This paper discusses variation in reasoning strategies among expert mathematicians, with a particular focus on the degree to which they use examples to reason about general conjectures. We first discuss literature on the use of examples in understanding and reasoning about abstract mathematics, relating this to a conceptualisation of syntactic and semantic reasoning strategies relative to a representation system of proof. We then use this conceptualisation as a basis for contrasting the behaviour of two successful mathematics research students whilst they evaluated and proved number theory conjectures. We observe that the students exhibited strikingly different degrees of example use, and argue that previously observed individual differences in reasoning strategies may exist at the expert level. We conclude by discussing implications for pedagogy and for future research.
Lara Alcock and Matthew Inglis have written an article entitled Doctoral students’ use of examples in evaluating and proving conjectures. This article was published in Educational Studies in Mathematics on Saturday. Here is the abstract of the article: