Engaging students: Distinguishing between inductive and deductive reasoning

In my capstone class for future secondary math teachers, I ask my students to come up with ideas for engaging their students with different topics in the secondary mathematics curriculum. In other words, the point of the assignment was not to devise a full-blown lesson plan on this topic. Instead, I asked my students to think about three different ways of getting their students interested in the topic in the first place.

I plan to share some of the best of these ideas on this blog (after asking my students’ permission, of course).

This student submission again comes from my former student Caitlin Kirk. Her topic, from Geometry (and proof writing): distinguishing between inductive and deductive reasoning.

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C. Culture: How has this topic appeared in pop culture (movies, TV, current music, video games, etc.)?

Inductive and deductive reasoning are often used on TV, radio, or in print in the form of advertising.

Deductive Reasoning

Man: What’s better, faster or slower?

All kids: Faster!

Man: And what’s fast?

Boy: My mom’s car and a cheetah.

Girl: A space ship.

Man: And what’s slow?

Boy: My grandma’s slow.

Man: Would you like her better if she was fast?

Boy: I bet she would like it if she was fast.

Man: Hmm, maybe give her some turbo boosters?

Boy: Or tape a cheetah to her back.

Man: Tape a cheetah to her back, it seems like you’ve thought about this before.

Narrator: It’s not complicated, faster is better. And iPhone 5 downloads fastest on AT&T 4G.

Deductive reasoning, which applies a general rule to specific examples, can be seen in advertisements like the AT&T commercial above. The kids establish in their conversation that faster things are better. The narrator says that iPhone 5 downloads fastest on AT&T 4G. Thus the viewer is left with the conclusion that AT&T 4G is better. This commercial’s deduction can be summed up as follows:

Faster things are better.

AT&T 4G is faster.

AT&T 4G is better. (conclusion)

Inductive Reasoning

Hotch: Sprees usually end in suicide. If he’s got nothing to live for, why wouldn’t he end it?

Reid: Because he’s not finished yet.

Reid: He’s obviously got displaced anger and took it out on his first victim.

Hotch: The stock boy represented someone. We need to know who. What about the other victims.

Reid: Defensive.

Hotch: Was he military?

Garcia: Negative.

Hotch: He’s lashing out. There’s got to be a reason. Rossi and Prentiss, dig through his house. Reid and JJ, get to the station. Morgan and I will take the crime scene. This guy’s got anger, endless targets and a gun. And from the looks of it, he just got started.

Inductive reasoning, which uses specific examples to make a general rule, can be seen frequently in episodes of TV shows or movies that involve crime scene investigation. The show Criminal Minds features a special unit of the FBI that profiles criminals. They do this by interviewing criminals who have already been caught and then inducing general rules about all criminals in order to catch the one they are looking for. Conversations among the profilers, like the one above, lead to inductive reasoning that can be summed up as follows:

He has nothing to live for.

He doesn’t want to commit suicide.

He wasn’t in the military.

He has displaced anger.

He has endless targets.

He has a gun.

He is a dangerous man who will hurt more people. (conclusion)

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C. Culture: How has this topic appeared in high culture (art, classical music, theatre, etc.)?

 When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

-The Declaration of Independence

July, 4, 1776

The Declaration of Independence was drafted as a deductive argument as to why the United States can and should be a country independent of Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson drafted the declaration with a series of premises leading to four different conclusions.

  1. George III is a tyrant
  2. The colonies have a right to be free and independent states
  3. All political connections between Britain and the colonies should be dissolved
  4. The “united states” have the right to do all things that free nations do

These four conclusions then serve as premises for the final conclusion that the United States is now an independent country. The declaration is a great example of deductive reasoning because it takes specific examples, such as the 27 grievances against the monarch, and makes logical conclusions, such as “George III is a tyrant,” from the examples. Its deduction can be plainly seen.

The Declaration of Independence is a great example of high culture to use in the classroom because every student who is educated in the United States will have some knowledge of this document. Therefore learning to analyze it “mathematically” in terms of deductive versus inductive reasoning, is a great engagement tool.

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E. Technology: How can technology be used to effectively engage students with this topic?

Crime Scene Games & Deductive Reasoning: https://sites.google.com/a/wcsga.net/mock-trial/crime-scene-games-deductive-reasoning

This website contains links to several crime scene investigation games. Several of the games require students to collect clues, compare evidence, and then determine who is responsible for committing a given crime. These games are great for having students use their deductive skills. A couple of the other games require students to review given qualities of a criminal and inductively decide who the criminal in a scenario is based on these broad statements.

This website could be used to engage students easily. Having students play a game, especially one like these where they cannot pick out the mathematical skill they are using, is a great way to get students to abandon their potential distaste for a topic and be involved. After the students have completed a game and solved their crime, the teacher can smoothly transition into a geometrical lesson on inductive and deductive reasoning. The teacher will have activated the students’ knowledge of reasoning through a fun game. They will then be in a better position to learn a new, mathematical application of the reasoning they just used.

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