Conceptual Ecology Paper

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Conceptual Ecology Paper

Assignment: Conceptual Ecology Paper


This is not a paper about why you want to be a teacher.  Instead, it’s a paper where you get to begin to describe your conceptual ecology related to teaching and learning.

In this course, we believe that students are not blank slates.  You come to class with all sorts of things in your mind: ways of thinking, feelings, past experiences, etc.  Learning comes from the interaction between these existing ideas and concepts . . . and new material.  What you “know” can be built upon, expanded, and developed—you can learn; but what you know can also limit you or keep you from learning.

Each of us has a “conceptual ecology”—that is, an ecosystem in our minds, populated by all sorts of different “critters,” all sorts of different ideas and concepts.  To learn, you have to “fit” new information into your existing conceptual ecology.  Some of the things in your conceptual ecology are open to new information, while some are more constrained, more closed off to new information.  Some inhabitants are downright opposed to other types of new information.  Sometimes, you have to change your conceptual ecology in order to take in new information. Conceptual Ecology Paper

Some of inhabitants of your conceptual ecology are viewed as naïve or mis-conceptions.  As you progress toward a more mature, professional, expert level of teaching, one should attempt to leave these naïve mis-conceptions behind.  To do so, one must become familiar with one’s conceptual ecology:

  • What “critters” exist in your conceptual ecology
  • How did they get there (i.e.., what is the “developmental history” of your conceptual ecology)?
  • How do they or have they changed (e.g., did they die, get consumed by another critter, wander off, etc.)?
  • How can you help others experience conceptual change?


This stuff about “conceptual ecologies” and “conceptual change” comes from Science educators.  They have developed a whole vocabulary, a library of research, and pedagogical practices based on conceptual change, and we’re applying that research and the terms they use in this course because we believe it is an effective tool for teacher preparation as well as a model for effective K-12 teaching and learning.

They have identified a number of components of our conceptual ecologies—which we will explore throughout this semester.  But in this paper, we will ask you to focus on 3 components which seem especially pertinent to the teaching profession.  Each of these questions has had millions of words written about them, so we don’t expect you’ll write the end-all, be-all on these topics.  The threat is that you will write a stream-of-conscious “barf” of an answer, over generalizing, and saying nothing.  That paper will be returned as unacceptable.  The challenge is to be concise: Do not waste a single word!  But you must also be thoughtful and thorough: Say something worth saying.

 Complete the prompt: Develop an original thesis and write a persuasive paper answering these questions:

  1. What do you think learning is, and why do you think that? What do you think actually happens when you learn something?
  2. What do you think teaching is, and why do you think that? What do you think actually happens when you teach something?  What happens to the teacher?  What happens to the learner?
  3. How do you feel about learning, yourself, and why do you feel that way? Do you like to learn, or not?

This is paper is to be no less than 4 pages and no more than 6 pages, double-spaced.

Near the end of this course, you will write another paper—the Discernment Paper—which will ask you to describe how your concepts have changed over this semester.  One of the major concept changes we anticipate happening during this course is your understanding of the teaching profession and your prospects as a teacher.  The current paper—the “Conceptual Change” Paper—is a starting point for your final, Discernment Paper: it is a record of what you think right now, at the beginning of the semester.  This is a record of your conceptions of teaching and learning.  You will come back to this paper later in the semester. Conceptual Ecology Paper


