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Abstract

How can students be taught to develop explanations for scientific phenomena on their own when their background knowledge is incomplete or poorly organized? Evidence from historical accounts of scientific discovery suggest that self-generated analogies—analogies produced by the learners themselves—are a tool by which individuals can generate, evaluate, and modify their own explanations. The central research questions for this study were: Can students use a series of self-generated analogies to bring about change in their understanding of a given scientific phenomenon, and what is the nature of the change in understanding? Participants were asked to create, apply, and modify their own analogies—as opposed to applying a specific analogy provided by an outsider—as a heuristic for constructing, evaluating, and modifying their own explanations for a given scientific phenomena. Nontrivial changes in explanation facilitated by the use of generative analogies were observed. Changes in understanding ranged from the emergence of new explanations to the raising of important questions about the nature of the phenomenon.