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Teaching and learning with analogies : friend or foe

posted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by Allan HarrisonAllan Harrison, D Treagust
The Friend or Foe metaphor in the title raises timely questions about the value of analogies in science education. Science teachers and textbook writers differ widely in their enthusiasm for analogical explanations: some use many analogies (Harrison, 2001; Harrison & de Jong, 2004); others are wary because they cannot predict how their students or readers will interpret the analogies they use to teach science (Treagust, Duit, Loslin & Lindauer, 1992; Thiele & Treagust, 1994). This chapter therefore discusses the importance and role of analogies in the teaching and learning of science. It is now more than 10 years since Duit (1991) reviewed the literature on the use of analogies in science education; therefore, we examine new and old studies and ask, “what have we learned over the past decade about the pedagogical and epistemological value of science analogies?” and, “to whom are analogies more important: science practitioners, teachers or students?” The latter question is important because it asks “are analogies just excellent communication tools or can they generate new knowledge?” We begin our discussion by concentrating on the use of analogies in teaching and learning.Much of the research to date has focused on how teachers understand and use analogies (e.g., Glynn, 1991; Treagust, Harrison & Venville, 1998), however, students’ interpretation of teaching analogies deserve equal attention (e.g., Gick & Holyoak, 1983; Dagher, 1995a). This problem raises a further question about analogies research; “Do students see, interpret and apply analogies in the way intended by teachers and textbook writers?” Studies into student understanding of analogies mostly concentrated on the knowledge developed by “good” or talkative students; but what do the majority of students understand when analogies are used to explain abstract and difficult ideas such as molecules, diffusion and plate tectonics?”Analogies have been called “two edged swords? Because the appropriate knowledge they generate is often accompanied by alternative conceptions. When people ‘receive’ analogies, they use their past knowledge, experiences and preferences to interpret the analogy so that it harmonises with their current personal and social milieu. In modern terms, this is called the personal construction of meaning. Science classrooms are a common setting in which analogies are used to enhance concept learning; therefore, improving the way analogies are used in science education has important teaching and learning consequences.


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Ritchie SM

Parent Title

Metaphor and analogy in science education

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Open Access


External Author Affiliations

Curtin University of Technology; Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Education;

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