Discrete mathematics is a foundational subject for computer science students, but it can also be a challenging one to teach.
Challenge with teaching proofs
Proofs are a case in point. Proofs are a difficult concept to help students master, because instructors should work one-to-one with learners to edit their work and point out mistakes. It’s a lot like teaching writing – labor intensive. But in typical large discrete math classes, this approach becomes untenable. Instructors don’t have the bandwidth to review and grade hundreds of proofs written by students and provide individual feedback.
As a computer science professor at University of California, Irvine, and the author of the Discrete Mathematics zyBook, I’ve been working with the zyBooks content team to overcome this challenge. We’re releasing a new block proof tool this fall that will be included in both the Discrete Math and Linear Algebra zyBooks. The tool is a major update that gives instructors the capability to directly assess and teach proof writing skills and do it at scale to accommodate large classes.
How the block proof tool works
The block proof tool is a software tool that automates how students engage with proofs. While it doesn’t replace writing proofs, the tool gives students a scaffolded proof-writing experience, allowing them to drag and drop prewritten proof lines into the correct order instead of starting from scratch. It also provides students immediate feedback on and reinforcement for their work. The goal of these exercises is to teach students how to reason and how to articulate that reasoning. We’ve created block proof exercises for logic-based and text-based proofs, and these are integrated throughout the book.
The block proof tool in action
In this video, Dr. Irani explains how students learn with the new block proof tool.