Preservice teachers’ knowledge of proof by mathematical induction

Stylianides, G.J., Stylianides, A.J., & Philippou, G.N

There is a growing effort to make proof central to all students’ mathematical experiences across all grades. Success in this goal depends highly on teachers’ knowledge of proof, but limited research has examined this knowledge. This paper contributes to this domain of research by investigating preservice elementary and secondary school mathematics teachers’ knowledge of proof by mathematical induction. This research can inform the knowledge about preservice teachers that mathematics teacher educators need in order to effectively teach proof to preservice teachers. Our analysis is based on written responses of 95 participants to specially developed tasks and on semi-structured interviews with 11 of them. The findings show that preservice teachers from both groups have difficulties that center around: (1) the essence of the base step of the induction method; (2) the meaning associated with the inductive step in proving the implication P(k) ⇒ P(k + 1) for an arbitrary k in the domain of discourse of P(n); and (3) the possibility of the truth set of a sentence in a statement proved by mathematical induction to include values outside its domain of discourse. The difficulties about the base and inductive steps are more salient among preservice elementary than secondary school teachers, but the difficulties about whether proofs by induction should be as encompassing as they could be are equally important for both groups. Implications for mathematics teacher education and future research are discussed in light of these findings.