Eliminating counterexamples: A case study intervention for improving adolescents’ ability to critique direct arguments

Students’ difficulties with argumentation, proving, and the role of counterexamples in proving are well documented. Students in this study experienced an intervention for improving their argumentation and proving practices. The intervention included the eliminating counterexamples (ECE) framework as a means of constructing and critiquing viable arguments for a general claim. This framework involves constructing descriptions of all possible counterexamples to a conditional claim and determining whether or not a direct argument eliminates the possibility of counterexamples. This case study investigates U.S. eighth-grade (age 13) mathematics students’ conceptions about the validity of a direct argument after the students received instruction on the ECE framework. We describe student activities in response to the intervention, and we identify students’ conceptions that are inconsistent with canonical notions of mathematical proving and appear to be barriers to using the ECE framework.