Message from the Dean

When my daughter, Elissa, was four years old, she surprised me one evening at bedtime when she asked: "Numbers go on and on, don't they, Mommy? That's called 'nfinity, isn't it?"

I responded, "Yes, that's right, honey. Numbers go on and on to infinity."

At that point, Elissa nodded sagely as though she had known this all along and really didn't need confirmation. Then she closed her eyes for a few minutes. I thought Elissa had fallen asleep when all of the sudden she queried, "Then why do people die, Mommy?"

I didn't have a good answer for Elissa's last question, and I still don't. But to this very day, I still marvel at how at a very young age, Elissa was wrestling with some basic mathematical ideas to help understand the world. Since then psychologists have confirmed that Elissa is not alone. As we concluded in our National Research Council (1999) report on How People Learn:
"An ever-increasing body of evidence shows that the human mind is endowed with an implicit mental ability that facilitates attention to and use of representations of the number of items in a visual array, sequence of drumbeats, jumps of a toy bunny, numerical values represented in arrays, etc." (p. 77)
A major question is, what happens when kids get to school and why do many of them not continue to build on their early understanding of number concepts? One answer probably lies with the children's teachers and these teachers' own knowledge of mathematics and how to teach it. If these teachers don't know mathematics as well as they should to teach it, how do they learn and to whom do they go for advice? In addition, how can we recruit into the profession those talented people who do know mathematics, but might never have considered a career as a mathematics teacher? Moreover, how do educational leaders encourage teachers' learning and improvement of their mathematics teaching?

We explore these questions and others in this issue of Inquiry. The theme of this issue is "Six is a perfect number." We chose this theme for two reasons. First, U.S. News recently ranked our School of Education and Social Policy as number six among graduate schools of education, so of course, we think six is perfect number! Second, mathematicians define six as a perfect number. Do you know why? Read on, and you will learn ...

Penelope L. Peterson, Dean
By Penelope Peterson