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M. M. Thumar

Assistant Professor, Sir P. P. Institute of Science, Department of Mathematics, M. K. Bhavnagar

University, Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India

ABSTRACT

The central focus of teaching mathematics is solving problems via definitions and concern results. Problem solving

is not a distinct topic, but a process that should be a focus for learning Mathematical definitions and hence in proof

of results. Definitions play a key role in mathematics, but their creation and use differs from those of "everyday

language" definitions. Mathematical definitions are of fundamental importance in the axiomatic formation that

characterizes mathematics. Mathematics students into the field of mathematics includes their getting and of the role

of mathematical definitions. Mathematical definitions have many features, some critical to their nature and others,

while not necessary to the categorization of mathematical definitions, preferred by the mathematics community.

Undergraduate mathematics students’ have difficulties in writing formal mathematical proofs, weak understanding

of logic and/or mathematical concepts due to Mathematical definitions. In this study we first discuss a structure for

thinking about mathematical definitions derived from literature in the fields of mathematics. Next, we discuss

research on student understanding and use of definition and on the role of definitions in the teaching of mathematics.

Finally, we discuss the implications of this research and important educational decisions that should rule the use of

mathematical in the teaching of mathematics.

Keywords : Mathematics, Mathematical Definition

areas of mathematics. It is absolutely essential for many

Mathematics is ultimately about formalizing systems areas of deeper mathematics. Geometry is one of the

and understanding space, shape and structure. It is the most fundamental areas of mathematics. It is absolutely

"language of nature" and is utilized heavily in all of the essential for many areas of deeper mathematics.

quantitative sciences. It is also fascinating in its own

right. If you are heavily interested in learning more Mathematics is mental activity which consists in

about deeper areas of mathematics, but lack the ability carrying out, one after the other and those mental

to carry it out in a formal setting, this article series will constructions which are inductive and effective.

help you gain the necessary mathematical maturity, if Mathematics is the manipulation of the meaningless

you are willing to put in the effort. symbols of a first-order language according to explicit,

syntactical rules. It seems to be common knowledge in

The discipline of mathematics now covers - in addition mathematics departments that many students do not

to the more or less standard fields of (1)Real analysis: "know" the definitions they need to know in order to

Real analysis is a staple course in first year perform mathematical tasks such as proving theorems.

undergraduate mathematics. The subject is primarily Often, in an attempt to solve this problem students are

about real numbers and functions between sets of real asked to memorize the pertinent definitions in the

numbers. The main topics discussed include sequences, course and sometimes they are given credit in

series, convergence, limits, calculus and examinations for repeating those definitions. A

continuity.(2)Linear algebra :Linear Algebra is one of definition explains the meaning of a piece of

the most important, if not the most important. In an terminology. There are logical problems with even this

abstract sense Linear Algebra is about the study of simple idea, for consider the first definition that we are

linear maps between vector spaces.(3) Geometry – going to formulate. The definitions give us then a

IJSRSET1738151 | Received : 15 Nov 2014 | Accepted : 02 Dec 2014 | November-December-2014 [(1)1: 59-62] 59

language for doing mathematics. We formulate our ―function‖. And one will also use everyday language

results, or theorems, by using the words that have been that does not require further explication. That is how we

established in the definitions. In any subject area of build up our system of definitions.

mathematics, one begins with a brief list of definitions

and a brief list of axioms in form of definitions. Once III. The Study

these are in place, and are accepted and understood,

then one can begin proving theorems. Many students Definition activities in mathematics courses can have

seem to have trouble with the idea of a mathematical several pedagogical objectives, some of which could be

definitions and hence in mathematical proof. Students promoting deeper conceptual understanding of the

that come to a course like - Calculus, Trigonometry, mathematics involved, promoting an understanding of

Vector geometry, differential equations and Abstract the nature or the characteristics of mathematical

algebra, all of the unexpected come to meet a new kind definitions, and/or promoting an understanding of the

of mathematics, an abstract mathematics that requires role of definitions in mathematics. Definitions are

proofs. frequently and most obviously used to promote the first

objective, deeper conceptual understanding of

II. The Concept of Definition mathematics. Indeed the traditional method of

communicating mathematics between professional

Euclid had definitions and axioms and then theorems— mathematicians begins with a statement of the pertinent

in that order. There is no gainsaying the assertion that definition or definitions. Activities that involve studying

Euclid set the paradigm by which we have been a mathematical definition carefully and deciding from a

practicing mathematics for 2300 years. This was collection of items which are and which are not

mathematics done right. Now, following Euclid, in examples of the defined concept are plentiful. Some of

order to address the issue of the infinitely regressing the tasks of the interviews for both the algebra study and

chain of reasoning, we begin our studies by putting into the analysis study are examples of such activities. These

place a set of Definitions. What is a definition? A activities also indirectly address the role of

definition explains the meaning of a piece of mathematical definitions. For a related discussion on

terminology. There are logical problems with even this this topic see Wilson (1990). Activities that address the

simple idea, for consider the first definition that we are second objective are common also, although we feel

going to formulate. Suppose that we wish to define that these alone might also not be sufficient for

metric space. This will be the first piece of terminology encouraging proper use of definitions in formal

in our mathematical system. What words and notations mathematics. An activity used by the author is to ask

can we use to define it? Suppose that we define metric students working in groups to define a given concept,

space in terms of distance function and together it on for example, set. Each group agrees upon a definition

given set. That begs the questions: What is a set? What for set and all definitions are then displayed for the

is a distance? What is a function? How do we define whole class to compare and then choose the "best"

―function‖? What is a distance function? Thus we see definition. Of course, what it means to be "best" is also

that our first definition(s) must be formulated in terms discussed. Students often mention criteria from Van

of commonly accepted words and notations that require Dormolen and Zaslavsky (2003) and when necessary we

no further explanation. It was Aristotle (384 B.C.E.–322 guide the discussion toward considering the entire list.

