Understanding Mathematical Induction by Writing Analogies

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Andrew A. Cooper

Abstract

Mathematical induction has some notoriety as a difficult mathematical proof technique, especially for beginning students. In this note, I describe a writing assignment in which students are asked to develop, describe in detail, critique, defend, and finally extend their own analogies for mathematical induction. By putting the work of explanation into the students' hands, this assignment requires them to engage in detail with the necessary parts of an inductive proof. Students select their subject for the analogy, allowing them to connect abstract mathematics to their lived experiences. The process of peer review helps students recognize and remedy several of the most common errors in writing an inductive proof. All of this takes place in the context of a creative assignment, outside the work of writing formal inductive proofs.

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References

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