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DNR-Based Instruction in Mathematics as an Instantiation of the Thinking-is-Basic


Philosophy: The Case of Quantitative Reasoning, Functional Reasoning, and Linear-
Algebraic Reasoning

Guershon Harel
University of California at San Diego

harel@math.ucsd.edu
9500 Gilman Drive
Department of Mathematics
University of California at San Diego
La Jolla, California 92093-0112
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Abstract
This paper begins with a characterization of essential differences between two
philosophies of mathematics teaching, Thinking with Basics versus Thinking is Basic, and then it
proceeds to outline a conceptual framework, called DNR-based instruction in mathematics, as an
instantiation of the latter philosophy. Following this, the paper illustrates the application of DNR
in the teaching of three categories of reasoning: quantitative reasoning, functional reasoning,
and linear-algebraic reasoning. The three categories of reasoning were chosen to convey a core
tenet of DNR—that deep understanding must be a vital goal for all mathematical activities, not
only those deemed “advanced”.

Key Words: Thinking with Basics; Thinking is Basic; DNR-Based Instruction in Mathematics;
Duality Principle, Necessity Principle, Repeated-Reasoning Principle.
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1. Theoretical Framework
The theories in action of mathematics teaching, those which educators adopt intuitively in
their occupation or formally in their academic studies, can be classified, crudely, into two
categories, thinking with basics (TwB) and thinking is basic (TiB)—terms coined by Greeno
(1991). The TwB philosophy holds that mathematical understanding occurs after the student has
learned enough basic mathematical facts and procedures, and so in order to be able to think, one
has to first acquire a great deal of such basic knowledge. The TiB philosophy, on the other hand,
maintains that understanding and the ability to think “grows through a progression of activities
that increase in their difficulty, but they involve thinking from the beginning, rather than having
the opportunity to think withheld until an inventory of alleged materials for thinking has been
stockpiled” (ibid, p.40).
Reform curricula, such as the Common Core State Standards of Mathematics (CSSM,
2010) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Principles and Standards (NCTM,
2000), recognize this distinction. They call for particular ways of teaching, a type of teaching
that is consistent with a TiB philosophy. The composition of the CCSSM, for example, is
oriented within this philosophy. Indeed a significant new element in the CCSSM, relative to
previous standards reforms, is the explicit expectations about the mathematical ways of thinking
(dubbed mathematical practices in the CCSSM), not just content, which students should acquire
during their school years. In essence, there is here recognition that mathematics is not just
content—collections of definitions, theorems, proofs, problems and their solutions, algorithms,
etc.—but mathematics also includes ways of thinking. (For the pedagogical and philosophical
considerations of this claim, see Harel, 2008a.) This recognition implies that instructional
objectives should be formulated in terms of both content and ways of thinking, not only in terms
of the former, as is typically the case in traditional curricula.
Current textbooks, on the other hand, are largely, if not entirely, situated in the TwB
philosophy. Recent essays in Saul (2015) by several scholars discuss this observation. Our own
work also shows that four widely used high-school programs in mathematics (Harel & Wilson,
2011; Harel 2009) are virtually about rules and procedures; there is hardly any expectation for
thinking at all. The TwB philosophy in traditional textbooks manifests itself in three main
characteristics: (a) Lack of intellectual motivation; (b) Focus on products, rather than processes;
and (c) Focus on routine problems.
Lack of intellectual motivation. Lack of intellectual motivation is prevalent throughout.
Often traditional school textbooks resemble a reference source, where one would use to look up a
term or recipe of how to perform a task, rather than launch an investigation about a particular
question. In this respect, there is an apparent flatness, a lack of structure, throughout the pages of
many traditional textbooks—any concept is an important as any other. For example, Holt (2008),
a widely used text, “motivates” the concepts of “relation” and “function” by a single statement:
“What you’ll learn [is] to identify functions, [and] why? [in order] to determine whether a
relation is a function”.
It is hard to see how such a statement instills any intellectual excitement and intrinsic motivation
within the students. Furthermore, unaware of the extensive literature on the developmental nature
of the concept of function (e.g., Leinhardt, Zaslavsky, and Stein, 1990); Breidenbach, Dubinsky,
Hawks, & Nichols 1992; Dubinsky & Harel, 1992), the text presents the definitions of
“function”, “range”, and “domain” on a single page. Still further, the two concepts, “relation”
and “function”, appear to be of equal status in the text, despite the fact that “relation” has little or
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no importance in school mathematics, whereas “function” is an indispensable concept throughout


