The role of examples in the learning of mathematics and in everyday thought processes

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12 Scopus citations


The purpose of this paper is to present a view of three central conceptual activities in the learning of mathematics: concept formation, conjecture formation and conjecture verification. These activities also take place in everyday thinking, in which the role of examples is crucial. Contrary to mathematics, in everyday thinking examples are, very often, the only tool by which we can form concepts and conjectures, and verify them. Thus, relying on examples in these activities in everyday thought processes becomes immediate and natural. In mathematics, however, we form concepts by means of definitions and verify conjectures by mathematical proofs. Thus, mathematics imposes on students certain ways of thinking, which are counterintuitive and not spontaneous. In other words, mathematical thinking requires a kind of inhibition from the learners. The question is to what extent this goal can be achieved. It is quite clear that some people can achieve it. It is also quite clear that many people cannot achieve it. The crucial question is what percentage of the population is interested in achieving it or, moreover, what percentage of the population really cares about it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-256
Number of pages10
JournalZDM - International Journal on Mathematics Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 May 2011


  • Concept definition
  • Concept formation
  • Concept image
  • Conjecture formation
  • Examples
  • Generalizations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Mathematics (all)


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