This study examined the genre of undergraduate mathematical proof writing by asking mathematicians and undergraduate students to read 7 partial proofs and identify and discuss uses of mathematical language that were out of the ordinary with respect to what they considered conventional mathematical proof writing. Three main themes emerged: First, mathematicians believed that mathematical language should obey the conventions of academic language, whereas students were either unaware of these conventions or unaware that these conventions applied to proof writing. Second, students did not fully understand the nuances involved in how mathematicians introduce objects in proofs. Third, mathematicians focused on the context of the proof to decide how formal a proof should be, whereas students did not seem to be aware of the importance of this factor.
Kristen Lew and Juan Pablo Mejía-Ramos
Keith Weber and Juan Pablo Mejía-Ramos
In a recent article, Inglis and Alcock (2012) contended that their data challenge the claim that when mathematicians validate proofs, they initially skim a proof to grasp its main idea before reading individual parts of the proof more carefully. This result is based on the fact that when mathematicians read proofs in their study, on average their initial reading of a proof took half as long as their total time spent reading that proof. Authors Keith Weber and Juan Pablo Mejía-Ramos present an analysis of Inglis and Alcock's data that suggests that mathematicians frequently used an initial skimming strategy when engaging in proof validation tasks.
Keith Weber, Juan Pablo Mejía-Ramos, and Tyler Volpe
Many mathematics educators believe a goal of instruction is for students to obtain conviction and certainty in mathematical statements using the same types of evidence that mathematicians do. However, few empirical studies have examined how mathematicians use proofs to obtain conviction and certainty. We report on a study in which 16 advanced mathematics doctoral students were given a task-based interview in which they were presented with various sources of evidence in support of a specific mathematical claim and were asked how convinced they were that the claim was true after reviewing this evidence. In particular, we explore why our participants retained doubts about our claim after reading its proof and how they used empirical evidence to reduce those doubts.
Kristen Lew, Timothy Patrick Fukawa-Connelly, Juan Pablo Mejía-Ramos, and Keith Weber
We describe a case study in which we investigate the effectiveness of a lecture in advanced mathematics. We first videorecorded a lecture delivered by an experienced professor who had a reputation for being an outstanding instructor. Using video recall, we then interviewed the professor to determine the ideas that he intended to convey and how he tried to convey these ideas in this lecture. We also interviewed 6 students to see what they understood from this lecture. The students did not comprehend the ideas that the professor cited as central to his lecture. Based on our analyses, we propose 2 factors to account for why students did not understand these ideas.
Timothy Fukawa-Connelly, Keith Weber, and Juan Pablo Mejía-Ramos
This study investigates 3 hypotheses about proof-based mathematics instruction: (a) that lectures include informal content (ways of thinking and reasoning about advanced mathematics that are not captured by formal symbolic statements), (b) that informal content is usually presented orally but not written on the board, and (c) that students do not record the informal content that is only stated orally but do if it is written on the board. The authors found that (a) informal content was common (with, on average, 32 instances per lecture), (b) most informal content was presented orally, and (c) typically students recorded written content while not recording oral content in their notes.
Nicholas H. Wasserman, Keith Weber, Timothy Fukawa-Connelly, and Juan Pablo Mejía-Ramos
A 2D version of Cavalieri's Principle is productive for the teaching of area. In this manuscript, we consider an area-preserving transformation, “segment-skewing,” which provides alternative justification methods for area formulas, conceptual insights into statements about area, and foreshadows transitions about area in calculus via the Riemann integral.