Educ Stud Math (2014) 87:323–349

DOI 10.1007/s10649-014-9554-2

Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses
via the enacted example space
Timothy Patrick Fukawa-Connelly & Charlene Newton

Published online: 19 June 2014
# Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Abstract Examples are believed to be very important in developing conceptual understanding
of mathematical ideas, useful both in mathematics research and instruction (Bills & Watson in
Educational Studies in Mathematics 69:77–79, 2008; Mason & Watson, 2008; Bills & Tall,
1998; Tall & Vinner, 1981). In this study, we draw on the concept of an example space (Mason
& Watson, 2008) and variation theory (Runesson in Scandinavian Journal of Educational
Research 50:397–410, 2006) to create a lens to study how examples are used for pedagogical
purposes in undergraduate proof-based instruction. We adapted the construct of an example
space and extended its application to the constructs of example neighborhood, methods of
example construction, and the functions of examples. We explained how to use our new lens to
analyze the collection of examples and non-examples that the students had access to. We then
demonstrate our method by analyzing the collection of examples and non-examples of a
mathematical group the professor of an abstract algebra class presented during lectures or
assigned to students in problem sets or exams.
Keywords Undergraduate teaching . Examples . Abstract algebra . Variation theory

1 Introduction
Examples are believed to be very important in developing conceptual understanding of
mathematical ideas (Mason & Watson, 2008; Bills & Tall, 1998; Tall & Vinner, 1981).
Examples give insight into mathematical definitions, theorems, and proofs and can be used
to create them as well (Cuoco, Goldenberg & Mark, 1997; Lakatos, 1976). The perceived
pedagogical power of examples (Bills & Watson, 2008; Mason & Watson, 2008) has led to the
exploration of graduate students’ use of examples to determine the truth of conjectures (Alcock
& Inglis, 2008) and of the principles K-12 teachers use in selecting examples to use with their
students (Zodik & Zaslavsky 2008).
T. P. Fukawa-Connelly : C. Newton
The University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, USA
T. P. Fukawa-Connelly (*)
School of Education, Drexel University, Korman Center, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia,
PA 19104, USA


T.P. Fukawa-Connelly, C. Newton

Tall and Vinner (1981) described a difference between the definition of a concept (the
words used to describe the concept) and a concept image (the total cognitive structure that a
person might hold). Mason and Watson (2008) used the term example space to describe a
particular subset of the concept image that incorporates the collection of examples students
know along with ways for constructing examples. Research supports a distinction between
students’ knowledge of the concept definition and their skill with examples, as students can
often correctly answer routine questions, and even state definitions, but are frequently unable
to use a given concept in new situations (Bills & Tall, 1998). Students’ knowledge of examples
and their ability to draw upon them are considered critical in constructing a helpful concept
image (Bills & Tall, 1998). Similarly, researchers have asserted that “exemplification is a
critical feature in all kinds of teaching, with all kinds of mathematical knowledge as an aim”
(Bills & Watson, 2008, p. 77). For these reasons, research on examples, instantiation, and
exemplification in teaching and learning is on the rise.
Several studies have focused on student exemplification and the use of examples to learn
about concepts and proving (Alcock & Inglis, 2008; Dahlberg & Housman, 1997; Mason &
Watson, 2008). As yet, there are no studies of instructors’ teaching with examples in undergraduate proof-based mathematics courses. For the purposes of this study, proof-based courses
are undergraduate mathematics courses which focus on definitions, theorems, and proofs. In
the American university system, the most common proof-based courses are abstract algebra,
real analysis, topology, and complex analysis. Proof-based courses can be contrasted with
courses that have procedural fluency as their primary learning goal, such as those in the
calculus sequence and some lower-level linear algebra courses.
Studying teaching is by nature a difficult process, and very little empirical research has
described and analyzed the practices of teachers of mathematics at the undergraduate level,
despite repeated suggestions for this type of study (Harel & Sowder, 2007; Harel & Fuller,
2009, Speer, Smith, & Horvath, 2010). That is, “researchers’ questions, methods, and analyses
have not generally targeted what teachers say, do, and think about collegiate classrooms in an
extensive or detailed way” (Speer et al., 2010, p. 105). Although it is important, in and of itself,
to better document and describe the reality of collegiate mathematics classes, it is also essential
to develop research-based descriptions of traditional undergraduate mathematics classes in
order to support and explain studies of students’ mathematical proficiency.
In this article, we will discuss the current state of research on example usage in undergraduate proof-based instruction. We then outline a method for analyzing undergraduate mathematics teaching through the lens of examples. Finally, we demonstrate the use of this method
in a case study where we analyze the instruction of an introductory abstract algebra course via
the described lens.
1.1 Research questions
Tall and Vinner (1981) created the term “concept image” to describe the total cognitive
structure associated with a particular concept, including examples, pictures, properties,
and processes. They noted that “as the concept image develops it need not be coherent
at all times. … At different times, seemingly conflicting images may be evoked. Only
when conflicting aspects are evoked simultaneously need there be any actual sense of
conflict or confusion” (p.152). Students may succeed at solving problems, including
writing proofs, even if they hold an incorrect concept image. Weber (2009) showed that
students can write proofs by relying primarily upon symbolic moves and formal
definitions. Bills & Tall, (1998) claims that it is only when students attempt to use
concepts in new contexts, such as writing a novel proof, that they call upon their

an individual is forced to grapple with the limits of permissible moves. ring. Weber and Alcock (2005) described mathematicians using the syntactic proof style to learn about a concept by manipulating symbolic formulae in logically permissible ways. though we acknowledge that studying what students could learn about a concept from syntactic proof presentations also has value. the position of Bills & Tall (1998) that a structural approach to teaching proof-based classes (definition-theorem-proof) will generally be unsuccessful without also giving students the ability to develop a rich concept image because of differences in skill and ability between experts (mathematicians) and novices (students) appears well supported. In these tasks. we use “example” “to mean a specific. I mean that students at this level must be able to either compute with or investigate properties of the mathematical object. Our discussion of the role and importance of examples relies upon an important pedagogical distinction between examples of a concept (such as group. there is no current research demonstrating that students learn about concepts either by reading proofs or watching proof presentations. Mills (2014) described further criteria for treating a particular mathematical object as an example. 3). Moreover. There is evidence that mathematicians can learn about a concept by writing proofs and watching the presentation of them. a mathematical object “must be specific and it must be concrete as opposed to general and abstract. where the class is defined by a set of criteria” (Mills. 2010) described ways that students can use proofs to learn about definitions by exploring the structure of proofs and the relationship between claims and warrants. In doing this. Tall claimed that the goal of instruction should be to give students richer experiences with “a balance between the variety of examples and non-examples necessary to gain a coherent image” as well as examples that vary in complexity. Cuoco. 1999). 2).” Thus.Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses via examples 325 concept image rather than the formal definition. While both can be understood as mathematical objects from which to generalize. or field) and examples of a process (such as using the Euclidean algorithm to determine the GCD). concrete representative of a class of mathematical objects. Yet. incorrect or incomplete concept images will cause problems. For example. Goldenberg. often work with a particular member of the class (Hazzan. Weber (2002. and Mark (1997) stated that mathematicians actually draw on examples to instantiate concepts and proof actions while reading or watching a syntactic proof. 2014). The research questions we propose to investigate are the following: (1) What examples of mathematical groups did students in a lecture-based abstract algebra class have access to? (2) How can the range of variation within the collection of examples available to the students describe their opportunity to construct an example space? In this particular class. This paper draws upon Watson and Mason’s (2005) definition of an example as “any mathematical object from which it is expected to generalize” (p. But. what are the important characteristics of the set of presented examples for the students to learn about in order to understand the concept of a mathematical group? . this study focuses on examples of concepts because they are uniquely powerful in both mathematics and the teaching of mathematics. so students are able to apprehend important aspects. as it excludes classes of objects from the definition. suggesting that to be considered an example. we will only draw upon examples of concepts. which Alcock and Weber (2010) defined as “a mathematical object satisfying the definition of some concept” (p. Some mathematicians might claim that this definition is too narrow. By concrete. there is evidence that students have difficulty in treating classes themselves as examples and instead. Thus. Thus. he specifically described mathematicians reading proofs in order to learn more about a concept. and thereby fulfill Watson and Mason’s (2005) definition of an example. and there is no explanation of how they might be able to do this.

