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Analogical Scaffolding: Making Meaning in Physics through Representation and Analogy Documents

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Analogical Scaffolding: Making Meaning in Physics through Representation and Analogy 

written by Noah S. Podolefsky

This work reviews the literature on analogy, introduces a new model of analogy, and presents a series of experiments that test and confirm the utility of this model to describe and predict student learning in physics with analogy. Pilot studies demonstrate that representations (e.g., diagrams) can play a key role in students' use of analogy. A new model of analogy, Analogical Scaffolding, is developed to explain these initial empirical results. This model will be described in detail, and then applied to describe and predict the outcomes of further experiments. Two large-scale (N>100) studies will demonstrate that: (1) students taught with analogies, according to the Analogical Scaffolding model, outperform students taught without analogies on prepost assessments focused on electromagnetic waves; (2) the representational forms used to teach with analogy can play a significant role in student learning, with students in one treatment group outperforming students in other treatment groups by factors of two or three. It will be demonstrated that Analogical Scaffolding can be used to predict these results, as well as finer-grained results such as the types of distracters students choose in different treatment groups, and to describe and analyze student reasoning in interviews. Abstraction in physics is reconsidered using Analogical Scaffolding. An operational definition of abstraction is developed within the Analogical Scaffolding framework and employed to explain (a) why physicists consider some ideas more abstract than others in physics, and (b) how students conceptions of these ideas can be modeled. This new approach to abstraction suggests novel approaches to curriculum design in physics using Analogical Scaffolding.

Published January 1, 2008
Last Modified April 1, 2009