Student-to student discussions : the role of the instructor and students in discussions in an inquiry-oriented transition to proof course
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This study of student-to-student discussions focuses on a single inquiry-oriented transition to proof course. Mathematical proof is essential to a strong mathematics education but very often students complete their mathematics studies with limited abilities to construct and validate mathematical proofs (c.f. Harel & Sowder, 1998; Knuth, 2002; Almeida, 2000). The role of mathematical proof in education is to provide explanation and understanding. Both the research on mathematical discourse and the standards of the NCTM claim that participation in mathematical discourse provides opportunities for understanding. Although this link has been established, there is very little research on the role of students and the instructor during discussions on student generated proofs at the undergraduate level -- particularly in inquiry-oriented classes. This research analyzes the types of discussions that occurred in an inquiry-oriented undergraduate mathematics course in which proof was the main content. The discussions of interest involved at least two student participants and at least three separate utterances. These discussions fell along a continuum based on the level of student interaction. As a result of this research, the four main discussion types that were present in this course have been described in detail with a focus on the roles of the instructor and the students. The methodology for this research is qualitative in nature and is an exploratory case study. The data used for this research was video tapes of two to three class sessions per week of an Introduction to Number Theory course taught in the fall of 2005.