In genetics education, symbols are used for alleles to visualize them and to explain probabilities of progeny and inheritance paradigms. In this study, we identified symbol systems used in genetics textbooks and the justifications provided for changes in the symbol systems. Moreover, we wanted to understand how students justify the use of different symbol systems when solving genetics problems. We analyzed eight textbooks from three different countries worldwide. We then presented a genetics problem to eight 9th-grade students and probed their justifications for the use of different symbol systems. Our findings showed that there is no one conventional symbol system in textbooks; instead, symbol systems are altered along and within textbooks according to the genetic context. More importantly, this alteration is not accompanied by any explicit explanation for the alteration. Student interviews revealed that some students were able to identify the genetic context of each symbol system, whereas others, who were unable to do so, provided justifications based on different non-genetics-related reasons. We discuss the implications of our analysis for how multiple symbol systems should be presented in textbooks, and how they should be introduced in the classroom.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited