Related Posts

Share This

Proof: From the particular to the general

A common technique in teaching mathematics is to go from the particular to the general. We can look at a few examples and then state and prove the general result. We can do this for proofs as well. Instead of giving students a proof of a statement, give them the proof for a specific example of the statement and ask them to prove the general from that.

A classic example of this is to prove the irrationality of \sqrt{2} and then that of \sqrt{3}. Once the common features have been determined the proof for irrationality of \sqrt{p} for p prime is (hopefully) straightforward.

For another example, consider a statement involving vectors in a space of dimension n. Prove it for particular vectors in \mathbb{R} ^3. Then, set the exercise of proving it for the general case. It is, of course, important to stress to students that this particular case proof is not a proof of the general case.

The benefit of this technique is that the students are usually able to understand the particular case (so feel good about themselves) and can then use it as a scaffold to prove the general.

Get the newsletter!

Fancy a newsletter keeping you up-to-date with maths news, articles, videos and events you might otherwise miss? Then sign up below. (No spam and I will never share your details with anyone else.)