We build on the construct of an example space of Mason and Watson (2008) that allows mathematics users to develop an appropriate concept definition. 1997). It should be noted that the opportunity to learn about a concept includes the entire class. we make no claims about the students’ prior knowledge. 2011). Effken. engagement. which has been used to describe goals for presenting examples (Goldenberg & Mason. what opportunities the students had to develop a concept image. p. Following Gresalfi. As a result. Gresalfi (2009) notes that it is impossible to describe student learning without describing the presentation of content students experience.1 Theoretical orientation The National Research Council (of the USA) has defined the opportunity to learn as “circumstances that allow students to engage in and spend time on academic tasks…” (2001. 333). Subsequent research should explore how students take up those opportunities. but who does not have previous knowledge of abstract algebra content. 2008). and providing clues to proofs (Bills & Tall. This study will analyze the variation and range of variation in examples and non-examples students saw in class. 2006). To address the second research question. this study takes the position that the opportunity to learn is best understood as “the interrelations between the affordances of the designed learning environment” (p. Gibson. 2) and whether and how those affordances are acted upon (Barab et al. 1998). It is a natural means to analyze the affordances offered by the collection of examples that students experience. and Cross (2011). analyzing students’ opportunities to develop a concept image requires exploring what opportunities they had to discern this variation (Greeno & Gresalfi. We focus in this study on the instruction and. C. or ability to manage the complexity of the presented examples except as suggested by prior research. In the current study.. Determining the affordances requires analyzing the variation in examples students might experience during those tasks. create a collection of examples of the concept. Newton In teaching. Garrett. While the construct of a concept image is broad. helping to generate and test conjectures. Barnes. and actions of advanced math classes. we draw on variation theory. Our study of instruction supposes a student who is well prepared in the language. and learn how to adequately perform all of the functions for which the given examples are useful. & Morris.P. 1999. Affordances are the set of actions (including mental ones) that are made possible by a particular aspect of the class (Gresalfi. 2 Literature review 2. 1979. Shaw. & Cross. students should see a wide range of examples functioning in different ways: exemplifying definitions. 2008). While this is not the .326 T. as it suggests that the way a person develops an understanding of a concept depends on which aspects of the concept he or she can discern (Runesson. Fajen. Barnes. as well as appropriate limits of variation of that aspect. Essentially. 2008). examples provide a way for students to attach meaning to definitions (Goldenberg & Mason. this study focuses on the collection of examples and techniques that students might have for generating examples. the term “enacted” is meant to refer to the collection of examples that the instructor presents or draws upon in his lectures as well as those that are included or required as part of practice problems or homework. 1998). not only the enacted example space. he or she must experience variation of the aspect (Runesson. 2006). habits. in particular. The implication is that learning is a result of what people do when given the opportunity to do academic tasks (Greeno & MMAP. Thus. In order for a person to be able to discern a particular aspect of a concept. Fukawa-Connelly.

Yet. and her analysis focused on how the examples used supported the proof. they described proof analysis as a way to refine a conjecture and generate new concepts. 2004. T used in presentations since his goal was to characterize types of proof. The first two styles avoid any use of examples or diagrams. the language the instructor uses to explain the definition. As a result.2 Studying teaching Little is known about the processes of teaching and learning of proof-based mathematics courses at the undergraduate level (Mejia-Ramos & Inglis. there is still a need to explore the mathematical qualities of the set of presented examples and what opportunities the students have to learn from them. This study focuses on the presented example space as an opportunity for student learning because of the importance that examples have been given in the literature. they describe how examples might be used in support of teaching proof. For example. Dr. along with procedural fluency in the logic and language of mathematics.” They also described “exception barring. He identified three basic styles of teaching proof: logico-structural. These included examples that instantiate concepts or claims as well as generic examples used in proof creation. Other studies of proof-based undergraduate courses focus less on how students might develop conceptual understanding. pp. Although Bills & Tall (1998) doubted it. and semantic. T. it is less evident how examples might be used in the mathematical process and how students develop their concept image in these classes. students prove or provide a counterexample for exercises from the text. students can learn about a concept from many aspects of the presentation of its definition: the formal statement of the definition. students might have the opportunity to develop their concept image from proof presentations or writing their own proofs. and the motivation for the definition. The semantic style was used to help students learn how an understanding of the concepts of mathematics. The instructor in the study. at best. 126–127). 2. Weber did not analyze the types of examples that Dr. In a lecture-based class. procedural. Mills (2012) described a model of how instructors use examples in support of teaching about theorems and proofs. Larsen and Zandieh (2008) adapted the lens of proofs and refutations of Lakatos (1976) to describe how students might recreate mathematical ideas in an inquiry-based class. said that his goal was for the students to “have rich imagery that they could associate with the concepts being taught” (Weber. . he only presented semantic proofs in the last few weeks of the semester. additional texts in the library. They described how students used examples to create and modify definitions. meaning that the course was not centered on building rich imagery. Yet she did not observe instructors using very many of these classes of examples. the instructor presents definitions and develops the conjectures and many of the proofs. Thus. which they called “monster barring. 2009). Moreover. and write and evaluate proofs through a rich concept image. They found that students were able to recreate the concept definition of a group. supports proof writing. both in the doing of mathematics and in mathematics pedagogy. formulate and refine conjectures. She described classes of examples that instructors might include in proof presentations that could give students insight into concepts. Finally. or consult the internet—this collection of examples does include all of those to which the students are actively directed by the professor.Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses via examples 327 total collection of examples that the students have access to—they might read their text. Weber (2004) analyzed the teaching of a real analysis class with a focus on how the instructor presented proofs.” creating or modifying a conjecture.