  • Method of turning it in: Post on Canvas under the Assignment Description.
  • Formatting:
    • You will use the American Psychological Association (APA) Style Guide for all papers in this course: APA is the Style Guide used for the field of Education.
    • The content for this paper will be at least 4 pages in length, typed, double-spaced, 12 pt standard font, with 1” margins on all sides.
  • You will need a Cover Page (as per APA standards)—with a Running Head, Title, Author’s Name, and Institutional Affiliation. You will add an additional line: Course and Section Number.  Your Cover Page is not part of your page count.
  • You do not need an Abstract for this paper.
  • After the Cover Page, cut and paste (and complete) the Rubric page (below).
  • Begin the content of your paper at the top of the next page after your Rubric, following APA standards.
  • You may include headings throughout your paper, but refer to APA guidelines for appropriate use of headings.
  • You may need a References page for this paper—if you use any references—and it will follow APA guidelines. Your References page is not part of your page count.  A References page is not required if you have no references, and we are not expecting references.
  • You may include an Appendix with this paper for any supplementary materials. Any Appendices are not part of your page count..
  • Requirements:
    • Create an original title for your paper—something that summarizes what you’re writing about but is also catchy, clever, and/or insightful.
    • This is not a stream-of-consciousness paper, where you sit down and barf all over the paper. This is not a journal entry or an email you’re writing to a friend.  This is an organized essay.  We heavily recommend that you write a 6-8 page paper … and then scale it back, really packing each sentence, each paragraph with useful information and insight, cutting out all the rambling and meandering in your thoughts.  Too often, people write this paper and don’t really say anything—because they haven’t really thought about the questions before, and they think about it while they’re writing it.  Think first, then write.
    • Go deeper than generalities (e.g., “I love to teach.” Or “I love my content area.”). Dig into the how’s and why’s.  If you don’t address the “why do you think that” part of the question, you have only done half the work.  Surface-level content is not acceptable.  Also, overly general content is also not acceptable.  Be specific.  This is a personal essay about your concepts (you must use “I”).
    • You may wish to consider the following questions while writing your paper, but you do not need to include answers in your final draft to any of these:
      • Is there a right answer to these questions? If there is, how different is your answer to that “right” answer?  If there isn’t a right answer, how can that be?
      • What is the “developmental history” of these concepts in your conceptual ecology (e.g., how did you come to arrive at these concepts of teaching and learning)? How did you learn these concepts that you have?
      • How have your concepts of teaching and learning changed over time? Have you always thought of them the same way?
      • What does it mean if you want to be a teacher and you don’t have a good concept of what teaching and learning are? Is that a problem, or is it an opportunity?
      • As a teacher, is it more important that you be a good learner or a good teacher?
    • If you use other sources to support your reasons for being a teacher, then cite them in your References page. We do not expect you to cite anything because this paper should be about you and your concepts, not somebody else’s concepts.
    • Like all good academic writing, your argument in this paper should be developed completely and thoughtfully, organized to follow a strong thesis statement, with complex and specific examples, strong transitions, few spelling or grammar errors, and leading to a related and insightful conclusion. Conceptual Ecology Paper


  • Grading:
    • You should not be allowed to assess other’s work until you are proficient in assessing your own work. The instructor will use the Rubric to grade your paper.  You will complete the Rubric as a self-assessment of your own work as part of your paper.  Use the rubric to help make sure you’re doing everything that is recommended for this paper.
    • Feedback will be provided based on your Self-Assessment of your own work in addition to the Instructor’s assessment of your work.
      • If your Self-Assessment is considered appropriate and the quality of your work is acceptable (what would typically be considered “A” thru “C” work), your paper will be accepted and will neither positively nor negatively impact your Final Grade for this course.
      • If your Self-Assessment or paper quality is considered inappropriate or incomplete, your paper may be returned as “unacceptable” and will need to be revised and resubmitted within one week of receiving feedback or it will be considered “unacceptable” and will lower your Final Grade in this course by 5 percentage points.
      • If your Self-Assessment and paper quality are considered “Exceptional”—which is higher than what is typically considered “A” work—then it will increase your Final Grade in this course by up to 5 percentage points.
    • NOTE: If you fail to follow these basic instructions, the assignment will be returned to you ungraded—as “unacceptable.”  Even if it is your best work ever, if it is not formatted properly, we will not review it.  You will need to resubmit it within one week of receiving feedback or it will be considered “unacceptable” and will lower your Final Grade in this course by 5 percentage points.

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