the high school curricula and beyond (Breidenbach et al., 1992).
Focus on products, rather than processes. The second characteristic of traditional
textbook is that they set objectives in terms of products, rather than processes. There hardly is a
genuine attempt to advance mathematical ways of thinking, such as reasoning in general terms;
attention to structure; reasoning in terms of logical connectives, conditional statements, and
logical equivalencies; and interpreting situations in terms of functions. For example, in an in-
depth examination of four high-school texts (Harel, 2009), it was found that while there is
enough material in these texts to convince the students empirically that a line in the plane is
represented by a linear equation, and that the graph of a linear equation is a line, these two
fundamental theorems on linear functions are not justified. Likewise, calculators, tables of data,
graphs, and algebraic rules (functions) are used throughout these texts in various problems. But
the overall implicit message to the student is that one tool is as good as the others. Activities
demonstrating the advantage of the general algebraic approach over the other approaches in
logical deduction are virtually nonexistent.
Focus on routine problems. The third, and last, characteristic of traditional textbook is
that their exercises are almost exclusively routine problems. Problems, where students are
expected to find out on their own the needed solution path are effectively absent. These type of
problems are dubbed, holistic (Harel, 2013) , because they do not include hints or cues as to what
is needed to solve them. Most of the traditional textbooks’ problems are non-holistic; they are
broken down into small parts, each of which attends to one isolated elements, often requiring just
one step of reasoning to solve it.
There are many reasons why current texts are so impoverished, and it is not the goal of
this paper to address them. It is worth mentioning a comment made by a teacher leader on this
matter:
“In today’s climate, teachers feel they need protection in the form of references for
students who were absent (for example) against attacks from parents and administrators.
… [In addition], this is an acknowledgement [by the society] that many teachers lack the
content knowledge to teach without such procedurally oriented resources—manuals
almost. It reveals shallow content knowledge or lack of faith in teachers’ content
knowledge”.
2 DNR-Based Instruction in Mathematics: A Conceptual Framework Oriented within the
Thinking-is-Basic Philosophy
DNR-based instruction in mathematics (DNR, for short) is an application of the
constructivist theory to the learning and teaching of mathematics. Constructivism became the
mainstream philosophy of learning, and by implication of teaching, among mathematics and
science education researchers (not among school teachers and college instructors) since the
1980s. Its effectiveness in a wide range of areas of mathematics and science education has been
documented extensively in the literature (e.g., Dubinsky, 1991; MSEB and National Research
Council 1989; Steffe and Gale, 1995; Uzuntiryaki, E. 2003). Evidence also exists to indicate that
the constructivist theory of learning is effective for low achieving students (e.g., Kroesbergen,
Van Luit & Mass, 2004), and for teacher professional development (e.g., Garet & Porter, et al.,
2001).
DNR can be thought of as a system consisting of three categories of constructs: (a)
premises, which are explicit assumptions underlying the DNR concepts and claims, (b) concepts
oriented within this premises, and (c) instructional principles as claims about the potential effect
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(positive or negative) of teaching actions on student learning. A fuller discussion of DNR can be
found in Harel, 2008a,b; Harel, 2013). Here we only outline three foundational instructional
principles of DNR: the duality principle, the necessity principle, and the repeated-reasoning
principle.
2.1 The Duality Principle
The duality principle states:
(a) Students at any grade level come with a set of ways of thinking, some desirable
and some undesirable, that inevitably affect the way they will understand
concepts and skills we intend to teach them.
(b) Students develop desirable ways of thinking only through proper understanding
of concepts and skills.
The first part of this principle entails the need to take into account students’ current ways
of thinking in designing curriculum and instruction, because these determine what students can
and cannot learn and the quality of what they will learn. Our experience shows that students’
mathematical behavior is impacted by, among other ways of thinking, superficial problem-
solving approaches, such as the use of key words in the problem statement (i.e., the word
“together” triggers addition; “of” triggers multiplication; etc.). Likewise, the lack of proving
experiences prevents learners, cognitively speaking, from probing into the cause of mathematical
phenomena.
The first claim of the duality principle may present a pessimistic view of teaching—that
students come with ways of thinking, desirable or non-desirable, which unavoidably impact their
understanding of new concepts. There is the risk, therefore, that this claim might be viewed, as
diminishing the role of instruction in helping students to learn. Not so. The second claim of the
principle asserts that ways of thinking can be modified and enhanced through proper instruction.
In particular, in a curriculum that is based on the duality principle, desirable ways of thinking do
not wait until students take advanced mathematics courses. Proving, for example, should not wait
until students take a geometry course; rather, proving as a way of thinking should be promoted—
at the level of students’ conceptual development—throughout the curriculum, starting with
elementary mathematics. Thus, long-term curricular planning on the part of curriculum
