05 June 2014

Argument Writing in Math: Getting Started

Are you an English teacher prepping a training on argument writing for the teachers in your building/district (and you want to be applicable to those STEM folks)? Are you a teacher that just went through an argument writing training that left you wanting more? Are you a math teacher that wants to integrate more logic, reasoning, and writing into your course? (Let's be friends!) Whoever you are, I wanted to share a few thoughts and resources to get you started on your argument writing (and thinking) in a math class. If you'd like more of a primer on argument writing in general, check out this post I wrote after I practiced some argument "writing" with my 3 year old daughter last year. (Teaching Argument Writing for Preschoolers...and anyone else!)

The most natural application of argument writing is in proofs, which most often come up in Geometry, and should also usually be used in Algebra (but rarely are in my experience). To make a common core connection, standard for mathematical practice #3 requires students to "Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others."

Most students experience with proofs (and perhaps you remember your own) is with column proofs like this, for proving things about angles, line segments, or shapes.
Have I induced any terror sweats yet?
But proofs can also be written in paragraph form, which is where the English training and Hillcock can be applied. Reasons are the warrants, the statements are evidence, and claims will be what must be proved. "Prove that angle A is a supplementary angle," or "prove that the lines defined by y=2x+3 and y=2x-25 are parallel"

But...I don't even know how to explain what a proof is! 
Watch this adorable TED-Ed video introducing and explaining the basis and application of mathematical proof.

Want some more? Here's a resource from Berkeley on mathematical logic
"First, a proof is an explanation which convinces other mathematicians that a statement is true. A good proof also helps them understand why it is true. The dialogue also illustrates several of the basic techniques for proving that statements are true.

Table 1 summarizes just about everything you need to know about logic. It lists the basic ways to prove, use, and negate every type of statement. In boxes with multiple items, the first item listed is the one most commonly used. Don’t worry if some of the entries in the table appear cryptic at first; they will make sense after you have seen some examples.

In our first example, we will illustrate how to prove ‘for every’ statements and ‘if. . . then’ statements, and how to use ‘there exists’ statements. These ideas have already been introduced in the dialogue." - from Introduction to Mathematical Arguments (http://math.berkeley.edu/~hutching/teach/proofs.pdf)

A couple more resources for your classroom:

1. "Making arguments with equations, figures, and images" - (http://wacillinois.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/making-arguments-with-equations-figures-and-images-writing-in-stem/)

As soon as you have students start writing more in math class, some of them will start trying to write out EVERYTHING. The point of this post is that sometimes mathematical symbols are still most appropriate

2. "Developing argument writing in math using crime scene investigations" -(http://teacherleaders.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/developing-argument-writing-in-math-using-crime-scene-investigations/)

This blog post from a teacher directly integrates an argument writing text by George Hillocks, Jr., Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12 (with a bonus handout!) as a strategy for students to attack math word problems

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Thanks for sharing!