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Analyzing Analogies...continued:

The comparison of converting ADP to ATP to recharging a rechargeable battery is an analogy.

Actually, it combines three analogies: ATP/ADP as charged/discharged batteries, the mitochondrion as a battery charger, and the electron transport system as a series of waterfalls. Since I use these analogies in my teaching, we will consider them "teacher-generated" analogies for this commentary/review. You probably use analogies in your teaching–most science teachers do. But most of us use many more teacher-generated analogies than student-generated analogies. This review/commentary investigates the effectiveness of analogies, particularly student-generated analogies, in a science class.

Constructivist theory describes learning as an active, continuous process in that learners take information from the environment and construct personal interpretation and meaning based on prior knowledge and experience. According to constructivist theory, effective learning takes place when the learner makes meaning out of the required knowledge… Meaningfulness depends on the learner's success in finding or creating connections between new information and pre-existing knowledge. One way by which these connections are made is through the use of analogies (p. 1).

I was happy to hear that using analogies with students helps them learn. In fact, several learning theorists include analogy formation as central tenets. Since analogies are a search between what is already known and what is trying to be learned, they are natural vehicles for constructivist learning to occur–keep on using them.

However,

There is an abundance of empirical evidence that analogy use often fails because (a) students do not understand the analog properly, and (b) students are not able to draw the analogies intended (p. 2).


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