Questions tagged [proofs]

For questions about mathematical proofs in an educational context.

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25 answers
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Good, simple examples of induction?

Many examples of induction are silly, in that there are more natural methods available. Could you please post examples of induction, where it is required, and which are simple enough as examples in a ...
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81 votes
21 answers
23k views

Why are induction proofs so challenging for students?

This forum already has many good, simple examples of induction proofs, a great resource. As I am soon to teach induction for the $n^\textrm{th}$ time—this time to some perhaps under-prepared ...
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20 votes
2 answers
3k views

Example "bad proofs"?

As a sidetrack in this question it came up that it is important to have students read texts (in particular proofs) critically. As examples it is nice to have correct proofs at hand (presumably in the ...
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9 votes
6 answers
770 views

How to teach Proofs

I was taught in 9th grade the two column proof, and it wasn't until 11th (when I saw some number theory) that I realized what a poor method that is. However, it is certainly effective in getting ...
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29 votes
7 answers
2k views

Teaching logic with a proof assistant

I am thinking about teaching a university-level "introduction to proofs" class (mainly for math and CS majors) making use of a computer proof assistant like Coq. I feel like there is a lot of ...
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29 votes
8 answers
4k views

Is there a good age/level to start learning mathematical proofs?

I know from my experience I learnt proofs myself way before I learnt them in school and I felt it gave me a far better understanding of math. What is a good point to start learning proofs? what are ...
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30 votes
13 answers
6k views

Is Euclid dead? or Should Euclidean geometry be taught to high school students?

Apparently Euclid died about 2,300 years ago (actually 2,288 to be more precise), but the title of the question refers to the rallying cry of Dieudonné, "A bas Euclide! Mort aux triangles!" (...
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21 votes
7 answers
2k views

What are some good low-prerequisite examples for the heuristic advice "If you cannot prove it, prove something stronger."?

One useful trick in mathematics is to prove something stronger instead of the question asked. This works well in induction proofs (because strengthening the claim also strengthens the induction basis)...
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17 votes
5 answers
10k views

Good examples of proof by contradiction?

In later courses on automata theory, many students just seem incapable of getting a proof that a language isn't regular right, be it using the pumping lemma (see also the many questions on the matter ...
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16 votes
10 answers
2k views

How to teach Mathematical Induction mathematically?

I am exhausted of teaching Mathematical induction to my little brother. I have given him many examples, Domino effect, aligned shops of hot dogs etc and every time he says that he got it but when I ...
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16 votes
1 answer
940 views

Is there any evidence about the effectiveness of "table proofs" in pre-college mathematics education?

I remember when I took geometry in high school, like most students it's where I was formally introduced to proofs. However, the way we went about them was strange, it really felt like symbol ...
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14 votes
11 answers
5k views

When do college students learn rigorous proofs?

I teach in a regional university. In my department, students take their "proof course" (a course that sole focus on writing proofs) in the third or even fourth year. All the courses before ...
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12 votes
2 answers
480 views

Teaching logic through "high school algebra"?

I am going to be teaching a discrete math class in the fall. One of the major goals of the course is a solid understanding of the basics of logic: the precise meanings of "and", "or", "not", "implies"...
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6 votes
3 answers
316 views

Should one justify formulae in middle school?

Consider two possible lesson outlines: Check homework. Show a visual demonstration for the area of a circle, e.g. https://tube.geogebra.org/student/m279 Calculate the area of a circle as an example. ...
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12 votes
2 answers
846 views

Definitions/proofs that allow "useless" cases?

I often see students confused/mystified by definitions (and proofs) that allow/consider "useless" cases. A case in point is the definition of a DFA (deterministic finite automaton), which allows ...
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8 votes
2 answers
577 views

Should students be given partial scores when they gave an incomplete proof by contradiction?

In a quiz, there was a question asking students to show something doesn’t exist. A lot of them gave proofs by contradiction. Initially, I designed the marking scheme so that an incomplete proof by ...
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22 votes
9 answers
3k views

"A computer program IS a proof": Introducing rigor via programming

This provocative essay Igor Rivin. "Some Thoughts on the Teaching of Mathematics—Ten Years Later." Notices of the AMS, Jun/Jul 2014. (PDF download link). suggests that a discussion of Igor'...
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47 votes
24 answers
18k views

How to explain Monty Hall problem when they just don't get it

Talking to some friends, I was asked to explain the answer to the Monty Hall problem (see also here;) .... they were having some trouble because whoever explained it to them didn't do a very good job. ...
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28 votes
5 answers
1k views

Inability to work with an arbitrary mathematical object

This question is motivated by student responses to homework and quiz problems I have recently posed in an undergraduate real analysis course. I will share some examples and observations first, to ...
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23 votes
23 answers
5k views

How can I explain why we need proofs to someone who has no experience in mathematical thinking?