189). that represents a codification of people’s experiences (Rokeach. Newton 2. We define a “belief” to be a simple proposition or claim that an individual holds. knowing what must stay the same An example space is the “experience of having come to mind one or more classes of mathematics objects together with construction methods and associations” (Goldenberg & Mason. such as links to important theorems. Schoenfeld. 73). can encourage” them to have an intellectual need for more correct concept images (Vinner. 1991. 2008). knowing what can vary. Dienes (1963) argued that students should encounter sets of examples that are narrowly constructed. 2008. rarely accessed members. according to the definition of Goldenberg and Mason (2008). According to Mason and Watson (2008). 2008. Finally. 2008). Examples should also attend to student errors and attempt to preempt them (Zodik & Zazlavsky. The first examples that learners experience are particularly important as they are often the ones that students most closely link with a given concept (Zodik & Zaslavsky. 1998). 2008). while the linkages allow students to discover the classes of objects that are most relevant in a particular situation. Yet. this complexity should not require unnecessary work that distracts from the most relevant features (Zodik & Zazlavsky. and new members (via construction methods). They noted that inappropriate examples might have irrelevant features and therefore be less useful in testing conjectures and writing generic proofs. It is possible for professors to achieve a balance between giving the students the ability to populate their example spaces and populating it for them. Watson and Mason (2005) described the concept of a “reference example” as an example that is commonly used for testing conjectures and encodes all of the important information about the class of objects it exemplifies. imagine an instructor . an example space should include construction methods and associations. Fukawa-Connelly. either consciously or unconsciously. It may include frequently accessed members of the class.P. Golderberg and Mason (2008) furthered the claim that learners need to work with a carefully chosen set of examples closely in time so as to discern what can vary and what is structural. psychological literature suggests that students would be better served by the early examples being relatively familiar (Ernst. Thus. examples within each set should vary along only a very limited number of dimensions so that students are not confused by too much variation. there are two important features of example spaces: what aspects of the examples the learner realizes can vary and what range of variation on these aspects the learner believes is appropriate. the early examples that students adopt as their concept image can shape their understanding of the concept itself. Moreover. 1968. For example. Goldenberg and Mason (2008) argued that giving students tools allows them to engage in more sophisticated mathematical behaviors. 2006). For example. C.3 Example spaces: students’ range of thought. Zazkis & Leikin. p. p. 2008). These general heuristics for example choice are supported by a variation theory as described above (Runesson. examples and pertinent non-examples give learners opportunities to gain a complete understanding of what structures a given definition allows (Goldenberg & Mason. The early examples need to help students develop a complete concept image with all appropriate complexity. according to variation theory. Dienes (1963) also argued that mathematics learners require at least three examples of a concept in order to develop understanding. Construction tools allow mathematicians and mathematics learners to create new examples that meet specific criteria of theorems. That is. in which incomplete concept images might be misleading. Students may modify their understanding of the definition of a concept based upon their image of the concept but “only non-routine problems.328 T. 2006).

we adopt the argument of Dienes (1963) that students should be given access to examples. Similarly. (2) example construction.Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses via examples 329 who gives the students direct access to a wide range of examples but few methods of construction. but a rich set of tools for example construction and a set of tasks that requires the students to develop their own examples. as evidence suggests they are often the ones that students most closely link with the given concept (Sousa. In assessing variation constraints. the instructor may give the students access to relatively few examples. and (3) function of the example. The definition-example neighborhood is affected in student-worked problems initiated with a stem such as “Determine whether the structures below are examples of a _________. These may be concrete examples or relevant non-examples of a given concept.3 to articulate a method for examining the enacted example space that uses three filters to describe the set of examples: (1) example neighborhood. A typical example neighborhood is the sequence of examples given to support the definition of a concept. this means that examples are presented in class or as part of homework and vary in a constrained manner so that students can determine what is structural and what is allowed to vary as well as apprehend the range of permissible variation. Example construction also includes mapping from concrete examples to a broad description of the example space. Analysis of example construction focuses on how examples are created and the tools used to create additional examples.” We analyze how examples within an example neighborhood are organized on four levels: (1) (2) (3) (4) What is the first example given? What examples are near the concept temporally? What is the range of permissible variation that students experience? What variation constraints do students experience? We pay particular attention to the first few examples. The range of examples would give the students the possibility of developing a rich example space. . which students may be able to populate themselves. In the case of traditional instruction. We draw on the work in Section 2. 3 Assessing the enacted example space We move beyond the work of Zodik and Zaslavsky (2008) to create a method to explicitly study the classroom practices of teachers with a focus on the concept image students might develop by operationalizing the construct of the example space of Goldenberg and Mason (2008). 2008). Example construction includes the range of possible variation included in the neighborhood of a particular example space. First. we examine the example construction that supports a particular concept. We assess what examples the students are given access to and the range of variation that these examples encompass. we look at the set of non-examples that the students have access to and how they limit the concept. At the other extreme. Second. 2008). We call this type of neighborhood a “definition-example” neighborhood. Thus the example space includes both examples and the means of construction (Goldenberg & Mason. We do not hold either of these extremes to be normative but rather present them as ways that students could have the opportunity to develop a well-defined example space. we define the example neighborhood as the entire collection of examples that the students are exposed to during the course of their study of a particular construct.

Furthermore. the situation is similar to a lecture. students’ prior proof-writing experience varied. 1991) and may become reference examples. First. P. three in-class exams and one final exam.330 T. whose functions include exemplifying. along with their experience with mathematical concepts such as functions and matrices. Larsen & Zandieh. Finally. Due to these measurement difficulties. 1991). 4. rings. We assess examples separately using each filter. we distinguished between suggested and required problems. or refining a definition (cf. It is impossible to make any low-inference judgments from classroom observation about the depth with which students engage with the examples. 4 Methods 4. Fukawa-Connelly. Although it was highly recommended that students had completed an introduction to proofs course. but unless each group is monitored. These three rounds of assessment of the example space contribute to our proposed method of describing the students’ opportunity to learn about a concept from the enacted example space. mathematics education and other STEM majors. when studying homework problems. even though this is a significant factor in student learning (Vinner. we collected data from a lecture-based introductory abstract algebra class taught by Dr. Newton Third. This content was chosen because it is . others not at all. it is impossible to make judgments about their true level of engagement. Students ranged from sophomores to graduate students. yet both present the same outward appearance. we examine which examples are called upon most often. or illustrating a proof. In the method we describe below. beginning with the class meeting preceding the introduction of the formal definition of a mathematical group and ending with the definition of a factor (quotient) group. there is no way to evaluate the students’ level of engagement without direct observation. some students may be highly engaged. we use the construct of a reference example of Watson and Mason (2005). but individual students engage with suggested problems in different ways. there were other ways to satisfy this prerequisite (such as a lower-division linear algebra course) and as a result. then read them together to analyze the example space. The class met three times per week for 70 min for 16 weeks. students may appear to being engaged in active discussions in small groups.2 Collecting data We observed and video recorded 25 consecutive class meetings.P. C. including groups. In an inquiry-based class. we will only note cases where students were observed to actively engage with the examples in our analysis. and fields and was based on Fraleigh’s A first course in abstract algebra (1999). 2008). The class was designed to be an introduction to the basic concepts of abstract algebra. we describe the function of the examples in the classroom in two ways. when other students present at the board. a tenure-stream faculty member with an appointment in the department of mathematics and statistics at a mid-sized doctoral-granting institution in the northeast. There is not enough student data in a lecture to make reasonable inferences about their engagement with any material. Frequently used examples may obtain “ready access” status for students (linked to the concept of an evoked concept image of Vinner.1 Setting In order to study the example space in the enacted curriculum. Students had frequent homework assignments. creating. articulating or exploring a conjecture. The class had a mix of approximately 25 mathematics. Second.

