The Baby and the Bath Water: Improving Metaphors and Analogies in High School Biology Texts
CitationShors, Luke. 2017. The Baby and the Bath Water: Improving Metaphors and Analogies in High School Biology Texts. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractThis dissertation is concerned with understanding how metaphors and analogies function in biology education and whether some of the philosophical critiques of the language used in the field of biology — and in particular its accompanying metaphors and analogies, have a basis in the educational materials used to teach the subject. This inquiry was carried out through examining the pedagogical features and content of metaphors and analogies from three high school biology textbooks. After identifying over two hundred and twenty-five verbal and pictorial metaphors and analogies, these figures of speech were coded based on prior research that establishes effective characteristics for their use. In tandem with this quantitative analysis, a philosophical analysis considers how well the content of these metaphors and analogies aligns with current scientific understanding and what misunderstandings may be engendered through the use of these metaphors and analogies. The major findings of the analysis include: 1) Textbook authors are much more likely to utilize metaphors and analogies as well as signal their presence to students compared with past analyses; 2) A number of metaphors and analogies either contain errors in analogical mapping or use source analogues that are too antiquated to support today’s students; 3) The content of many metaphors and analogies is frequently outdated in reference to current scientific understanding; and 4) Many metaphors and analogies tend to reinforce tacit elements of past scientific paradigms – these are termed ‘reinforcing metaphors’ in the dissertation and include nature as machine, nature as blueprint or information, nature as business and nature as war.
The present work submits several implications for students learning biology as well as the manner in which students come to understand the natural world. The work suggests ways to reduce ineffective metaphors and analogies as well as reliance on reinforcing metaphors. It offers new approaches for the use of metaphors and analogies in biology education as well as specific directions that better reflect a more balanced and modern conception of important topics in biology including viruses, eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells, genetics, natural selection and ecology.
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