I know someone I really like, but sadly, that person has absolutely no experience in math or mathematical thinking above third grade mathematics (+, - are fine, but division already makes problems). ...
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  • 331
13 votes
5 answers
818 views

Descriptive Thinking vs. Formal Writing

Sometimes I come across some exam answers which describe a proof sketch or a counterexample very well but are not written formally. Such proofs show that a particular student understands the general ...
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20 votes
18 answers
5k views

Math Proofs - why are they important and how are they useful?

My 13yr old has leapt forward in math during the pandemic. He's taking discrete math right now but is running into a bit of a wall with proofs. I have a feeling he needs to find reasons why they can ...
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16 votes
1 answer
345 views

How to assign grades to proofs: what do(es) the literature/experts suggest?

I am teaching an introductory course on proofs in mathematics in a mid-size American public university, and trying to develop some kind of consistent grading meta-scheme for grading proofs. I am ...
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14 votes
6 answers
521 views

Unique steps leading to a non-unique answer

When asked to show a math problem has a unique solution, students sometimes think that if an algorithm leading to a solution has unambiguous instructions at each step (no need to make choices at any ...
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13 votes
3 answers
326 views

Any suggestions on how to approach recursion and induction?

Much mathematics is intimately tied to recursion, be it in definitions (like factorials and integer powers) and proofs by induction. This is also very relevant in computer science and programming. ...
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24 votes
1 answer
685 views

Is there a Piagetian age at which proofs can be comprehended?

I am wondering if there is literature on the developmental age (pre-adolescent?, adolescent?) at which the notion of a "proof" can be understood? I am less interested in mathematical proofs and more ...
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14 votes
2 answers
679 views

The use of "$\therefore$" and "$\because$"

In schools, many students learn the usage of "$\therefore$" and "$\because$" in proofs. Such three-dot notation are popular in many high-school books and exams, but are almost ...
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11 votes
3 answers
519 views

Why don't textbooks explain proofs' discovery?

This question concerns only proven statements. I don't know if research papers do, but most math textbooks don't. Counterarguments: Space? 1.1. The increased length from explaining the discovery is ...
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9 votes
1 answer
174 views

Motivation vs. Rigor

This is such a vague topic that I hesitate to post. I constantly struggle between the time-tradeoff between motivating a topic, and delving into the rigorous details necessary to fully "grok" the ...
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26 votes
12 answers
2k views

Why do students like proof by contradiction?

Every-so-often I come across proofs of the form Assume $X$ is false. Prove $X$ is true (without using that it is false). This contradicts that $X$ is false. Hence $X$ is true. I've seen students ...
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11 votes
1 answer
390 views

Effectiveness of students seeing proofs - reference request

If this is the wrong forum for this post I apologize but I'm not sure of another well-suited medium for this question (and any reference to one is appreciated). I am wondering if any research in ...
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8 votes
4 answers
831 views

May we permit identities to be established by equivalent equations?

A trigonometry text like Sullivan's Algebra & Trigonometry often has a prohibition like this (Sec. 7.3): WARNING: Be careful not to handle identities to be established as if they were ...
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7 votes
4 answers
440 views

Writing up a proof that assumes what is to be proven?

I was working on this question on math, where (among other things), the OP was asked to prove that $$x \oplus y=\sqrt[3]{x^3+y^3}$$ is associative. After some prompting, the offered proof was $$\...
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20 votes
3 answers
694 views

How can I discourage proof by patchwork?

I have a student who is working in their spare time on proving or disproving a conjecture of the form $$\exists x.\forall y.\phi(x,y).$$ Right now their strategy is to construct an $x$ and then show ...
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16 votes
5 answers
964 views

Rigorous proofs vs. illustrative examples

No one would argue against the idea/ observation that proofs are very important in mathematics. Some people are trying to make their notations on a blackboard during a lecture as consistent as ...
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  • 261
7 votes
5 answers
341 views

Different approaches to proofs that "are the same"?

This question (and answers) on MSE got me thinking on simple examples of different ways of proving the same (hopefully somewhat interesting) result, as examples to be discussed on difference in ...
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3 votes
2 answers
376 views

How is it correct for a lecturer to prove and "explain" a proof while explicitly knowing students are not familiar with logic itself?

I often see a situation when professors use words "logic", "mathematical proof" and even prove logically while actually knowing that students are not even familiar with logic itself, i.e. no formal ...
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2 votes
6 answers
619 views

Undergraduate Math Seminar topic

** Edit Thanks everyone for some great suggestions. I should have been more clear though. I am actually looking for a college level proof that pertains to algebra or leads to algebra in some form. ...
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