This allowed us to describe the range of permissible variation presented in the enacted example space. A written homework assignment was coded as occurring on the day that it was assigned. or analyzed in class. The second column listed the number of class meetings that had occurred since the formal definition of the construct had been given.3 Analyzing data As we recorded Dr. We used this data to describe the example function. The camera was placed at the back of the class and pointed toward the board in order to best capture what the instructor said and wrote on the board. and exam problems. Finally. We identified all incidents from the classroom video where an example or non-example was shown. We summarized the example space and the range of variability that was part of the enacted curriculum of the class. following the suggestion Dienes (1963). We also collected copies of all handouts given in class (homework assignments and exams). not just those preparing students for graduate study. homework assignments.Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses via examples 331 foundational to the study of algebraic structures and common to many courses. whether they varied along more than one dimension at a time. a finite group. it included any properties of the construct that were missing. For nonexamples. we found that they were presented without use of examples unless the claim was about a specific structure. The third column described the qualities of the example or non-example. 1998). We paid special attention to the first example and the examples presented soon after. we decided that we could not draw valid inferences about the influence of problems that required a syntactic proof of a proposition unless the proof referenced a specific structure. constructed. As the research literature does not describe how students might adjust their concept images from proofs without examples. or a cyclic group). Similarly. we gave a description of the total variation of the qualities of the examples and non-examples that the students experienced. Table 1 was organized as follows: & & & & The first column listed all examples or non-examples of the construct (a group). . This was intended to help describe the approximate temporal position of the example in the example neighborhood. We also described how the examples varied and. To describe the example neighborhood. It included any qualities that would be known to first-semester algebra students by the midpoint of the semester (such as being a commutative group. we only logged each instance where students were asked to work with a specific structure from the practice problems. As a result. and exams. practice problems done in class. we focused our analysis on the instructional uses of examples and non-examples of groups. we wrote a narrative that described each of the examples and when they were presented. The fourth column described the manner in which the example or non-example was introduced and used in the class. 4. P’s proof presentations during analysis. Thus. 2009) and without a correct concept image (Bills & Tall.” or “Show that the following is a …” We created an example log similar to the argument log of Rasmussen and Stephan (2008) that included four columns to describe each example or non-example. because students can complete proofs without reference to examples (Weber. Typical problem stems in our analysis included “Determine if the following form a group. These analyses allowed us to describe the enacted example neighborhood. we decided not to include these in our analysis. All video data were digitized. We recorded homework problems assigned from the text.

(Q. (Zn.+). respectively.+). infinite (R−{−1}. where Z is the set of integers. P introduced the structure without formally defining it (Z12.·) (Q*.·) Commutative. no inverse for 0. P constructed it Dr. P presented it as examples of the concept (Z.+) Three different representations of (Z2. finite Commutative. infinite Cyclic and commutative. Fukawa-Connelly. P constructed * such that the structure is a group (R*. (Z12.Dr. “When do groups have the same structure? When are they the same?” Dr.+n) 3x+5=7 implies x=2 by cancelation (Z. The first illustrated the general case 3x+5=7 implies x=2 by cancelation Dr.+2) Showed (Z. (E.·). P introduced all of these.+12).+6). noted it was not a group Dr.+12).*) Cyclic. Newton . finite Dr.+) is isomorphic to the integers Cyclic. P presented it. C. Q is the set of rational numbers Day 0 Qualities of the example(s) How example(s) introduced Description of example(s) Number of class periods since definition of a group Table 1 Collection of examples that the students experienced 332 T. P used these to prompt students to engage with the questions.+n) is a class of examples Cyclic.+) Day 4 Day 5 Day 3 Dr. and (Q. P used these to illustrate the formal definition of isomorphism (Z6. P showed these were isomorphic by rearranging operation tables and using the formal definition Dr. and (Z12.+12) Commutative. infinite Dr.+2)≅(E. finite. (Zn. infinite Commutative. Q*={a∈Q|a≠0} (E. P constructed it (Q.P. then formally defined them.+).+). infinite Dr. infinite Cyclic.

infinite.+) Noncommutative. infinite Commutative. Practice problem. Þ. never discussed in class Practice problem. never discussed in class Practice problem. infinite Commutative. infinite Practice problem. never discussed in class Show (U. infinite Qualities of the example(s) U={a∈C||a|=1} (U.+). infinite Show (U. no inverse for 0. never discussed in class Practice problem. never discussed in class (Z. *).·) pffiffiffiffiffi ab Dr. infinite.·)≠(R*. a*b=|ab| Commutative. never discussed in class. noting that cyclic is a structural property that should be preserved by isomorphism (Z.·) H={all nxn matrices with no zeros on the diagonal} (H.+) G={all nxn matrices with real number coefficients} G. no inverse for those with det = 0. never discussed in class Practice problem.·) Practice problem. infinite Noncommutative.·)≠(R. no inverses Both are commutative. and therefore not isomorphic to (Z. never discussed in class Commutative. infinite Commutative. +) Show(<nZ>. never discussed in class (<3Z>. a  b ¼ How example(s) introduced Description of example(s) Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses via examples 333 . no inverse for 0. infinite Commutative. finite Practice problem. never discussed in class Practice problem. never discussed in class Practice problem.·) Practice problem. no inverse for those with det = 0. infinite Practice problem.=+) not cyclic. infinite Commutative. a*b=a/b (C.+) (G.=+) ðRþ . no identity Cyclic. never discussed in class (Q. +)≅(Z.000 elements Commutative.+) Practice problem. never discussed in class Practice problem. infinite Cyclic. never discussed in class Exhibit an abelian group of 1.·) (<nZ>. P showed that is (Q.+) is not isomorphic to (Q.·) Commutative.Number of class periods since definition of a group Table 1 (continued) Practice problem. infinite Cyclic. infinite Commutative. never discussed in class (R*. *).

P used it to illustrate subgroup criterion (talked aloud) (<3Z>. H (Z*. never discussed in class K={all nxn diagonal matrices with 1 or -1 as entries} (K. infinite Noncommutative.x.2.+) Dr. which has a non-abelian subgroup.+) Z<Q<(R. Noncommutative.·) Z*<Q*<R* Dr.·) Qualities of the example(s) How example(s) introduced Description of example(s) 334 T.◦) and proved it is a group (S3.b. finite Class of noncommutative functions (when |A|>2). P showed that the set is not a group under multiplication {r∈R|r<0} (S3. P introduced and defined on operation table on the set {a. f is a bijection} Exhibit a group.·) Commutative.3} to itself could be aligned with the first operation table. not closed Noncommutative.z}. defined the permutation groups (without naming them). infinite Practice problem. P illustrated the claim that every finite group of even order has an element of order 2. family Practice problem. Defined (S3. finite. P noted Z* is a finite cyclic subgroup of an infinite group Dr. C. Same use Noncommutative Dr. never discussed in class (SA.◦) where SA ={f|f:A→A.c. finite.y. never discussed in class L={all nxn upper triangular matrices} (L.◦) Dr. infinite Commutative.◦) and claimed it similarly formed a group Homework problem assigned via email. Fukawa-Connelly. infinate Cyclic.P. G.◦) (Z12.+12) Noncommutative. Noncommutative. then. finite Cyclic. )=({−1.Day 10 Day 9 Day 8 Day 7 Number of class periods since definition of a group Table 1 (continued) Dr. P then defined (SA. Newton . he set the students to show (outside of class) that the set of functions from {1.1}.

