COS 24-1 - The use of everyday life analogies in scientific teaching

Tuesday, August 9, 2011: 8:00 AM
9C, Austin Convention Center
Malin J. Hansen, Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Analogies taken from everyday life can make abstract concepts more concrete and therefore help students understand and apply complex concepts in ecology. However, in order to successfully transfer the knowledge from the analogous situation to an ecological problem, students need to correctly map, i.e. match corresponding terms or processes between the analogy and the problem to be solved. I designed analogies using situations that students are likely to encounter in their everyday lives to help students in a course in introductory ecology reason through problem sets involving a variety of ecological concepts. The problem sets (2-4 each week) were posted on-line in the fall of 2010 and completed by students for participation marks. Some of the problem sets were discussed in class. Each problem set had three parts, 1) an analogy including a question related to the analogy, 2) five to ten questions based on an ecological study, most of which required students to draw conclusions from graphs or tables, and 3) a mapping exercise in which students were asked to match corresponding terms and processes between the analogy and the ecological concept. I compared students’ performance on the ecological questions with their performance on the mapping exercise.


I found that students who successfully matched corresponding terms and processes between analogies and ecological concepts performed significantly better on the ecological questions (p<0.05). For example, on a problem set based on a study on population regulation and limitation students (n=21) who correctly matched the terms of the analogy to the ecological concepts scored 71% on the ecological questions, while students (n=21) who were not able to do the mapping correctly scored 44%. The students in these two groups did not differ significantly (p>0.05) in terms of their prior knowledge on this topic (based on a pre-semester test). This suggests that students who were able to see the links between the analogy and the ecological concept were able to provide better answers to ecological questions regardless their background knowledge on the topic. Additional research is required however in order to answer questions such as: 1) To what extent do analogies improve students’ ability to understand, apply and retain ecological concepts, 2) What type of analogies help students learn ecology?, and 3) How can the effectiveness of different analogies be evaluated?

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