Alcove Activities: Level Two and Beyond: Exploring Key Ideas Within Disciplines, Part One
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Level Two and Beyond: Exploring Key Ideas Within Disciplines, Part One
In this section we present you with two exercises focusing on key ideas in a number of disciplines. The ideas are significant both academically and in human life. In some cases we ask you to focus on the very idea of the discipline itself. By stating, elaborating, exemplifying, and illustrating the ideas, you be engaging in substantive writing about each of the disciplines you target.

For example, consider answering the following questions, as part of the process of learning to think biologically:
  • Could you state what photosynthesis is in one simple sentence?

  • Could you elaborate more fully what is involved in photosynthesis?

  • Could you give me an example of photosynthesis?

  • Could you give me an analogy or metaphor to help me see what photosynthesis is like?
The same four questions can be formulated for explaining a democracy, an equation, mass, energy, a chemical reaction, the key problem facing the main character in a story, the main point in a story, and indeed any important concept what- ever. Every subject area has a network or system of concepts that must be internalized to think successfully within the subject. When we can answer these four questions for fundamental concepts within disciplines, we begin to take command of both the concepts and the disciplines.


Exercise #1
We now can suggest a practice pattern for any concept, say “X.” X is best defined as In other words, For example, To illustrate my explanation with an analogy, X is like Practice writing your understanding of three key concepts within disciplines, using the format above. Here are some key ideas you might consider: Science, Chemistry, Biology, Botany, Geology, Ecology, Anthropology, Sociology, History, Economics, Politics, Psychology, Ethics, Theology, Literature, Philosophy, Painting, Sculpture, Music, Engineering, Logic, Mathematics, Physics. We suggest that you use relevant encyclopedias or other reference materials (e.g., textbooks) to figure out the meanings of these key concepts. But always write the meanings in your own words.

Once you have written your understanding of each concept, assess your writing by re-reading the explanation of the concept (from the relevant section in a textbook or other resource). By carefully comparing what you said (and didn’t say) with the explanation in the textbook, you can identify strengths and weaknesses in your initial understanding of the concept.

Because every discipline contains key concepts or organizing ideas that guide everything else within the discipline, it is important to learn how to write in ways that help us internalize those concepts. Key concepts enable us to grasp the big picture of a discipline. We should master these concepts before learning subordinate concepts.



The concept I am focused on is...
This concept is best defined in the following way...
In other words...
For example...
To illustrate my explanation with an analogy, this idea is like...




The concept I am focused on is...
This concept is best defined in the following way...
In other words...
For example...
To illustrate my explanation with an analogy, this idea is like...




The concept I am focused on is...
This concept is best defined in the following way...
In other words...
For example...
To illustrate my explanation with an analogy, this idea is like...