Thinking across Cultures

By Donald M. Topping; Doris C. Crowell et al. | Go to book overview

23
Generation of Spontaneous Analogies by Students Solving Science Problems

John J. Clement University of Massachusetts

Snow ( 1961) described the gap between the technological and humanistic orientations in modern society as a gap between "two cultures" and viewed many modern problems as arising from the lack of communication between them. It is possible that a similar gap exists between the experts who teach introductory college science and the naive student attempting to comprehend a scientific discipline for the first time.

Recent data on persistent preconceptions in physics, for example, ( Clement, 1982, McCloskey, 1983) show that students bring preconceptions with them to class, which resist modification and prevent the student from assimilating new material.

In addition to using a new vocabulary and a qualitatively different set of concepts and beliefs, it is worth considering whether the expert may also use a different set of reasoning processes from the naive student. This paper looks in particular at analogical reasoning, a component of scientific thinking in experts, and asks whether students can use this reasoning process as well. The answer to this question should speak to the larger issue of the width of the gap between the two cultures of students and experts.

The question becomes more important when we note that analogies have long been advocated as a powerful tool in teaching. There is evidence that experts can use analogical reasoning to help them resolve conceptual difficulties during problem solving ( Clement, 1981). We suspect that analogical reasoning can also be used to help students resolve their conceptual difficulties. But we suspect that they need to do the reasoning, not just memorize the two connected sides of an analogy, in order to increase their understanding. Thus, it is an important question as to whether students can reason analogically or whether this is a process that is part of the private repertoire of a privileged group of experts.

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