54

"Because we said so" is a bit of a conversation closer, I agree. But "Because some people agreed a long time ago to define it that way so we could have conversations where we all understood each other. Does that seem like it would be a good idea?" is both more inclusive and more correct. I don't even think it's that hairy to talk through the FTA with ...


38

I'm confused. Are you really going to try to make this sort of distinction when teaching geometric figures to students "around 9-13 years old"? Students that age (and engineers my age -- much, much older) think that a triangle is a triangle. It's a polygon formed by three non-colinear points. A triangle has many ways you can think about it. ...


37

In the U.S. Common Core standards, functions are supposed to be introduced in the 8th grade, i.e., around age 13-14. So arguably age 15 is a year or two behind where they ought to be. The standard for the 8th grade says: Understand that a function is a rule that assigns to each input exactly one output. So honestly that really doesn't seem like a hugely ...


34

I cannot answer the OP's question about cross-cultural/international perspectives, but here is a historical perspective that may be helpful. The issue here (whether the category "rectangles" includes or excludes the category "squares") is one aspect of a larger question having to do with whether the classification of quadrilaterals ...


34

There was a multiplication table posted on the wall. Like this \begin{alignat}4 1 &\quad 2 &\quad 3 &\quad 4 &\quad\cdots\\ 2 &\quad 4 &\quad 6 &\quad 8 &\quad\cdots\\ 3&\quad 6 &\quad 9 &\quad 12 &\quad\cdots\\ 4&\quad 8 &\quad 12 &\quad 16 &\quad\cdots\\ \vdots&\quad \vdots &\quad \...


28

Maybe, your students have a belief problem. They will rarely (maybe never) have encountered problems where something was not well-defined. If you have never been in trouble since everything you were shown was well-defined, then you don't even understand the problem! (Even harder: after proving that something is well-defined, the world looks right like it ...


25

In my experience, students are often predisposed to "learn" by memorizing facts; that's how much of their early education worked, so that's what they're used to. When you give them a definition and then a bunch of consequences of the definition, they don't think "okay, I have a definition and then 87 examples of using the definition", ...


24

One encounters exactly the same issue teaching multivariable calculus when one treats integrals over three-dimensional regions and integrals over the surfaces that are their boundaries. In particular the word sphere is particularly confusing in this context. (Mathematicians use sphere to mean the the two-dimensional surface; colloquial speech and some ...


21

I think the distinction you are raising is not natural to students at this age. I teach undergraduates and graduate students, not elementary schoolers, but I find that it is not natural for undergraduates who have not had a theoretical math course. In my experience, students do not naturally think of geometric figures as sets of points. If $P = (-1,-1)$, $Q =...


19

I think it is a good thing to talk about how there are some concepts where there are choices for where you start when definining them. It happens in linear algebra too, with the definition of linear dependence. You need to talk about how there is this web of connected properties, and it depends on what you're trying to achieve as to where you start. I do ...


18

I think there are serious pedagogical problems with such an approach. Here is a good general rule for explaining any kind of math: Skipping over the motivation doesn't make something easier to understand. As math educators, our instinct is always to simplify the math that we are presenting as much as possible. We always want students to understand the ...


18

This is a case where you might be looking for a distinction that's pretty subtle. By definition, the y-intercept occurs at x=0. In one notation, it's literally f(0), where the x is explicitly offered. I'd be ok with a student's answer to "What is the y-intercept?" to be simply the y value, or the $(0,y_0)$ point. If a teacher prefers one, you can ask ...


16

It's funny you should ask this now, because I just taught a Math Ed graduate class on this topic the other day, so a lot of these thoughts are fresh in my mind. The pedagogical sequence we conventionally follow with respect to complex numbers -- first introducing them in a "just pretend" way, and only later (for some students) providing a geometric ...


16

Not formal research, but some decades of experience teaching both undergrad and graduate level courses, and "editing" PhD theses and such: It appears that even many serious professional mathematicians do not understand the difference between a "definitional" iff and an "assertive" iff. This is entirely parallel to an assignment equality versus an assertive ...


16

$2x$ is an expression, a phrase. Compare it to "two ducks". This is neither true nor false. It doesn't have a 'truth value'. $2x = 4$ is an equation, a statement. Compare it to "two ducks have four legs". This is true (edit: for the ducks, but not necessarily for the $x$). The meaning of the word "ducks" has not changed. The grammar of what is with that ...


