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Interactions between defining, explaining and classifying : the case of increasing and decreasing sequences.

Alcock, L. and Simpson, A. (2017) 'Interactions between defining, explaining and classifying : the case of increasing and decreasing sequences.', Educational studies in mathematics., 94 (1). pp. 5-19.


This paper describes a study in which we investigated relationships between defining mathematical concepts — increasing and decreasing infinite sequences — explaining their meanings and classifying consistently with formal definitions. We explored the effect of defining, explaining or studying a definition on subsequent classification, and the effect of classifying on subsequent explaining and defining. We report that (1) student-generated definitions and explanations were highly variable in content and quality; (2) explicitly considering the meaning of the concept facilitated subsequent classification, and giving a personal definition or explanation had a greater effect than studying a given definition; (3) classifying before defining or explaining resulted in significantly poorer definitions and explanations. We discuss the implications of these results for the teaching of abstract pure mathematics, relating our discussion to existing work on the concept image/concept definition distinction and on working with examples.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Publisher statement:The final publication is available at Springer via
Date accepted:22 April 2016
Date deposited:04 May 2016
Date of first online publication:30 June 2016
Date first made open access:30 June 2017

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