In this paper there is a critical overview of the role of analogies as tools for meaning making in science education, their advantages and disadvantages. Two empirical studies on the use of analogies in primary classrooms are discussed and analysed. In the first study, the ‘string circuit’ analogy was used in the teaching of electric circuits with students aged 8-9. In the second study, the ‘making a cake’ analogy was introduced within the study of photosynthesis with students aged 10-11. Outcomes of both studies are scrutinised to assess the effectiveness of analogies as tools for meaning making. How the analogies are presented, their contexts, and how much students are involved in mapping the analogical relations appear to be determinant. This strongly suggests that research and pedagogical practice should shift from determining the effectiveness of analogy in cognitive transfer, from analogue to target domains, towards the recognition of its role in generating engagement in developing meaningful explanations through discourse. Finally, most salient aspects of the use of analogies are considered for contexts in which they are used to promote understanding of scientific ideas. Analogy can play and important role in that task if it is seen as a resource to promote understanding and meaning making but its strengths and limitations are not ignored.
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