Exploring Middle School Students' Understanding of Three Conceptual Models in Genetics

Hava Bresler Freidenreich, Ravit Golan Duncan, Nicole Shea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Genetics is the cornerstone of modern biology and a critical aspect of scientific literacy. Research has shown, however, that many high school graduates lack fundamental understandings in genetics necessary to make informed decisions about issues and emerging technologies in this domain, such as genetic screening, genetically modified foods, etc. Genetic literacy entails understanding three interrelated models: a genetic model that describes patterns of genetic inheritance, a meiotic model that describes the process by which genes are segregated into sex cells, and a molecular model that describes the mechanisms that link genotypes to phenotypes within an individual. Currently, much of genetics instruction, especially in terms of the molecular model, occurs at the high school level, and we know little about the ways in which middle school students can reason about these models. Furthermore, we do not know the extent to which carefully designed instruction can help younger students develop coherent and interrelated understandings in genetics. In this paper, we discuss a research study aimed at elucidating middle school students' abilities to reason about the three genetic models. As part of our research, we designed an eight-week inquiry unit that was implemented in a combined sixth- to eighth-grade science classroom. We describe our instructional design and report results based on an analysis of written assessments, clinical interviews, and artifacts of the unit. Our findings suggest that middle school students are able to successfully reason about all three genetic models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2323-2349
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Journal of Science Education
Issue number17
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


  • Genetics education
  • Implementation study
  • Primary school

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