Development of the Sci-math Sensemaking Framework: categorizing sensemaking of mathematical equations in science

Fang Fang Zhao, Anita Schuchardt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Scientific ideas are often expressed as mathematical equations. Understanding the ideas contained within these equations requires making sense of both the embedded mathematics knowledge and scientific knowledge. Students who can engage in this type of blended sensemaking are more successful at solving novel or more complex problems with these equations. However, students often tend to rely on algorithmic/procedural approaches and struggle to make sense of the underlying science. This deficit may partly be the fault of instruction that focuses on superficial connections with the science and mathematics knowledge such as defining variables in the equation and demonstrating step-by-step procedures for solving problems. Research into the types of sensemaking of mathematical equations in science contexts is hindered by the absence of a shared framework. Therefore, a review of the literature was completed to identify themes addressing sensemaking of mathematical equations in science. These themes were compiled into nine categories, four in the science sensemaking dimension and five in the mathematics sensemaking dimension. This framework will allow for comparison across studies on the teaching and learning of mathematical equations in science and thus help to advance our understanding of how students engage in sensemaking when solving quantitative problems as well as how instruction influences this sensemaking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10
JournalInternational Journal of STEM Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 11 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by start-up funds awarded to the AS 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 should be declared.

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


  • Equation
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Sensemaking


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