Explanation and Proof in Mathematics

pp 115-135


Bridging Knowing and Proving in Mathematics: A Didactical Perspective

  • Nicolas BalacheffAffiliated withCNRS, Laboratoire d’informatique de Grenoble, CNRS/UJF/Grenoble-INP Email author 

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The learning of mathematics starts early but remains far from any theoretical considerations: pupils’ mathematical knowledge is first rooted in pragmatic evidence or conforms to procedures taught. However, learners develop a knowledge which they can apply in significant problem situations, and which is amenable to falsification and argumentation. They can validate what they claim to be true but using means generally not conforming to mathematical standards. Here, I analyze how this situation underlies the epistemological and didactical complexities of teaching mathematical proof. I show that the evolution of the learners’ understanding of what counts as proof in mathematics implies an evolution of their knowing of mathematical concepts. The key didactical point is not to persuade learners to accept a new formalism but to have them understand how mathematical proof and statements are tightly related within a common framework; that is, a mathematical theory. I address this aim by modeling the learners’ way of knowing in terms of a dynamic, homeostatic system. I discuss the roles of different semiotic systems, of the types of actions the learners perform and of the controls they implement in constructing or validating knowledge. Particularly with modern technological aids, this model provides a basis designing didactical situations to help learners bridge the gap between pragmatics and theory.