Abstract
Nonmathematics specialists’ competence and confidence in mathematics in their disciplines have been highlighted as in need of improvement. We report from a collaborative, developmental research project which explores the conjecture that greater integration of mathematics and biology in biology study programs, for example through engaging students with Mathematical Modeling (MM) activities, is one way to achieve this improvement. We examine the evolution of 12 firstsemester biology students’ mathematical discourse as they engage with such activities in four sessions which ran concurrently with their mandatory mathematics course and were taught by a mathematician with extensive experience with MM. The sessions involved brief introductions to different aspects of MM, followed by smallgroup work on tasks set in biological contexts. Our analyses use the theory of commognition to investigate the tensions between ritualized and exploratory participation in the students’ MM activity. We focus particularly on a quintessential routine in MM, assumption building: we trace attempts which start from ritualized engagement in the shape of “guesswork” and evolve into more productively exploratory formulations. We also identify signs of persistent commognitive conflict in the students’ activity, both intramathematical (concerning what is meant by a “math task”) and extramathematical (concerning what constitutes a plausible solution to the tasks in a biological sense). Our analyses show evidence of the fluid interplay between ritualized and exploratory engagement in the students’ discursive activity and contribute towards what we see as a much needed distancing from operationalization of the commognitive constructs of ritual and exploration as an unhelpfully dichotomous binary.
Original language  English 

Pages (fromto)  233–252 
Number of pages  20 
Journal  Educational Studies in Mathematics 
Volume  101 
Issue number  2 
Early online date  24 Nov 2018 
DOIs  
Publication status  Published  Jun 2019 
Keywords
 Assumption building
 Commognition
 Discourse
 Mathematics in biology
 Rituals and explorations
 University mathematics education
Profiles

Elena Nardi
 School of Education & Lifelong Learning  Professor of Mathematics Education
 Research in Mathematics Education  Member
Person: Research Group Member, Academic, Teaching & Research