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Previous studies have demonstrated that analogies can promote student learning in physics and can be productively taught to students to support their learning, under certain conditions. We build on these studies to explore the use of analogy by students in a large introductory college physics course. In the first large-scale study of its kind, we demonstrate that different analogies can lead to varied student reasoning. When different analogies were used to teach electromagnetic (EM) waves, we found that students explicitly mapped characteristics either of waves on strings or sound waves to EM waves, depending upon which analogy students were taught. We extend these results by investigating how students use analogies. Our findings suggest that representational format plays a key role in the use of analogy.
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