P instantiated Euclidean division and the Euclidean algorithm Explained that T*p is a subgroup of Q* Gave an intuitive description of the structures and explained they are used in higher algebra Cyclic. infinite. ⋅@ gcdða. b∈Z.+) Day 15 Day 16 Day 17 (Z6. P introduced it to review the definition of automorphism Dr. ⋅A > > . pÞ ¼ 1 Description of example(s) Day 12 Day 11 Number of class periods since definition of a group Table 1 (continued) Exam Dr. b∈Z. finite Cyclic. bÞ ¼ 1. > B b C T p . pÞ ¼ 1. P constructed the set by eliminating the elements without inverses to make the new structure a group Commutative.+12) Day 13 Elements from (Z. no inverses Qualities of the example(s) Showed Q* is not cyclic. gcdða. declared Tp is not a group because it doesn’t have inverses for all elements Dr. infinite. P asked the students to consider if Tp is a group How example(s) introduced Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses via examples 335 . b ¼ gcd ða. no inverses Dr.+6) Day 14 No examples f(x)=−x is an automorphism on Z8. finite Cyclic. bÞ ¼ 1. and finite Cyclic.a  ∈Q jq. : gcdða.+) Described T*p T p TP 9 1 08 a > = < ∈Q jq. Dr. P introduced it to review the definition of isomorphism for the exam Dr. P. > : gcdða.+) to (<3Z>. bÞ ¼ 1 8 > < f(x)=3x−2 is an isomorphism from (Z. finite Cyclic. infinite.+8) No examples discussed (Z12. P instantiated the claim that the order of an element divides the order of the group Dr. . infinite Commutative. infinite Commutative. P instantiated a claim that the intersection of subgroups is a subgroup Dr.

◦) Day 18 Cyclic. but no examples were required (A4.+5). finite Noncommutative.◦) (An.◦) Day 22 Day 24 Dr. finite Gave as a second example of cosets.2}×{a.◦). no normal subgroups Qualities of the example(s) How example(s) introduced Description of example(s) Number of class periods since definition of a group Table 1 (continued) 336 T.c} with function composition on each Dr.+7) (Z35.Same Dr.+35) Exhibited the group {1. wrote out all the left and right cosets Illustrated that |H×L|=|H|x|L| by asserting that the order of the group is 6 Cyclic. Fukawa-Connelly. restated it as an example after the definition Example construction technique Noncommutative. 2+<5>. P used them to instantiate permutation groups. finite Dr. finite Noncommutative. Newton . (S5. then. cycles. finite To introduce cosets. finite Noncommutative.+) being divided into Z_5 as 1+<5>. P developed it by examination of the symmetries of a square. finite Noncommutative. C. 3+<5>. finite.b.◦) (D4.◦) The Cartesian product of groups is a group (Z5. finite Noncommutative. P developed it by examination of the symmetries of a triangle Dr. finite Noncommutative. P instantiated the definition of the family of the alternating group (A5. 4<5>.◦) Dr.◦) .◦) Day 21 Reminded students of (Z.P.◦) (D4. finite Noncommutative.◦) (S10. noted that (12) is an element of (S4. (Z7. and transpositions Showed specific cycles in: (S3. but not (D4. H≤(12)> Did not give insight into group structure so much as individual cycles Used specific cycles to exemplify processes related to cycles Day 19 and 20 Day 23 Noncommutative. P described this as a class of groups Dr. P assigned a homework set that included an analytic demonstration of the fact. 0+<5>G=(S3. P described the group.◦). and listed the elements while noting it is a subgroup of S_3 (talked through the proof) Same (A3.

finite Qualities of the example(s) Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses via examples 337 . Lagrange’s theorem is not decisive about what size subgroups exist. finite Noncommutative. but that there was one of the size of all proper divisors Illustrated the concept of cosets via Same <[4]> in (Z24. finite group.◦) Description of example(s) Noncommutative.◦) Illustrated the proper subgroups of a group G of order 35 via Lagrange’s theorem How example(s) introduced (S4.Number of class periods since definition of a group Table 1 (continued) Asserted that because the order is 24.+24 ) K=<(123)> and H=<(12)> in (S3. cyclic and finite subgroups Cyclic.

the students or instructor made use of the example. We also described the methods for constructing examples that the students were exposed to. and functions of examples to which students were given access. C. P’s introduction of the formal definition of a group. Finally. we will give an overview of the instructor’s presentation of the definition and initial collection of examples and describe the ways that the instructor made examples part of his classroom presentation. We will do this by drawing on data from the classes immediately following Dr. and we feel that they best illustrate Dr. Newton After describing the example neighborhood. example construction. and all elements have inverses. Then. We present the collection of examples that the students experienced in table form. we can understand the set of examples of a mathematical group as being determined by three layers: the definition and its properties. First. For instance. Ideally. it has an identity element. 2006). Fukawa-Connelly. P presented x+3=5 and a*x=b and then drew out the required properties for the definition of a group. only one group of three elements. we describe the broad dimensions of an idealized example space for a mathematical group. what properties do we require of the set and operation to be able to solve the equation?” Dr. the set and the operations to which the definition is being applied. this would allow students to apprehend the different aspects of the construct (Runesson. if at all. up to isomorphism. the enacted example space should include examples that are (a) various finite sizes or infinite size. each one failing to satisfy exactly one of the group axioms. variation theory suggests that students should have nonexamples with the same combinations of characteristics as well as four non-examples. mathematics learners can construct appropriate or inappropriate beliefs from collections of examples. (d) using a familiar or unfamiliar operation. In the case study below. Of course. Dr. and (e) containing elements that do and do not have an easy-to-create physical representation.1 What should the examples cover? In this section. “In the case of equations of the form a*x=b. and of the behavior of specific elements. P’s teaching with examples. . we analyzed all of the constructed examples. and the consequences of the definition. Moreover. the possible aspects of the concept of a group include characteristics of the underlying set. 5. we would want a learner to believe that cardinality may vary from 1 to infinite cardinality. (c) constructed from familiar or unfamiliar underlying set. the group itself. (b) commutative or noncommutative. We would want a learner to believe that the size of the set of a group is immaterial to the definition. but we captured one instance of using an example to instantiate a theorem. yet there is. The majority of examples illustrated a particular concept. Here. 5 Data and analysis A mathematical group is an algebraic structure comprised of a set and binary operation (assumed to be well defined) that has the following properties: it is closed and associative. In particular. we drew on the fourth column of the table to describe the function of each example. we described the context of each example and how.338 T.P. These class periods included more examples per day and featured a wider range of examples and their uses than subsequent classes. In terms of the range of possible variation. P introduced the definition of a group by discussing the historical roots of algebra as a study of solving equations and asking. students should be able to construct examples that have all possible combinations of the changeable characteristics. we describe each aspect of the example space by describing the example neighborhood.

