Validations of proofs considered as texts: Can undergraduates tell whether an argument proves a theorem?

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We report on an exploratory study of the way eight mid-level undergraduate mathematics majors read and reflected on four student-generated arguments purported to be proofs of a single theorem. The results suggest that mid-level undergraduates tend to focus on surface features of such arguments and that their ability to determine whether arguments are proofs is very limited -- perhaps more so than either they or their instructors recognize. We begin by discussing arguments (purported proofs) regarded as texts and validations of those arguments, i.e., reflections of individuals checking whether such arguments really are proofs of theorems. We relate the way the mathematics research community views proofs and their validations to ideas from reading comprehension and literary theory. We then give a detailed analysis of the four student-generated arguments and finally analyze the eight students' validations of them.
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Archival date: 2018-03-14
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