Instructional Science

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 157–187

Cognitive and metacognitive aspects in conceptual change by analogy

  • Lucia Mason

DOI: 10.1007/BF00892241

Cite this article as:
Mason, L. Instr Sci (1994) 22: 157. doi:10.1007/BF00892241


This study is a qualitative investigation on the teaching-learning by analogy of complex curriculum concepts in natural and relevant environments, such as classrooms, to improve the ecological validity of the research itself. It aimed at exploring whether students' successful use of analogy in learning science was related a) to the level of their understanding of a specific analogy and b) to their metacognitive awareness of how the analogy was to be used and of the changes produced in their own conceptual structures. During the implementation of a biological curriculum unit, sixty 5th graders were engaged in understanding the ways in which the new concepts (concerning the human circulatory system) were similar to a familiar source (the mail delivery system) by detecting all the relations between the two systems and mapping the relevant information from the source to the target. Learners' preexisting mental models have been taken into account in order to examine their conceptual growth and change via the analogy. Qualitative data are presented for the analysis of elicited and spontaneous analogical inferences, based on structural and semantic similarities, as well as of the identification of where the analogy breaks down. Moreover, qualitative data also concern children's metacognitive awareness of the meaning and the purpose of the analogy, and their personal use of the analogy in changing initial conceptions. As hypothesized, results showed a high correlation between level of conceptual understanding of the new science topic, level of understanding of the analogy itself, and the effective use of the analogy in integrating the new information into the pre-existing conceptual structures. Some implications on the use of analogy for conceptual change are considered from an educational standpoint.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucia Mason
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Educational SciencesUniversity of PadovaItaly

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