matrices might seem to be an obvious choice to illustrate groups. However. We acknowledge the limitations of this study. what we present is best understood as a template for developing such a collection. P’s use of examples during three different class periods. We use this idealized description of the example space to analyze the example neighborhood and the tools for constructing examples that the students were offered. and familiar. P’s teaching In the following section. but a matrix group under multiplication or a function group under composition could also serve as a referent example. We also focused on the collection of examples that the instructor presented in class or assigned in problems. Still. The integers under addition are the iconic example of a group when the topic is approached from an algebraic perspective. Additional aspects of particular examples and their usage in the class would also affect the students’ opportunity to learn mathematics from them. Watson & Mason. especially since these can be chosen to be noncommutative. representative of the class. For example.2 Dr. As a result. Though we note when an object is actually a class of examples. shows him using examples to motivate the definition of isomorphic groups. How students engage with the material affects their opportunities to learn as well (Greeno & Gresalfi. This would help them be able to respond to problems of the type. matrices would not constitute a familiar example to many of the students since it would require specific instruction about arithmetic and determinants. and they often retreat to working with a particular. 2008. For that reason.” as well as to create groups with very specific properties that can be used to evaluate and refine conjectures. P gives the first in-class introduction of a noncommutative example of a group. this study has adopted a definition that requires examples to be concrete representations rather than classes. The first narrative shows how he presented the definition of a group and initial examples. Students should also have experience constructing groups via direct products. P’s class had not taken a linear algebra class. more detailed ideas can be found in literature focused on instruction via examples (cf. . For example. from the seventh day. but we had little evidence about student engagement. we argue that the following analysis still gives meaningful insight into students’ opportunity to learn.Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses via examples 339 It would be impossible to present a single list of examples appropriate for all algebra classes. we present a brief narrative describing Dr. so most had not seen matrices except in a calculus or introduction to proofs class. from the fourth day after the definition. 2007). 5. the level of abstraction required to work with a class of examples is difficult for students (Hazzan. most of the students in Dr. rather than an example. we cannot make many claims about the level of familiarity with particular examples other than basic operations on common sets of numbers. “Construct a noncommutative group of a given size with a subgroup of a given size. 2005). Thus. This study is an initial exploration of exemplars of types of groups that students should have access to and types of constructions that students should be able to make. The collection and ordering of examples should reflect the abilities and history of the students in the class. In the third narrative. The second. 1999). Dr. An idealized example neighborhood might include very different structures. Hiebert & Grouws. An instructor could use the class of dihedral or symmetric groups to give students access to different size groups. including a minimal list of possible examples that would need additional development to be pedagogically appropriate.

⋅) Does the remaining set retain all the properties of the old one? Dr.2 The fourth day after the definition On the fourth day after the definition of a group.+) on the board and gave a verbal explanation of why (E. “We need some noncommutative group examples.” Dr. Dr. let’s do a quick check to make sure that this structure forms a group. P continued: Right. and (E. P next proposed the rational numbers under multiplication as an example of a ac and stating group and asserted that the operation is well defined. Finally. P asserted that “mixed” cancelation (a*b=c*a implies b=c) is not a valid claim. Dr. “Let’s think about this question using three of our old friends: the integers.+) is a group. [Written a≠0 near earlier written work] Well. he proposed a set and arbitrary operation (R−{−1}. but first.+). asking the following: What about the set of the real numbers when we take out negative one? [Written (R −{−1}. If we take the operation to be…” He spent 10 min giving an intuitive. the rationals. thus failing to instantiate the claim. He first introduced the integers under addition. or the number is zero.(Q. it has an identity element. In each case. In the case of each group.” but did not supply any. “Let’s return to our friend Z12 that we had seen as an example of equivalence classes and impose an operation on it. “We’re in the . he stated. P stated that each of the properties that holds with the rational numbers still holds in the new structure and then noted that the zero product property of the integers guaranteed that a/b times b/a would always be defined and equivalent to 1 and concluded that the new structure is a group.” He noted that there is an identity and then said.” Dr. “When can these groups be the same?” adding. it’s closed. Four of the structures were examples of groups. “What about inverses? Well.+). and Z12. he introduced the group (Z12.2. “When a is not zero.1 The definition of a group In his lecture-based course. but not formal. “The operation is welldefined. [Written ab ⋅ dc (circled the a in b/a)] Except when…” At this point. Fukawa-Connelly. (Z12. and it is associative and it is closed under the operation. a student interrupted and said. and we’ll look at another example as well.” Dr. C.*). so when a is zero.+ 12). “What would it mean for two groups to be the same?” He continued.P.2.340 T. Next. we can multiply by b over a to get 1. what if we take zero out of our set? [Written] (Q‐{0}. it does not have a multiplicative inverse. writing ab ⋅ dc ¼ bd “We know that ac over bd is a unique rational number. P defined a group and showed six structures within the same class period. Let’s look at the even integers under addition.+ 12). P next claimed that the nonzero real numbers under multiplication are also a group and gave almost the same description. if we have a over b. P wrote the examples (Z. He stated. Dr. Newton 5. 5.*)] How can we define * in such a way that this is a group? He proposed and defined a*b=a+b−(ab) and gave a verbal check that all group properties held. quickly followed by the rational numbers under addition. saying. description of addition modulo 12. Dr. He again asked. he verbally stated (without writing) verification that each of the group properties holds. P then asked. each element has an additive inverse.

P’s examples We ana–lyze Dr. and 3 to show that there is an identity function and that each element has an inverse. other aspects of functions and reminded students they had worked with the set of bijections from a set A to itself. and no students voted for any equivalence with the finite group or between (Q. P’s enacted example space by examining the filters of example neighborhood.” using the term without definition. 2. he wrote “(S3. P asked the class to vote on which of the examples they felt should be “isomorphic. and 3.” referring to the sameness of groups. construction tools. 5. Dr. he proved that (S3.3. He described how composition of functions is associative. o) is a group!!!!!!” Dr. He demonstrated how each of the permutations could be identified with one of the entries in the operation table.+)≅(E. or whether the students engaged with them.+)≅(Q. A plurality wanted (Z. Due to the mixed mathematical experience of the students as well as the relatively limited direct evidence. 5. Dr. We get to define this. it would be inappropriate to make additional claims on whether particular examples were familiar or unfamiliar.+).+).Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses via examples 341 driver’s seat. P discussed a piece of mathematics that he had presented in the class before the introduction of the definition of a group: sets of functions.3 The seventh day after the definition On the seventh day after the definition. 2. He then stated that he was going to work with the set of functions on the set of 1. P’s enacted example neighborhood of a mathematical group 5. Next. and functions of examples. P introduced the symmetric group on three elements.+) and (E. P also gave a second required homework set which asked the students to exhibit a group G that has a non-abelian subgroup H and to justify their response. Dr.2.1 What variation was in the examples? By the end of the class period where the definition of a mathematical group was introduced. Dr. When he came to the associative property. Summary of Dr.+) and (Z. They had also experienced a non-example of an infinite and commutative group that did not have inverses for . P then described ways that properties could be checked via the operation table. the students had experience with both finite and infinite commutative groups. he introduced an operation table on six elements with an undefined operation “open dot”: o a b c x y z a b a b b c c a x z y x z y c c a b y z x x x y z a b c Y y z x c a b z z x y b c a Dr. he claimed it would be difficult to demonstrate and proposed finding an isomorphic structure where it would be easier to show the associative property holds. P diagrammed each of the permutations on 1. First.3 Dr. o) is a group and at end of the proof.

