From the known to the unknown: the role of spontaneous and self-generated analogies in students’ predictions about novel situations

Nikolaos Fotou, Ian Abrahams

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Background: The use of analogies as reasoning tools that play a key role in human cognition at all ages has been of interest to educators, scientists, and philosophers ever since Aristotle. Indeed, research has consistently found that analogies provided by teachers can, and do, play an important role in facilitating student understanding of scientific ideas. Despite the effectiveness of teacher provided analogies little research has been undertaken on the use, and effectiveness, of student self-generated analogies in helping them to understand novel situations.
Purpose: This article reports on a cross-age study of student prediction-making in novel situations. The purpose was to investigate the basis and justification that students provided when asked to make predictions about novel situations and whether they self-generated analogies (SGAs) in order to make their predictions and, in particular, whether such predictions and justifications were based on their use of SGAs.
Sample: A total number of 166 students were recruited from ten, opportunistically selected, schools in Greece. The sample consisted of 37 primary students in Year 4 (9-10 years), 31 primary students in Year 6 (11-12 years), 29 secondary students in Year 7 (12-13 years), 35 secondary students in Year 9 (14-15 years) and 34 secondary students in Year 11 (16-17 years).
Design and methods: A mixed method approach was used with data being collected through the administration of a paper and pencil survey followed by group discussions. In the former, students were presented with six novel situations in a pictorial form and were asked to make a prediction about the outcome of a future event (effectively what would happen in the event depicted in the novel situation), solving this way the novel situation. Students were then asked to provide written explanations about what led them to their predictions. The focus of the group discussions was the predictions and the explanations provided.
Results: The study found that students, when faced with making predictions about novel situations, regularly SGAs and that such SGAs were predominantly based on their everyday experiences. It emerged that the use of inappropriate SGAs was the predominant reason that predications, and subsequent justifications for those predications, were at odds with the scientific account. The study also found, by analysing the SGAs across a range of student ages, that predictions in novel situations were generally the same and that this similarity was based on the use of the same, or very similar, SGAs that were, in turn, based on the same, or very similar, everyday life experiences.
Conclusions: These results suggest that it might help teachers to be better aware of the common SGAs students are likely to use and the predictable implications of their use in developing misconceptions when learning science.
Original languageEnglish
JournalResearch in Science & Technological Education
Early online date17 Sept 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Sept 2021


  • analogies
  • analogical reasoning
  • novel situations
  • predictions

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