2011 GSA Annual Meeting in Minneapolis (912 October 2011)
Paper No. 67-1
Presentation Time: 1:35 PM-1:50 PM


GENTNER, Dedre1, GOLDWATER, Micah1, and JEE, Benjamin, D.2, (1) Department of Psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208, gentner@northwestern.edu, (2) Department of Psychology, College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA 01610

Analogy is a central method in science instruction. It is particularly central in geoscience learning, since many important geological processes occur over ranges of time and space that cannot be directly experienced (Sibley, 2009). We draw on research in cognitive science to lay out specific ways in which analogical processing can promote geoscience learning (Gentner, 2010). One important use of analogical comparison in science is to invite learners to import knowledge from a familiar concrete domain to an unfamiliar , difficult-to-observe domain, as in Marshak’s (2005) analogy between continental masses and a buoy floating on water. Another important way in which analogy supports learning is by highlighting common principles and related differences between two phenomena. For example, Jee, Uttal and Gentner (2008) found that beginning students can easily grasp the concept of a fault—and how it differs from a fracture—if they compare a pair of examples that are alike in every way except that only one of them (the fault) shows slippage along the fracture. Such highly alignable pairs typically lead to better learning than less alignable pairs: For example, Jee et al. found that pairs showing low-alignable (perceptually different) examples of faults and fractures were less effective in teaching about faults than pairs that were highly alignable (similar in all respects but the key difference).

Finally, in addition to discussing the ways in which analogy can promote learning, we will lay out some potential pitfalls of using analogy, as well as guidelines to help instructors gain the intended benefits from analogical instruction.


Gentner, D. (2010). Bootstrapping children’s learning: Analogical processes and symbol systems. Cognitive Science, 34 (5). 752-775.

Jee, B. D., Uttal, D., & Gentner, D., 2008, To find fault is easy? The role of comparison in learning a geological structure, in B. C. Love, K. McRae, & V. M. Sloutsky (Eds.): Proceedings of the Thirtieth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Washington: DC, p. 1219.

Sibley, D., 2009, A cognitive framework for reasoning with scientific models: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 57, p. 255-263.

2011 GSA Annual Meeting in Minneapolis (912 October 2011)
General Information for this Meeting
Session No. 67
Time, Events, and Places: Understanding Temporal and Spatial Learning in Geoscience Education
Minneapolis Convention Center: Room 208CD
1:30 PM-5:30 PM, Sunday, 9 October 2011

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 43, No. 5, p. 182

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