the students may have had an example neighborhood that was populated by examples of groups of all possible sizes. For instance. They also experienced finite noncommutative examples. He did not include many examples of groups in his class after this time period. Examples were sequenced so that when they were introduced near each other. In this case study. and only one non-example was proposed (it was quickly revised into an example).342 T. moving from those that should be familiar to less familiar examples. Dr. P used examples to motivate and . P presented six examples the same day that he defined a group. First. all the groups presented were commutative. one example was not closed. Throughout the rest of the semester. including nonstandard sets (such as all of the real numbers except −1) and at least one nonstandard operation. Thus. and the example that was missing an identity was also missing inverses. Dr. and 12 and a general finite example that could be instantiated in any size they chose. only one aspect of the structure varied between them. 5. Dr. even though the students had not previously experienced a general group because they had already experienced a finite commutative group.P. Several examples were missing inverses for at least one element. Then. the students had access to the idea that not all common sets and operations form a group. the sequence of examples given on the first day saw one aspect of the structure change at a time. Through the fourth class period. During the initial class periods. He did not present any others for three more days. the students had the opportunity to develop a well-defined example neighborhood as they were exposed to a collection of examples in which many aspects of the examples were allowed to vary. Thus.g. Dr. The latter may not have expanded their example neighborhood.3 What variation did the students not experience? The students did not experience a noncommutative example of a group or a noncommutative structure of any type by the end of the fourth day. Newton all elements but used a common set and common operation.2 How was that variation experienced in terms of structure and timing? Examples and non-examples were presented in two sets. first via the symmetric group on three elements and later through the definition of the general symmetric group. Commutative groups were introduced first and used for a significant amount of time before the introduction of an example of a noncommutative group. The students experienced non-examples that failed to have three of four group axioms: identity. early on. P’s organization of the sets of examples aligned with those teachers that Zodik and Zaslavsky (2008) studied. They also saw examples of size 2. we argue that variation was structured in a way that allowed the students to have the opportunity to comprehend which features could change and which were required to stay the same. upper diagonal) and under different operations in the practice problems. and closure. Variation in the examples was introduced and arranged according to the recommendation of Dienes (1963) to minimize the amount of variation from one example to the next.3. P presented or made use of examples and non-examples during each class period except one. Thus. inverses. A similar pattern was repeated in the practice problems as well as in the introduction of the modular arithmetic and symmetric groups.. P’s initial structure conforms to that suggested by theories of learning (Ernst. By the end of the fourth day after the definition. Dr. 2006). Fukawa-Connelly. 6.3. 5. the students experienced infinite commutative examples. The students experienced infinite noncommutative examples and non-examples of structures on the set of matrices with different patterns of entries (e. from the fourth through the eighth day after the definition was given. C.

No non-examples were discussed in later class meetings or assigned in homework for submission. These structures were introduced as practice problems not for submission with the prompt: “Determine if the following binary structures are groups. standard or nonstandard. P offered his students for constructing examples of groups in a layer of analysis distinct from the descriptions of the example neighborhood (Mason & Goldenberg. Students may not have had the opportunity to learn that there are non-examples that cannot be made into examples.Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses via examples 343 illustrate concepts and propositions. Dr. which he demonstrated a second time on day 11. except it can only produce structures isomorphic to a subgroup of the original group. Dr. P proposed the rational numbers under multiplication as a non-example of a group. The general method was via the construction of subgroups. However. thus. and the students now had access to a new range of operations as well as a new way to construct examples.” This afforded the students the opportunity to recognize that this construction route preserves structural properties. It would be possible to consider images of homomorphisms to be another general method for constructing new groups. The first tool was given when Dr. If not. all elements now have an inverse. 2008). they are not always. the noncommutative examples that the students experienced were temporally distant from the introduction of the definition and Dr. The first three noncommutative structures that the students experienced were all nonexamples. non-examples were not reintroduced until five class periods later as part of the assigned practice problems. P demonstrated the tools by presenting examples of structures and making them into mathematical groups. or theorem that would fail at the same time that mixed cancelation held. that would make the structure a group. Moreover. P proposed another structure and asked what definition of an operation would make it a group. the identity is still in the set. However. the operation is still well defined. All results and algorithms introduced in a firstsemester algebra class appear true for commutative groups. Dr. P offered the students two tools that they could use to construct new groups as well as a general method. P explicitly asked and answered a question: “Does the remaining set retain all the properties of the old one? Yes. the students had the opportunity to learn the example construction strategy of removing problematic elements. To show the second tool. P did . After the first class period. proof. P’s claim that noncommutative examples were needed. This called into being a nonstandard operation. Here. no new groups can be derived. They had the opportunity to learn that they could begin with a set and then define an operation. This sequencing may have made the students likely to associate noncommutative with non-example. Dr. Vinner (1991) would suggest that the students did not have a reason to construct a more appropriate concept image that included noncommutative examples because same-side cancelation holds in commutative groups. The students only saw two non-examples immediately after the introduction of the definition of a group and both were modified into examples. if only commutative groups were considered. P never explicitly described it as a technique for constructing new groups. 2008. Dr. 5. They did not encounter a problem. The students never experienced a finite non-example or a non-example that was not associative at any point in the semester.” There was no other motivation for these items. While subgroups were often isomorphic to a known group.4 Tools for constructing examples We describe the tools Dr. he did remark. Mason & Watson. and Dr. He showed that it did not satisfy the axioms. state the first property that does not hold. and. “We need some noncommutative examples” when he discussed cancelation and asserted that mixed cancelation was not required. then modified it by removing the problematic element from the set. or more generally.

