Date of Award

8-8-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Mathematics and Statistics

First Advisor

Draga Vidakovic

Second Advisor

Valerie Miller

Third Advisor

Alexandra Smirnova

Fourth Advisor

Yongwei Yao

Abstract

This dissertation reports on an investigation of transition-to-proof students' understanding of proof by contradiction. A plethora of research on the construction aspect of proof by contradiction is available and suggests that the method is one of the most difficult for students to construct and comprehend. However, there is little research on the students' comprehension of proofs and, in particular, proofs by contradiction. This study aims to fill this gap in the literature. Applying the cognitive lens of Action-Process-Object-Schema (APOS) Theory to proof by contradiction, this study proposes a preliminary genetic decomposition for how a student might construct the concept `proof by contradiction' and a series of five teaching interventions based on this preliminary genetic decomposition. Data was analyzed in two ways: (1) group analysis of the first two teaching interventions to consider students' initial conceptions of the proof method and (2) case study analysis of two individuals to consider how students' understanding developed over time. The genetic decomposition and teaching interventions were then revised based on the results of the data analysis. This study concludes with implications for teaching the concept of proof by contradiction and suggestions for further research on the topic.

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