Students' understanding of the structure of deductive proof
Educational Studies in Mathematics
© The Author(s) 2016. Open Access. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
While proof is central to mathematics, difficulties in the teaching and learning of proof are well-recognised internationally. Within the research literature, a number of theoretical frameworks relating to the teaching of different aspects of proof and proving are evident. In our work, we are focusing on secondary school students learning the structure of deductive proofs and, in this paper, we propose a theoretical framework based on this aspect of proof education. In our framework, we capture students’ understanding of the structure of deductive proofs in terms of three levels of increasing sophistication: Pre-structural, Partial-structural, and Holistic-structural, with the Partial-structural level further divided into two sub-levels: Elemental and Relational. In this paper, we apply the framework to data from our classroom research in which secondary school students (aged 14) tackled a series of lessons that provided an introduction to proof problems involving congruent triangles. Using data from the transcribed lessons, we focus in particular on students who displayed the tendency to accept a proof that contained logical circularity. From the perspective of our framework, we illustrate what we argue are two independent aspects of Relational understanding of the Partial-structural level, those of universal instantiation and hypothetical syllogism, and contend that accepting logical circularity can be an indicator of lack of understanding of syllogism. These findings can inform how teaching approaches might be improved so that students develop a more secure understanding of deductive proofs and proving in geometry.
This research was supported by grants from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (JP24243077, JP26282039, JP16H03057, JP16H02068), and The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese foundation.
This is the final version of the article. Available from Springer Verlag via the DOI in this record.
Published online 16 September 2016