problem becomes how to count the number of ways to choose two items (people shaking hands) from a collection of eight elements. For example, in how many ways can a committee of two be chosen from a group of eight people? This is the same as the handshake problem because each committee of two corresponds to a handshake. It is also the same as the octagon problem because each committee corresponds to a segment (which is identified by its two endpoints).

A critically important mathematical idea in the above discussion lies in noticing that these are all the same problem in different clothing. It also involves solving the problem and finding a representation that captures its key features. For students to develop the mathematical skill and ability they need to understand that seemingly different problems are just variations on the same theme, to solve the problem once and for all, and to develop and use representations that will allow them to move easily from one variation to another, the study of number provides an indispensable launching pad.

Key Ideas About Number

In this chapter, we have surveyed the domain of number with an eye toward the proficiency that students in grades pre-K to 8 need for their future study of mathematics. Several key ideas have been emphasized. First, numbers and operations are abstractions—ideas based on experience but independent of any particular experience. The numbers and operations of school mathematics are organized as number systems, and each system provides ways to consider numbers and operations simultaneously, allowing learners to focus on the regularities and the structure of the system. Despite different notations and their separate treatment in school, these number systems are related through a process of embedding one system in the next one studied. All the number systems of pre-K to grade 8 mathematics lie inside a single system represented by the number line. Second, all mathematical ideas require representations, and their usefulness is enhanced through multiple representations. Because each representation has its advantages and disadvantages, one must be able to choose and translate among representations. The number line and the decimal place-value system are important representational tools in school mathematics, but students should have experience with other useful interpretations and representations, which also are important parts of the content. Third, calculation requires algorithms, and once again there are choices to make because each algorithm has advantages and disadvantages. And finally, the domain of number both supports and is supported by other



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement