Who would write it? Who would read it?
  • What does an Emergency Management Coordinator do?
  • Why are we worried about hurricanes? Does this mean Suffolk Co. is on the coast?
  • What are we being asked to do in this task?
  • etc. (whatever questions you think would get your students started thinking and talking)

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 by clicking here or by going to the Professional Information Center.


back to top

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 to start contributions to the Learning Issues Board:

  • What do we know about this problem?
  • What do we know about North Carolina, especially with regard to hurricanes?
  • What do we know about hurricanes?
  • 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 there things that need to be done before we do other things?
  • Are any pieces of information especially important?
  • What questions should be answered first?
  • Where might we find the answers?
  • How should we divide the questions among us?

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 Hurricane Season - Prepare! or to get a blank version to give to your students. A blank version is also available to students in the Student Investigation Center.

Learning Issues Board - Sample-1 PDF


back to top

About Suffolk County
Undoubtedly some student questions will be about Suffolk County - its size, location, etc. Since this is a fictitious county we have prepared an information sheet for you to give to students. (We call these scenario additions "Pointers." You will read more about Pointers in the next section.)


back to top

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 PDF where you will find a section on scaffolding strategy instruction.



back to top

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


back to top

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

Hurricane Isabel - NOAA
Photo courtesy of NASA

Copyright © 2004 Elon University.