Blended and more: instructors organize sensemaking opportunities for mathematical equations in different ways when teaching the same scientific phenomenon

Fang Fang Zhao, Linh Chau, Anita Schuchardt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Many students solving quantitative problems in science struggle to apply mathematical instruction they have received to novel problems. The few students who succeed often draw on both their mathematical understanding of the equation and their scientific understanding of the phenomenon. Understanding the sensemaking opportunities provided during instruction is necessary to develop strategies for improving student outcomes. However, few studies have examined the types of sensemaking opportunities provided during instruction of mathematical equations in science classrooms and whether they are organized in ways that facilitate integration of mathematical and scientific understanding. This study uses a multiple case study approach to examine the sensemaking opportunities provided by four different instructors when teaching the same biological phenomenon, population growth. Two questions are addressed: (1) What types of sensemaking opportunities are provided by instructors, and (2) How are those sensemaking opportunities organized? The Sci-Math Sensemaking Framework, previously developed by the authors, was used to identify the types of sensemaking. Types and organization of sensemaking opportunities were compared across the four instructors. Results: The instructors provided different opportunities for sensemaking of equations, even though they were covering the same scientific phenomenon. Sensemaking opportunities were organized in three ways, blended (previously described in studies of student problem solving as integration of mathematics and science resources), and two novel patterns, coordinated and adjacent. In coordinated sensemaking, two types of sensemaking in the same dimension (either mathematics or science) are explicitly connected. In adjacent sensemaking, two different sensemaking opportunities are provided within the same activity but not explicitly connected. Adjacent sensemaking was observed in three instructors’ lessons, but only two instructors provided opportunities for students to engage in blended sensemaking. Conclusions: Instructors provide different types of sensemaking opportunities when teaching the same biological phenomenon, making different resources available to students. The organization of sensemaking also differed with only two instructors providing blended sensemaking opportunities. This result may explain why few students engage in the successful strategy of integrating mathematics and science resources when solving quantitative problems. Documentation of these instructional differences in types and organization of sensemaking provides guidance for future studies investigating the effect of instruction on student sensemaking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number26
JournalInternational Journal of STEM Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 6 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by start-up funds awarded to the third author by the University of Minnesota. The funding body had no role in the design of the study and collection, analysis, and interpretation of data and in writing the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


  • Instruction; Blended sensemaking; Mathematical equations; Sensemaking; Population growth


Dive into the research topics of 'Blended and more: instructors organize sensemaking opportunities for mathematical equations in different ways when teaching the same scientific phenomenon'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this