16

Functions are far broader and more applicable than you give them credit for. Consider the following: Country or state Capital Elevation (in meters) Bolivia Sucre 2783 Ecuador Quito 2763 Colombia Bogata 2619 Eritrea Asmara 2363 Ethiopia Addis Ababa 2362 Mexico Ciudad de Mexico 2216 New Mexico Santa Fe 2152 Wyoming Cheyenne 1856 Colorado Denver 1613 ...


16

First of all, you should test them on remembering the definitions. Second, there are probably a significant number of your students who do not understand the definitions. Suppose you gave them an example of a grammar that was not right-linear and the definition of a right-linear grammar, and asked them why, according to the definition, the example grammar ...


15

Many high school geometry textbooks define an angle as simply the union of two rays with a common endpoint The advantage of this definition is its simplicity. Among its disadvantages: It does not serve well for capturing the idea of a "direction": That is, there is no way to distinguish between a clockwise and a counterclockwise rotation. It more or ...


15

A linear function is not necessarily a first degree polynomial function: zero function is also linear. In France the terminology is more appropriate than the traditional English one: a linear function is a function of the form $f(x) = ax$, while a function of the form $f(x) = ax + b$ is called an affine function. So, strictly speaking, constant functions ...


14

I think a lot depends on context -- what course you are teaching and what the characteristics of that course are. If by "Freshman college calculus" you mean what I think you mean -- namely, a non-rigorous course that treats a lot of things using intuitive and heuristic arguments -- then I wonder if "define" is even the right verb to use. Students come into ...


14

I've never tried this in a classroom, but I suspect a lot of the trouble with functions is that students haven't been taught the vocabulary to deal with things that are weaker than functions. For example, they are trying to define a function $f: A \to B$. What they have written down probably defines SOMETHING: Perhaps a subset $R$ of $A \times B'$ for some $...


14

This is a very difficult question to answer; I recommend as a first place to look: Usiskin, Z. (1988). Conceptions of school algebra and uses of variables. The ideas of algebra, K-12, 8, 19. Link (no paywall). As Usiskin writes (emphasis in original): My thesis is that the purposes we have for teaching algebra, the conceptions we have of the subject, and ...


13

I'm going to rewrite this answer to clarify what I think the issue is. I think the OP is imagining a different definition of the ring $k[x]$ than most answerers are. Here are two reasonable definitions: $k[x]$ is the ring of formal expressions of the form $\sum_{j=0}^{\infty} p_j x^j$ with $p_j \in k$ and we require that $p_j$ is $0$ for $j$ sufficiently ...


12

The situation does indeed change your interpretation of the terminology. Volume is a general concept of the amount of 3D space something takes up. For a solid object like a brick, or for a liquid there is no ambiguity and you can simply do a calculation (like $V = \pi r^2 h$ for a solid cylinder), or possibly compare its mass to the mass of a known volume ...


12

While I haven't done a systematic survey, my impression is that the overwhelming majority of pre-calculus and calculus texts define a linear function to be one of the form $f(x) = mx + b$ with no stipulation that $m \neq 0$. Thus, if you define linear to be a polynomial of degree 1 you are likely to be contradicting whatever textbook you are using. From a ...


11

I think that you hit the nail on the head, when you said some are not even aware of what well-defined means. As Anschewski suggests the problem may be that students have not encountered enough non-well-defined operations to fully appreciate the problem. This Spring I was teaching freshman algebra, and while explaining equivalence relations (prior to getting ...


11

Turning my comment into an answer as per request: I think the graphical approach gets the idea across. You could represent $3\times 1$ by a row of three dots; likewise, $3\times 2$ is two rows of three dots; etc. If you asked them to guess what $3\times 0$ is, some would probably tell you you'd have no rows so no dots, so the answer is zero. Humans are very ...


11

Have a look at the paper written by Nunez et all: EMBODIED COGNITION AS GROUNDING FOR SITUATEDNESS AND CONTEXT IN MATHEMATICS EDUCATION. In essence, they argue that it is better to be causious if you want to "motivate the formal definition of continuity starting from the intuition" you have suggested in your question. In the following passage, "natural ...


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