developers and teachers is essential, and absence of such planning can have harmful
consequences, because the ways of thinking students acquire now will affect the quality of the
concepts and skills they will learn later (see Anderson’s non-deletion principle, Davis, 1984).
2.2 The Necessity Principle
Conceptual analyses that lead to successful curricula take—often implicitly—a particular
stance on the meaning of learning. Learning in DNR is viewed as a developmental process that
proceeds through a continual tension between assimilation and accommodation, directed toward
a (temporary) equilibrium (Piaget, 1985; Thompson, 1985; Dubinsky, 1991). The implication for
instruction of this view is the necessity principle:
For students to learn what we intend to teach them, they must have a need for it,
where ‘need’ refers to intellectual need.
Formally speaking, intellectual need is different from motivation. Motivation has to do
with a person’s desire, volition, interest, self-determination, and the like. Intellectual need, on the
other hand, has to do with disciplinary knowledge born out of a person’s current knowledge
through engagement in problematic situations conceived as such by him or her. Thus, new
concepts and skills should emerge from problems understood and appreciated as such by the
students. In Harel (2013), I deal with this stipulation in detail. In essence, the claim here is that
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instruction should demonstrate to the student the intellectual benefit of a concept at the time of
its introduction. The instructional approach of eliciting concepts through problem solving is
virtually foreign to school textbooks, including undergraduate texts. The more common
approaches are either “postponed motivation” or simplistic contrived problems, both in direct
violation of the necessity principle. Postponed motivation is when the text promises to the
students that the concept they are about to learn is important (e.g., has numerous applications in
other fields) or that it will serve them well in their future studies. The second approach is when
texts use simplistic problems to introduce a concept. For example some high-school mathematics
texts introduce the idea of using equations to solve word problems through trivial, one-step
addition or multiplication word problems (Harel, 2009). This approach is contrived, and is
unlikely to intellectually necessitate this idea since students can solve such problems with
conceptual tools already available to them.
2.3 The Repeated Reasoning Principle
Even if concepts and skills are intellectually necessitated, there is still the task of
ensuring that students internalize, organize, and retain this knowledge. This concern is addressed
by a third principle, called the repeated-reasoning principle:
Repeated Reasoning Principle: Students must practice reasoning in order to
internalize, organize, and retain subject matter as well as ways of thinking.
Research has shown that repeated experience is a critical factor in these processes (Cooper,
Heirdsfield, & Irons, 1996). Repeated reasoning is essential to internalization—a conceptual state
where one is able to apply knowledge autonomously and spontaneously—and reorganization of
knowledge. The sequence of problems must continually call for reasoning through the situations
and solutions, and they must respond to the students’ changing intellectual needs.
In the rest of this paper, I will convey the spirit of the DNR framework in the teaching of
mathematics, in three contexts: quantitative reasoning, functional reasoning, and linear-
algebraic reasoning.
3. Quantitative Reasoning
The recognition that quantitative reasoning is an ability that all secondary school and
college students can and should develop is not new (see Dewey, 1933; American Mathematical
Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC), 1995; American Mathematical Society (AMS),
Howe, 1998); National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), 2000; Mathematical
Association of America (MAA), 1996); Common Core State Standards (CCSSM), 2010). On the
other hand, overwhelming evidence indicates that students across the grades do not learn to
reason quantitatively. They manipulate symbols but the manipulation is often divorced from
quantitative referents (Stigler et al., 1999; Stigler & Hiebert, 1999) and they focus on what
operation the teacher expects them to choose rather than what operations are logically entailed
(Sowder, 1988). The lack of attention to quantitative reasoning accounts for this phenomenon, as
well as for many other troubling occurrences in students’ understanding of key concepts across
the grades, especially in algebra (Booth, 1989; Freiman & Lee, 2004; Knuth et al., 2006).
Out examination of American textbooks (Harel, 2009) shows that the introduction of
algebraic representations of word problems in traditional texts is premature, contrived, and lacks
intellectual motivation. They introduce the idea of using equations to solve word problems
through trivial, one-step addition or multiplication word problems, problems students can easily
solve with tools already available to them. In contrast, the approach our teachers learn in our
institutes proved to be effective. The teachers have been reporting noticeable changes in their
students’ ability to represent word problems algebraically. Teachers learn to let their students
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reason freely with their current conceptual tools and gradually modify the problems to
necessitate algebraic treatments. For example, one of the activities our teachers engage in is the
following:
You are teaching a class of students who acquired solid understanding of the four
arithmetic operations, fractions, decimals, and percentage, but have not yet dealt with
unknowns and equations. How would these students likely to solve the following
problems?
1. Towns A and B are 219.51 miles apart. At noon, a car leaves A toward B, and a truck
leaves B toward A. The car drives at 80.23 m/h and the truck at 60.59 m/h. When will
they meet?
2. Team A of workers can complete a task in 9 days. Team B is slower and can
complete the same task in 12 days. Team A worked on the task for 3 days and then
Team B joined them. How many days it took to complete the task?
3. A person works at a constant rate for 8 hours per day. He requested from his company
to work only 7 hours per day and to increase his productivity (work load per hour) by
a certain percentage so that his income will increase by 5%. The company agreed,
with the understanding that there will be no change in the pay rate. Help the Pay Roll
Office compute this percentage.
Teachers learn to educate their students to reason about problems of this kind directly,
without any explicit use of variables. They also witness how letting their students reason with
their available conceptual tools necessitates the use of variable. Consider the following episodes
which occurred in an eight-grade class.
The students were given the problem
Towns A and B are 280 miles apart. At 12:00 PM, a car leaves A toward B, and a truck
leaves B toward A. The car drives at 80 m/h and the truck at 60 m/h. When will they
meet?
Collectively, the students, working in small groups, expressed the following line of reasoning:
After 1 hour, the car drives 80 miles and truck 60 miles. Together they drive 140 miles.
In 2 hour, the car drives 160 miles and the truck 120 miles. Together they drive 280
miles. Therefore, they will meet at 2:00 PM.
The teachers then varied the distance between the two towns through a sequence of
numbers. The first variation was:
Towns A and B are 100 miles apart. At 12:00 PM, a car leaves A toward B, and a truck
leaves B toward A. The car drives at 80 m/h and the truck at 70 m/h. When and where
will they meet?
The students, still working in small groups, reasoned as follows: It will take the two
vehicles less than one hour to meet; it will take them more than 30 minutes to meet; they will
meet closer to B than to A. Then they solve the problem by trial and error. They began with “50
minutes” and, accordingly, examined the equality, 80 70 100. When they found that
the value on the right is larger than 100, they proceeded to try “40 minutes”. They expressed joy
when their calculations confirmed the truth of the equality, 80 70 100.
The second variation was:
Towns A and B are 118 miles apart. At 12:00 PM, a car leaves A toward B, and a truck
leaves B toward A. The car drives at 80 m/h and the truck at 70 m/h. When and where
will they meet?
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The students essentially repeated the reasoning they applied in the previous versions, and
then, as before, they set to systematically try various fractions as possible solutions by examining
a sequence of equalities: 80 70 118; 80 70 118; 80 70 100; ….
This activity of varying the time needed was utilized later by the teacher to introduce the
concept of variable (or unknown) and, in turn, the equation, x  80  x  60  140 .
We see here an attempt by the teacher to necessitate the concept of “unknown as a
variable”, in that she put the students in a problematic situation through which they were
compelled intellectually (not just socially—to satisfy the teacher’s will) to vary the problem
unknown quantity. In doing so, the students repeatedly reasoned on the relations among the
problem quantities, repeatedly represented these relations symbolically, repeatedly applied their
knowledge of operations on fractions and whole numbers, and repeatedly persevered to solve the
problem.
4 Functional Reasoning
Functional reasoning is a way of thinking by which one interprets situations in terms of
functions. The critical role the concept of function plays in the learning of mathematics has been
well documented by several scholars (e.g., Ayers, Davis, Dubinsky, & Lewin, 1988;
Breidenbach, Dubinsky, Hawks, & Nichols 1992). The question we address in this section is:
What sort of activities intellectually necessitate the concept of function for students, help them
think in terms of functions, and assist them see functions as models of reality? In our teacher
professional development institutes, we advance the principle that a concept is never defined
formally before the learners have built an image for it through problem-solving experiences. The
targeted image for the concept of function was what is known as the process-conception of
function (Breidenbach et al. 1992). Typically, we begin our treatment of the concept of function
with an entry-level problem like the following:
Truck and Car Traveling Problem: Towns A and B are 380 miles apart. At noon, a car
leaves A toward B, and a truck leaves B toward A. The car drives at 80 m/h and the truck
at 60 m/h.
a. When do the car and truck meet?
b.What is the distance between them after (a) 1 hour, (b) ½ hour, (c) 1.5 hours?
c. What is the distance between the car and truck at any given moment from the time they
left until they reached their destinations?
Gradually we elevate the difficulty level of the problems to ones such as the following:
Sweeping-Line Problem: ABC is a triangle with sides AB  6 m, BC  8 m, and
AC  10 m. A line l in the plane of the triangle moves along the segment AC at the rate
of 1 cm per second. The line starts at A and ends at C , and is always perpendicular to
AC .
a. How long does it take the line to reach the point B ?
b. How long does it take the line to bisect the area of the triangle?
c. What is the area of the region that the line sweeps in its movement after 6.75
minutes?
d. What is the area of the region that the line sweeps at any given moment from the start
of its movement?
A central common goal of problems such as these is to advance learners’ understanding
of the concept of function as a dynamic input-output process. The last item in each problem aims
at intellectually necessitating thinking of a dependency rule between two varying quantities.
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Thinking of a function as a dynamic input-output process is abstract and expected to be difficult


