Engaging students: Truth tables

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 comes from my former student Elizabeth (Markham) Atkins. Her topic, from Geometry: truth tables.

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D. History: Who were some of the people who contributed to the development of this topic?

In “Peirce’s Truth-Functional Analysis and the Origin of Truth Tables” it is said that Charles Peirce was the first to start studying truth tables or rather developing the idea. He created the truth table in 1893. Peirce stated “the purpose of reasoning is to establish the truth or falsity of our beliefs, and the relationship between truth and falsity”. Nineteen years later, two mathematicians developed the truth table as we know it today. Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell both knew of truth tables but formalized them into the form we know today. In “The Genesis of the Truth-Table Device” it is said that George Berry stated “Peirce developed the technique, but not the device”. Wittgenstein developed the terminology that we today associate with truth tables. All in all it is the work of many people that finally developed the truth tables that we know today.


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APPLICATIONS: What interesting word problems using this topic can your students do now?

Truth tables state that if P is true and Q is true then both P and Q are true. If either P or Q or both are false then P and Q are false. So I could have the students construct many truth tables to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject or I could come up with some interesting word problems. Word problems such as “True or false: If Billy Joe graduated and Shawn graduated then both Billy Joe and Shawn graduated.” There are not many word problems you could create that would deal with truth tables. You can have the students begin to think logically. You could give them a statement to complete such as, “Good apples are red. Granny Smith apples are green. Thus ____” This enables the teacher to get the students in the logical process of thinking in order for them to correctly understand truth tables.

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B. CURRICULUM: How can this topic be used in your students’ future courses in mathematics or science?

By teaching my students truth tables and how to use them correctly it prepares them for future classes and for everyday life. In high schools now the students are learning twenty first century skills. To learn truth tables it will help with the twenty first century skills. When you learn truth tables you learn to think logically. The students need to learn logical thinking for science and economics. In Science, they need to learn logical thinking for when they do experiments. It will allow them to process, “well if I do this then this might happen.” In economics students need logical thinking so that when they learn to invest money they can weigh their options. In everyday life students make decisions that they need to think about. Teenagers in the modern day are moving so fast that they often do and say things without thinking. If they learn to think logically then they might be able to think, “If I say or do this then this might happen.”

Irving H. Anelli’s


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