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Thursday, November 30th, 2006


A great post by the Drs. Eide at their Neurolearning Blog, entitled “Priming the Pump – Optimizing Science Learning Through Analogy

Analogies and metaphors are powerful tools for crystalling moments of insight and stimulating horizontal thinking. Why this is the case exactly science is only beginning to understand, as in the MRI study cited by the Eides but I’d posit that successful analogies work toward maximizing the brain’s natural structural-cognitive modularity (in other words, if understood, analogies are efficient connectors of brain regions and maximizers of utility).

The Eides explained:

When researchers studed how top molecular biology labs conducted their research, they found that causal reasoning re: unexpected findings was driving much of the reasoning and analogical reasoning was used for hypothesis and explanations. When the process of analogical reasoning was studied, there appeared to be a two-part process – first, there had to be multiple potential areas for overlap, second there had to be a decision to integrate or select the best fit between the two.

The presentation goes onto compare museum exhibit learning experiences, and makes a persuasive case for successful exhibits having multiple conceptual binding points – like “things to notice”, “vocabulary necessary to discuss it”, “pictures that relate it to real world phenomena”, “questions that lead them to notice salient aspects of the exhibit.”

Analogical reasoning can appear as early as the kindergarten or early elementary school years, but Dunbar’s work reminded us that in order to be successful, the pump needs to be primed. Everyone comes with different experiences, familiarity, and observational skills – if we want students to really learn analogical reasoning and not simply memorize the right answers, then education and experience “in steps” might be in order first.

This would not apply merely to students but to any situation where learning or problem-solving is a required skill-set. One link in the post at the Eide Neurolearning Blog related to negotiation in applying analogies and using strategies in a fluid manner. Analogies could also aid collaborative groups in moving past conceptual stumbling blocks and re-energize their creativity.

Prime your pump !

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