because the learner has to attend simultaneously to three objects, input (time, in our case), output
(distance, or length, in our case), and a dependency rule (e.g., a formula) that connects them.
Even when the dependency rule is given, the learner must think of the input and output in general
terms: for any given input the dependency rule determines its corresponding output.
In the two above problems, for example, the learners are not given the dependency rules,
but implicitly are asked to construct them. This makes the problems challenging. To assist them
in this task, we found it helpful to first deal with dependencies between quantities of specific
values. In the above two problems, learners are asked to answer questions relating a specific
value of time to its corresponding value of distance and area, respectively, before they are asked
to determine dependency rules between the respective quantities. Once all the items are
completed, learners come to realize the power of the dependency rule they have constructed in
the last item, in that all the preceding items could have been solved by a simple substitution in
the dependency rule.
Consistent with the above principle, the concepts of domain and range are attended to
conceptually, and not by name, for a relatively long time before they are defined formally. For
example, in the Sweeping-Line Problem, the time varies between 0 and 1000 seconds (domain
values) and the area varies between 0 and 24 m2 (range values) were made explicit, but for some
time without a reference to the terms domain and range. Using Tall and Vinner’s (1981) terms,
the goal at this stage was to have students build a concept image of domain and range before
introducing their concept definition.
The concept of composition of functions is implicit in the Sweeping-Line Problem,
because one has to consider the relation between time and distance traveled, and subsequently
the relation between distance traveled and area swept. Here too such relations are made explicit
repeatedly, but for some time without reference to the term, composition of functions.
The following problem is an example of the activities learners get engaged in to construct
the view that functions serve as models of reality.
Population Growth Problem:
a. You would like to predict the population of your town twenty years from now. How
could you do this?
b. The following table gives the population (in thousands) of a city for the years from
1987 to 2006. What do you expect the population of this city to be in 2036?

year population year population


1987 67.38 1997 87.17
1988 69.13 1998 89.43
1989 70.93 1999 91.74
1990 72.78 2000 94.11
1991 74.68 2001 96.53
1992 76.63 2002 99.0
1993 78.63 2003 101.52
1994 80.69 2004 104.09
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1995 82.8 2005 106.71


1996 84.96 2006 109.38
The contexts of this problem—and others like it—is chosen to be concrete, and is
carefully phrased to necessitate the conceptualization of functions as models of reality. Contrast
the wording of the problem, for example, with the more standard wording, “How would you find
a formula for the population as a function of time?” Here it is essential that the problem is
presented in stages since the second part of the question suggests the nature of the solution to the
first part. Initially, learners seem perplexed by part one because of its open-ended nature.
Because the context is so familiar to them, they do resolve this perturbation fairly quickly, as it
happened in each of the cases this problem was discussed in our institutes, by suggesting to
consider past population data and look for patterns in population growth. At this point, the
teacher presents the learners with the second part of the problem. In the classroom, we have seen
various approaches by learners to the second question. One approach is to plot the data points
and try to find a best fit curve. Learners who plot the data by hand try to fit a line, and the class
discusses whether or not a linear function would be a good model for the population. This
question is resolved by considering first differences, which are not constant. Other learners
considered second differences, and the data have been constructed so that the second differences
are almost all equal to 0.05 . Learners then claim that a quadratic function would be a good
model for the population, and in fact one of the goals of this problem is for the learners to justify
this claim. Since some learners expect the population to exhibit exponential growth, another
common approach is to assume an exponential model, namely P(t )  P0ert . An exponential
model also fits the data relatively well, so the class compared it with the quadratic model; why
do both models “work” for these data?
Another related conceptualization is the idea that when seeking a function to model a
natural phenomenon, the data which are typically available to us consist of how the phenomenon
changes. Thus, one of the main purposes of examining rates of change is to use some information
about rate to gain information about a function, a purpose which is often masked in traditional
calculus and algebra courses.
5 Linear Algebraic Reasoning
A widely used linear algebra textbook motivates the concepts of “eigenvalue” and
“eigenvector” and “diagonalization” along the line that the concepts are needed to deal with the
problem of factoring an n  n matrix A into a product of the form XDX 1 , where D is diagonal,
and that this factorization would provide important information about A , such as its rank and
determinant. Needless to say that such an introduction is unlikely to intellectually motivate
students. An alternative approaches to this presentation is through linear systems of differential
equations with an initial condition:
 AY (t )  Y '(t )
(1) 
Y (0)  C
Where A is a real square matrix and C is a corresponding vector with real entries.
Students are asked to analogize system (1) to the scalar case:
 ay (t )  y '(t )
(2) 
 y (0)  c
Where a and c are real numbers.
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At first, students’ typically propose a solution to system (1) that is symbolically


analogous to the solution y (t )  ceat to system (2); that is, they offer the string of symbols,
Y (t )  Ce At (sic). A discussion of the meaning of the latter expression leads students to gradually
revise their first attempt into Y (t )  etAC . Through this discussion, the need to define the concept
of “ e to the power of a square matrix” arises (i.e., e B   i 0 (1/ i !) Bi ).

Once the students have verified that their revised proposed solution works, the instructor
returns to the solution in its expansion form, Y (t )  etAC   i 0 (t i / i !)Ai C , and points out the

following critical observation: if it so happens that there is a relationship between the condition
vector C and the coefficient matrix A in the form of AC  C for some scalar  , then the
solution to System (1) would be easily computable: Y (t )  et C . This observation necessitates
attention to the relation AC  C , and due to its perceived significance it deserves a name: C is
called an eigenvector of A and  its corresponding eigenvalue. Thus, students realize the need
for the emergence of these central linear algebraic concepts; the concepts do not emerge out of
the blue, as is typically the case in textbooks. (For more debate on this approach, and how it
leads to the development of the concept of diagonalization, see Harel, in press.)
We see here an example a DNR-based instructional activity through which content
presentation in linear algebra is structured in a way that students develop a need for a critical
mathematical concept. Through such an activity, students become partners in knowledge
development, not passive receivers of ready-made knowledge.
6. Concluding Remarks
In sum, approaches to the learning and teaching of mathematics belong to either the TwB
philosophy or the TiB philosophy. Traditional textbooks adhere to the TwB philosophy, whereby
neglecting crucial elements of quality teaching, most notably, intellectual motivation, attention
on processes, and focus on holistic problems. Texts that abide by the TiB philosophy via DNR-
based instruction, on the other hand, set ways of thinking as the main instructional objectives,
attend to students’ intellectual need, and offer ample opportunities for students to reason
repeatedly through holistic problems.
DNR-based instruction in mathematics is a theoretical framework that provides a
language and tools to formulate and address critical curricular and instructional concerns. We
hope that through the various instructional activities we have discussed in this paper, we
conveyed several essential characteristics of DNR. The first and the most critical of these
characteristics is that the mathematical integrity of the content taught and the intellectual need of
the students are at the center of the instructional effort. Another important characteristic we
discussed in this paper is that new concepts are intellectually necessitated before they are
formally defined. We saw this with the concept of function, where students experience the
process-conception of function and functions as models of reality before the concept of function
is defined. The principle behind this approach is that a formal definition of concepts is better
understood if one first elicits the essential ideas of the concept from her or his solutions to
various problems. This approach is fundamentally different from the one commonly used in
traditional textbooks, where concepts are first defined and then applied to solve problems,
typically routine problems.
In all, the implementation of DNR through its foundational principles of duality,
necessity, and repeated reasoning, can potentially yield a critical gain in learning to reason
mathematically, and it can instill in students the view about the nature of mathematics as a
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human activity, where ideas emerge out of an intellectual need, not through imposition from an
outer authoritative source.
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