B.C.E.) who insisted that a definition must describe the We also encourage discussions about the consequences

concept being defined in terms of other concepts already of various conditions included in the definition for set. It

known. This is often quite difficult. As an example, seems that the key issue for many of the students from

Georg cantor, one of the founders of the set theory, gave the analysis and algebra studies, however, understood

the definition of set.A set is a gathering together into a that mathematical definitions are stipulated and thus

whole of definite, distinct objects of our thought. which different from everyday definitions. To develop this

has no part. Thus he is using words outside of understanding requires treating mathematical definition

mathematics, that are commonly accepted part of as a concept in its own right by promoting an

everyday argot, to explain the precise mathematical understanding of the role of definitions in mathematics,

notion of ―set‖. Once ―set‖ is defined, then one can use our third objective. If students are asked to create

that term in later definitions—for example, to define definitions in such a way that their task is actually one

60

of discovering the "correct' definition for a concept, it student may decide that f(x) = 2011 is not a function

may give them the impression that definitions can be because the symbolic form "has no x in it" (a faulty

right or wrong and that they are extracted rather than understanding of the function definition itself); or he

stipulated. Later students can compare their definitions may decide that the particular example is not a function

to the definitions that were created before them, even after reading the definition because the

probably with a much greater understanding of the requirement of having an x is something we just know

defining process. This is possibly a more difficult and and it does not need to be mentioned in the definition (a

longer process, but it is more authentic. It seems to be faulty understanding of the role and character of

common knowledge in mathematics departments that mathematical definitions in general). A further difficulty

many students do not "know" the definitions they need influencing the design of these studies arose from the

to know in order to perform mathematical tasks such as possibility that, if asked directly, students might profess

proving theorems. Often, in an attempt to solve this a seemingly adequate understanding of the role of

problem students are asked to memorize the pertinent formal definitions in mathematics without really

definitions in the course and sometimes they are given understanding this role. It is not uncommon for students

credit in examinations for repeating those definitions. to repeat something they have heard without full

However, just knowing the definition may not be understanding. If the definition had been encountered

enough. If students had mathematically correct before but had not been discussed in the course, the

definitions in front of them at all times during students were asked first to explain in their own words

interviews and written tasks, it would be possible to see their understanding of the associated concept and then

evidence of their understanding of how mathematical to provide a definition for it if they could do so. The

definitions should be used, unencumbered by worry students were then given a copy of the stipulated

about the actual wording of a particular definition. An definition and were asked to explain its meaning and to

introductory real analysis course that had as one of its discuss how their previous explanation agreed or did not

goals helping students learn to write proofs. Specifically, agree with their understanding of the given formal

the course was described as an introduction to rigorous definition.

analytic proofs in the context of the properties of real

numbers, continuity, differentiation, integration and The nature of mathematical definition and the aims of

infinite sequences and series. Even with the definitions teaching it are universal. Different students can give

in front of them, many of the undergraduate different ways in form notations and uses its own

mathematics students had some difficulty using logical arguments, but basically they are the same. The

mathematical definitions in a mathematically following are some importance of mathematical

appropriate way. The question arose, however, whether definition:

this result could have been influenced by the fact that

many of the definitions in concepts that students had Developing the basic skills in dealing with

encountered in elementary calculus or were in some mathematical terms in definition,

way related to those concepts. Developing the ability to think critically for

notations in definition,

IV. Design of the Study Developing the ability to communicate definition

precisely in symbolic form,

The purpose of study was to look beneath students'

understandings of the content of mathematical

definitions to discern their understandings of the role V. RESULT

played by formal definitions in mathematics. This is

somewhat tricky since it is possible that a student might The result of study is many undergraduate mathematics

apply a definition in a mathematically incorrect way for students do not categorize mathematical definitions as

at least two reasons. A student could have an incomplete stipulated, and that they may, under some circumstances,

or faulty understanding of the content of a particular defer to their image of a concept rather than the

definition; or A student could have a mathematically definition if the two do not agree. one must consider the

incorrect understanding of the role or nature of impact of these pedagogical decisions and perhaps do

mathematical definitions in general. For example, a

61

something to mitigate against later misunderstandings

by the student.

VI. REFERENCES

mathematical definitions in real analysis. In J.

Dossey, J. Swafford, M. Parmantie, A. Dossey

(Eds.), Proceedings of the Nineteenth Annual

Meeting of the North American Chapter of the

International Group for the Psychology of

Mathematics Education, 1, 17-22.

[2]. DeVilliers, M.(1998). To teach definitions in

geometry or teach to define? In A. Olivier & K. New

stead, Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the

International Group for the Psychology of

Mathematics Education, 2, 248-25 5.

[3]. Class work of my m.sc. Study by Dr .m.h. vasavda

(Retired professor of mathematics, department of

mathematics, sardar Patel university 1989-91&1991-

92)

[4]. Edwards, B. (1997a). Undergraduate mathematics

majors/understanding and use of formal definitions

in real analysis.

62

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