Argumentation and the use of evidence about the model of gene expression by secondary school students

University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Supervisor: Prof. María Pilar Jiménez-Aleixandre

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The aim of this thesis is to examine the competency in using evidence by secondary school students in the context of the model of gene expression. Specifically, the research contributes to the area of the use of evidence as a dimension of scientific argumentation, and in particular to the analysis of the process of articulation of evidence, on the one hand in the construction of arguments, and on the other hand, in the evaluation of scientific claims about gene expression, in terms of students' positions about gene-environment interactions and about determinism. This issue is a scientific question with social implications. Although genetics is a prominent topic in science education, determinism has not been explicitly studied. This examination, as well as the attention to the use of evidence in different argumentative contexts related to the same scientific model, constitutes the original contribution of the thesis. The main objective of the thesis is to examine the use of evidence by secondary school students, and the difficulties they encounter when using evidence in different argumentative contexts related to the model of gene expression. This objective is examined through three questions: 1) the practice in the use of evidence in different argumentative contexts; 2) the students’ positions about gene-environment interactions; 3) teachers’ discourse supporting the appropriation of the model of gene expression, the identification and remediation of students’ difficulties in the use of evidence. The methodology is qualitative and framed in the approach of multiple cases study and discourse analysis. The research includes a pilot study and four case studies developed in two research phases. The design of the teaching sequence is analysed through the didactical transposition, and for the analysis of the three research questions different rubrics were designed in interaction between data and the literature.

The analysis reveals different dimensions in the operations of use of evidence in each context. There are differences between the argumentative quality in writing statements and oral discussions. Some of the oral arguments are of higher levels than the final written arguments. This higher quality is related with oppositions or demand of justifications within the group. The majority of students show non-determinist positions in their arguments, although not all of them recognized gene – environment interactions, and there is an identification of black people as inhabitants of Africa, which can be considered as influenced by social representations. Regarding teachers’ discourse, there are differences in the communicative approach between the two teachers, with one being more dialogic and interactive than the other in three dimensions. A dialogical approach facilitates the identification of students' difficulties.

Based on the findings, it is suggested that the identification of specific dimensions in the operations of the use of evidence in each context should guide teachers to design specific support for students. The different types of didactical contract influence the comprehension of SSI. This issue should be addressed in teacher education, in order to improve the teaching of the model of gene expression in particular, and of complex scientific models in general. This thesis constitutes a first contribution to the study of students’ positions about interactions in the context of gene expression in the didactics of genetics. Detailed research is needed about what social representations about races exist in the classroom, and how these interfere in the process of teaching and learning the model of gene expression, and in the use of evidence. One implication is the need for explicitly addressing the issue of 'human races' in biology classrooms, supporting students in the development of critical evaluation of determinist and racist positions.

The thesis itself contains an executive summary of 11 pages and a conclusions chapter of 18 pages in English.

Findings from the thesis are published in the following journal articles and book chapters:


Jiménez Aleixandre, M. P. y Puig, B. (2012). Argumentation, evidence evaluation and critical thinking. In B. Fraser, K. Tobin & C. Mc Robbie (Eds.) Second international handbook of Science Education. Volume 2 (pp. 1001-1017). Dordrecht: Springer.

Puig, B., Bravo Torija, B. & Jiménez Aleixandre, M. P. (2012). Argumentation in the classroom: two teaching sequences. Santiago de Compostela: Danú. [published in three languages: English, Spanish and Galician]. May be downloaded from 

Puig, B., & Jiménez-Aleixandre, M. P. (2011). Different music to the same score: teaching about genes, environment and human performances. In T. D. Sadler (Ed), Socio-scientific issues in the classroom: teaching, learning and research (pp 201–238). Dordrecht: Springer.

Puig, B., & Jiménez Aleixandre, M. P. (2011). Students' understanding of evidence for evolution. In A. Yarden, & G. S. Carvalho (Eds.). Authenticity in Biology Education: Benefits and Challenges. A selection of papers presented at the 8th Conference of European Researchers in Didactics of Biology (ERIDOB) (pp. 285-294). Braga, Portugal.

Puig, B., & Jiménez Aleixandre, M. P. (2010). What do 9th grade students consider as evidence for or against claims about genetic differences in intelligence between black and white “races”? In M. Hammann, A. J. Waarlo, e K. Th. Boersma (Eds.), The nature of research in biological education (pp. 137–151). Utrecht: University of Utrecht.


Jiménez Aleixandre, M. y P. Puig, B. (2010). Argumentación en la evaluación de explicaciones causales en ciencias. Alambique, Didáctica de las Ciencias Experimentales, 63, 11-19.

Bravo Torija, B., Puig, B., y Jiménez Aleixandre, M. P. (2009). Competencias en el uso de pruebas en argumentación. Educación Química, 2, 137-142.

Jiménez Aleixandre, M. P., Bravo, B. y Puig, B.(2009).¿Cómo aprende el alumnado a evaluar pruebas? Aula de Innovación Educativa, 186,10-13.

Puig, B. y Jiménez Aleixandre, M. P. (2009). ¿Qué considera el alumnado que son pruebas de la evolución? Alambique, Didáctica de las Ciencias Experimentales, 62, 43-50.

Jiménez Aleixandre, M. y Puig, B. (2009). As ideas de Darwin na sociedade galega 150 anos despois. ¿Está vivo o chamado darwinismo social? En Díaz Fierros, F. (Ed.), O Darwinismo e Galicia (pp.271-288). Santiago De Compostela: Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Servicio de Publicaciones e Intercambio Científico.


Puig Mauriz, B. (2013). O desempeño da competencia de uso de probas sobre a expresión dos xenes en secundaria. Universidade de Santiago de Compostela.,+Blanca&type=author 


Dr. Blanca Puig
Dept. Didáctica das Ciencias Experimentais
Universidade de Santiago de Compostela
Avd. Xoán XXII, s/n
15782 Santiago de Compostela

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
Phone: + 34 881812007
Fax +34 981 572681

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