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Lesson Plan for Borobudur: Pathway to Enlightenment
Lost and Found: the Conservation of Borobudur

The monument of Borobudur had greatly deteriorated since it was built in the ninth century. Some of the corrosion was due to the effects of nature; some was due to human intervention; and some factors were intrinsic to the structure of the monument. The result was that a significant cultural treasure needed to be saved, and it took a monumental effort on the part of experts from around the world, working through UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to do it. The conservation and preservation of Borobudur is a prime example of international cooperation.

In this lesson students will utilize their cooperative skills to reconstruct the Borobudur rescue effort. Considering the importance of this site for a variety of reasons – cultural, environmental, political and religious, to name a few – students will work together in teams, each representing a different area of expertise, and deliberate the decisions necessary to preserve the past and ensure the future of Borobudur. This lesson will lead students to investigate the following Life-long Learning Question: Why do we conserve past treasures?

Grade Level: Middle to High School
Subject Areas: Social Studies, Geography, Life Skills
Lesson Length: four to six weeks

Learning Goals

Students will:

1. explore the causes, consequences and possible solutions to the global issue of world heritage site conservation. (Social Studies Standard 9)

2. understand the impact of human-induced change on the physical environment. (Geography Standard 14)

3. employ strategies to contribute to the overall effort of the group.
(Life Skills: Working With Others Standard 1)

Assessment of Student Knowledge and Skills

Students will be able to:

1. identify different causes and consequences of endangering world heritage sites and use the information to develop and prioritize possible solutions.

2. discern specific factors of human actions that impact the condition of a site.

3. meet group goals by engaging in active listening, identifying and employing the strengths of others, and demonstrating respect for other members of the group.

Lesson Materials and Preparation


1. Over time, several explorers made their way to Borobudur, each adding to the body of knowledge about the site's past, but also each endangering its future. Borobudur was eventually saved through an international cooperative effort (52:09:20 - 54:30:00). Review with students the specific moments in the episode that describe the impact human action had on the Borobudur site (48:49:20 - 51:17:20).

2. Explain that as a class you will research and plan the conservation efforts for Borobudur as if you were writing a proposal to UNESCO to support your efforts. Students will break up into teams determined by the various disciplines necessary to fully study the site and plan its conservation. Begin by discussing with the students what they already know, and then determine ways to categorize the additional information they will need for this project.

3. Using the first three columns of the Borobudur Rescue Team Sheet, model for the students how to dissect information from the following paragraph to determine what expertise is necessary to the Rescue team:

Borobudur is a Buddhist monument, probably built around the 9th century by the Sailendra kings. The structure is made of stone and is covered by carved story panels that represent the teachings of the Buddha. It is located in Central Java atop a hill, surrounded by rice paddies and volcanoes.

4. After reviewing information in the Treasures of the World episode and web site, encourage students to think of more categories of expertise for their teams. This may take a deeper level of deductive reasoning for the students. You can lead them in their thinking by asking the question, "What does each discipline tell us about Borobudur?" For example, the type of vegetation (rice paddies) and the location (Central Java) could tell us about the climate of the area. What expertise would be needed to research more about the effects of climate on Borobudur? (Some other examples are: architecture, geology, archaeology, history and art history, religion, ecology, chemistry, physics, engineering, etcetera.)

5. Next, students can select which roles they want to play on the rescue team. You can encourage students to take roles in areas in which they are most interested and most capable. Or you may want to use this interdisciplinary lesson to have the students tackle new and/or unfamiliar areas of interest and to expand their understanding of those areas.

6. Once the students have selected their roles, have them fill in the fourth and fifth columns of the Rescue Team Sheet with information from their areas of expertise. You may want to break students into teams of three or four experts. Analyzing what they want to know and how to find it will prepare them for further research.

7. Before students begin further research, have each team discuss answers to the question: "What more do I need to know?" Compare each teams' answers, and determine if there is any overlap. For example, the architect and the geologist might both be interested in what kind of stone was used to build Borobudur. The art historian and religious leader might both be interested in the Buddhist teachings depicted in the stone. You could draw a mind map with the students to show connections between the research questions and areas of expertise. Mapping out the overlap of research questions will help student determine with whom they can share information. This will build a sense of teamwork for the whole project.

8. Explain to the class that the overall goal is to save Borobudur. Each team will take up this goal from the point of view of its area of expertise. Each team will also answer the following questions:

  • What caused the deterioration of Borobudur?
  • Why should Borobudur be saved?
  • How should the monument be saved?
  • What should happen to the monument in the future?
  • What will your experience of saving Borobudur add to the body of knowledge in your area of expertise?
  • How will your experience serve as a model for future conservation efforts?

9. Ask students to keep a journal of their research. They should reflect on the research process considering ideas such as:

  • In which sources did you find the most information?
  • What did you do when you hit a dead-end in your research?
  • How did you organize your research?
  • How did your group work together to conduct the research?

10. When students do get stuck in their research, have them refer back to what they already know and extrapolate clues or questions that could lead to more information. For example, if they know that Borobudur was surround by volcanoes, would prior volcanic eruptions give any clues as to what caused the deterioration of Borobudur?

11. If they are conducting their research in a group, facilitate students' skills of working with others. Encourage active listening and dividing up research tasks appropriately.

12. Once student research is completed and the questions above have been answered, bring the students back together to compare their results.

13. Determine whether there are any conflicting results or plans.

  • Do all the disciplines have the same plan for the future of Borobudur?
  • Do any groups disagree about how the monument should be saved? In what ways?

14. If there are conflicts in the groups' goals, have them develop a plan for resolving these conflicts. If budget and time were limited, how should the project be prioritized? Are there parts of the monument that are more important to save than others? Is one expert's goal more important than another's? Are there ways to compromise? For example, what if the religious leader wants to close off the monument to the public and allow only religious study, but the government official wants to open up the monument to tourists to bring more recognition and money into the country?

15. Originally the goal was simply to "Save Borobudur." After learning more about the many different issues surrounding Borobudur's condition, this goal may no longer seem so simple. Work with the students to determine three or four specific goals that address the highest priorities and take into account the concerns of all the experts.

16. Together, students may want to write a proposal, using information from each area of expertise to support their goals for saving Borobudur. Students can also consider organizing a "symposium" about what they learned and invite local scientists, art historians and government officials to attend their presentations and to offer critiques of the students' work.

Option: This type of project-based lesson can also be used to save a treasure that is familiar to the students, perhaps a wetland or a historic site in the area. Consider the interdisciplinary team needed to save the site, the local resources available to the students and the experts to whom the students could speak.


areas of expertise

Web Links

For more information about world heritage sites, and historical and environmental preservation:

National Trust for Historic Preservation

World Heritage Sites For Kids

Youth Conservation Corps

For more information about Borobudur:

Encarta Online: Borobudur

Great Outdoor Recreation Pages: Java Sacred Monuments

Borobudur images

Decoding Borobudur

Extension Activities

The Teachings of Art

Grade Level: Middle School
Subject Areas: Social Studies, Visual Arts, Communications

Investigations into the purpose of Borobudur revealed that the site was originally used as a teaching tool. It was believed that Buddhist pilgrims would ascend the terraces of Borobudur to view scenes from the life of the Buddha. In a time when most people could not read written language, these images provided instruction to followers in the "way of the Buddha."

Read with the students some of the tales of Buddha, or of other cultures with moralistic tales, such as Aesops Fables or Native American stories. As the students listen to the stories, have them take "visual notes." Perhaps read the story twice so that the students can gather all the visual details. Ask them to select a key image that represents the main message of the story, which will become the centerpiece of a panel, like the ones found at Borobudur. Have the students create a composition around this key image that clearly communicates the story. With the class, lead a constructive critique of the students' works and discuss which elements were most helpful in visually communicating a particular tale.

Changing Values: Phases of Interest in Preserving Culture

Grade Level: Middle to High School
Subject Areas: Social Studies, Visual Arts, Language Arts

Borobudur went through many phases in its life. At one time, it may have been a leading center of Buddhist worship and study. For unknown reasons, it was suddenly abandoned by the culture that created it. Rediscovered many years later, interest was renewed. But many took advantage of new access to Borobudur by stealing "souvenirs" from the monument. Finally, an international team recognized the monument's significance to Asian and Indonesian art and culture and saved it from deterioration.

How do we determine what is important to our culture? When have our preferences changed – as in fashion or art or architecture? Perhaps there is something we don't value now, but may be considered valuable in the future. Ask students to imagine they are explorers or archeologists uncovering American monuments two hundred years from now. What structures should we preserve for these explorers to find – a school, a government building, a museum or shopping mall? How are these structures representative of our values? Choose one and describe it from the point of view of a discoverer two hundred years in the future.

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Mona Lisa
detail from Guernica
Lilies of the Valley Faberge Egg
Hope Diamond
Taj Mahal
scene from Borobudur

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