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Expert and novice approaches to reading mathematical proofs
This article presents a comparison of the proof validation behavior of beginning undergraduate students and research-active mathematicians. Participants’ eye movements were recorded as they validated purported proofs. The main findings are that (a) contrary to previous suggestions, mathematicians sometimes appear to disagree about the validity of even short purported proofs; (b) compared with mathematicians, undergraduate students spend proportionately more time focusing on “surface features” of arguments, suggesting that they attend less to logical structure; and (c) compared with undergraduates, mathematicians are more inclined to shift their attention back and forth between consecutive lines of purported proofs, suggesting that they devote more effort to inferring implicit warrants. Pedagogical implications of these results are discussed, taking into account students’ apparent difficulties with proof validation and the importance of this activity in both school- and university-level mathematics education.
- Mathematics Education Centre