+) occupied a preeminent status in the enacted example space.P. 6 Significance. This paper makes three meaningful contributions to the research literature. Students also never experienced using a counterexample to show that a claim is false in class. He did not require work with examples or provide any examples in class of the process. Dr. Yet. Third. The class of examples (Zn. For instance.+n) and (Z.+n) or (Z. P’s set of examples shows a particular set of pedagogical choices. It would not be unreasonable for students to adopt (Zn. exploratory case study focused on only one aspect of instruction and that it is inappropriate to draw generalizations from it.g. Students may also have attempted to construct an example using any of the illustrated methods in a homework problem that asked them to exhibit a group with a noncommutative subgroup. The students had access to a third method of group construction. 5. limitations and directions for future study We recognize that this is a single.+) the most frequently cited individual example. Both of these are cyclic. P used it as his. given how frequently Dr. Dr. we claim that (Zn. he used examples to instantiate statements of propositions after he introduced them. practice problems. there is no basis for more theoretical work. Second. This can be understood as a version of instantiation of Alcock (2010). Fukawa-Connelly. Dr. without a body of empirical evidence. However. they could have solved the problem by saying that a group is a subgroup of itself and exhibiting (S3. 2005) of a mathematical group. except to show that a given structure is not an example of a construct (e. a group). Nor were there any instances observed of an example used to illustrate a false claim. P presented or gave the students access to. he used examples to illustrate definitions. P used examples to motivate claims (he was not observed generalizing from examples. Although Dr.344 T. The first significant aspect of this study is that it describes and analyzes one aspect of the teaching of an undergraduate abstract algebra class. . such as when he used solving equations in the integers to motivate the question of whether cancelation is possible in groups. Research question 1 was directly addressed in Section 5.+n) as their reference example (Watson & Mason. Dr. before he gave the definition of group or isomorphism. or homework. Dr. P assigned an analytic verification of the process in Problem Set 2 on day 22. P introduced the idea via a concrete example by asking.5 Functions of examples Dr.+) as a concept image does not allow students to reconstruct the definition of a group. C. where we described all of the examples of a mathematical group that Dr. While all instructors may provide examples of groups. This would be problematic because using (Zn. Newton not give the students a meaningful opportunity to learn how to create the operation since he asked them to recall an operation from an earlier example in the semester. o) and thus avoid using construction techniques. so we have chosen “motivate” rather than “create”) before giving their formal statement. as when he discussed the claim that every finite group of even order has an element of order two. but the definition does not even require a commutative structure. “What properties of the set and operation are necessary in order to be able to solve this equation?” Finally. such as the definition of a group. P illustrated four different functions of examples in his teaching.+n) was the most frequently cited type of example and (Z. creating the direct product of groups. First. P drew on examples to illustrate ideas. he was never observed to use examples to support proof writing.2. though on day 24.. when groups are isomorphic and an isomorphism of groups. he created a group via direct product to instantiate a claim about the order of groups. Thus. P used examples as a means to motivate and introduce definitions of new constructs.

It appears that Dr. Third. one of the design heuristics is to ask for comments on others’ practices.5. current evidence suggests that online studies offer comparable validity to traditional data (Lai. sequencing. & Weber. in responding to research question 2. There are possibilities for less resource-intensive data collection that would give similar insight into the enacted example space and students’ opportunity to learn. example construction. While Mason and Watson described many of the criteria outlined in this paper.4. as used above. and the empirical findings. Moreover. due to the self-reported nature of the data. the tools. we have added detail in the areas of example construction and the functions of examples. both to instantiate the definition and illustrate claims. 5. in terms of the idealized example space. In utilizing the concept of the enacted example space as a tool for studying teaching.Analyzing the teaching of advanced mathematics courses via examples 345 The second contribution of this study is further articulation of the construct of an example space (Mason & Watson. 2008) and its use as a tool to study undergraduate teaching. we show a mix of questions and ideas about the design heuristic for the proposed survey.3. Such a survey should take into account both the theory outlined. including knowing what can vary and what must remain constant. For instance. it would not be as reliable as direct observation. Similarly. An analysis of his teaching would be of limited interest were it not instructive in how to get a picture of ordinary practice across instances of the same course. which sought to characterize the relationship between the set of presented examples of a concept and the opportunity for learning that it afforded students. P enacted an example space that drew heavily on a few examples. as indicated in the outline of the survey above. Thus. There are multiple possible follow-up questions that this study suggests that would further explore instructors’ use of and decisions about the presentation of examples. this study made evident that while all mathematics instructors may provide examples in class. this study addressed research question 2. and 5. We should also find out if instructors have heuristics they use in the selection. Although these methods are an imperfect means of assessing the intended example space. we argue that an online survey would allow for the collection of largescale data that can meaningfully inform the field about teaching and teaching decisions. The filters of example neighborhood. would be unwieldy. this study suggests important questions about why and how instructors make pedagogical decisions. the collection of examples is likely to vary. they are less resource intensive and offer additional tools to researchers who need them. and presentation of examples. and function of examples were shown to be useful in describing the variation in one instructor’s choices of examples in Sections 5. Furthermore. We should investigate how representative his choices are in terms of the specific examples and the number and breadth of examples. there might be correlations between the time instructors dedicated to study a structure and the variety of examples used. In Appendix 1. To mitigate this issue. One fruitful means to investigate this question would be via a large-scale internet-administered survey that uses smart logic (meaning that the respondent’s answer to a particular question determines the next question that is presented). how do instructor beliefs about the appropriate mathematical introduction for groups (algebraic equation solving versus geometric approaches to . We used the proposed filters to conduct a case study of one instructor in a time-intensive process. Such a survey would give researchers less detail about how examples were presented and the language used in the presentation as well as any spontaneous examples or changes the instructor may not accurately capture in annotations. For researchers that want to conduct larger-scale studies across instructors or those who lack the resources to afford a case study. Mejia-Ramos. 2012). such as the following: which examples of groups do instructors believe it essential for students to have mastery of and why? Similarly.

could have made it less likely for students to develop this mistaken belief. When coupled with the fact that the students did not have an intellectual need to develop a noncommutative concept image (Vinner. For example. Other common examples (those found in two or three common texts) c. never] . or write proofs. may have made it more difficult for the students to be able to correctly determine the limits of permissible variation of each of the aspects. this suggests that students were likely to have an incorrect concept image. Newton symmetries of figures) influence the balance between examples and non-examples and commutative and noncommutative examples? In the current study. P’s reliance on familiar structures. All of Dr. including a noncommutative reference example (like one of the symmetry groups). A different set of examples. There is theoretical work describing the importance of students’ example spaces and personal reflection from mathematicians that indicates that a rich example space helps in mathematical work. P’s examples b. the three filters were read together to characterize the relationship between the set of presented examples and the opportunities for learning about a concept that the students were afforded by them. frequently. we hypothesize and propose to investigate whether an increase in the number of examples discussed in class translates into students having richer individual example spaces. or. we hypothesize that Dr. infrequently. Appendix 1 (1) List the first 5 examples that you show… How did you select this list of examples? (2) Indicate which of the following examples you typically use [always. found only in the higher numbered exercises (where they are less likely to be included in the example space)?) d. especially commutative structures. then: indicate which of the following non-examples you typically use [always. The minimal list of examples that is included in Section 5. We further hypothesize that Dr. never] listing: a. especially the type of variation in the examples. C. This mistaken belief may have been reinforced by the first three examples of noncommutative structures the students experienced. frequently. infrequently. For example. there is not generally much concern about the commutative property. Some additional. in a real analysis course.346 T. Another direction for future study would be to use the enacted example space to describe opportunities to learn and to create and test hypotheses about actual student learning. 1991). This would better explain the relationship between the enacted and received curriculum in advanced mathematics courses. lecture-based class. which were all non-examples of a mathematical group. If yes. uncommon examples (examples not found in those texts. so the description of the idealized range of variation as done in Section 5. Our lens of studying the enacted example space was shown to be useful in analyzing a traditional. It is important to note that there are different needs for instruction in different disciplines. generalize.1 (3) Do you ever show non-examples that have some of the properties of groups? a. Fukawa-Connelly. but there is currently no evidence that students at the advanced undergraduate level with a richer example space are more able to abstract. We assert that it would be applicable to any proof-based undergraduate course.P. P’s example choices made it likely for students to develop the mistaken belief that all groups are commutative. Similarly.1 would need to be adapted for the course.

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