Many aspects of science are difficult for students to learn because they relate to objects or processes we cannot (easily) see or compete with ‘common-sense’ theories (misconceptions) that children already possess.
A recent study suggests that using analogies can help children form more valid conceptions. There are three stages to this process, according to the research paper:
1) give a range of examples that use the same general strategy but differ in superficial features.
2) ask systematic probing questions, such as those that encourage learners to generate examples of an idea or explanations of their own reasoning. Probing questions like these can help children to pay attention to important features of the source examples or to notice their own misconceptions.
3) provide children with implicit and explicit feedback. Both implicit feedback, gleaned by children as they interact with the tasks and adapt their approaches accordingly, and explicit feedback, offered by the instructor following children’s exploration of and/or solutions to the tasks, can facilitate subsequent generalization of the strategies.
Some further advice about generating and using science analogies is available here.
One aspect of physics that children (and non-specialists) frequently find difficult is the behaviour of current and voltage in circuits. Some teachers like the water pump analogy – though I’ve worked up a resource using a different framework (one I encountered as an ITT student and has stayed with me all these years). A range of elaborations on the analogy are included in the ppt file – though I would certainly break them up when teaching rather than overload working memory with the whole model at once.
A simple multiple choice quiz could be used to test whether the analogy is working – in terms of avoiding or correcting typical misconceptions. For example, using some of these bitesize quiz items before and after the presentation (of part) of the analogy.
One of the real opportunities of e-resources is the ability to animate scientific models so that students can see causal behaviour over time and experiment with those models as a simulation to confront misconceptions.