Monomials and polynomials: the long march towards a definition
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The process of pairing a name with representations or peculiar properties permeates many mathematics classroom situations. In school, many practices go under the label ‘definition’, even though they can be very different from what mathematicians conceive as a formal definition, and in fact there are substantial differences between these different kinds of practices. This can create difficulties for pupils, since they may encounter non-coherent definitions of the same thing. Features of these schemes are exemplified through the analysis of some algebra high school textbooks, looking at the proposed ‘definitions’ of monomials and polynomials. We show how all these definition schemes are used in textbooks. Starting from the observed differences, we highlight some educational research problems.