Georges Cuisenaire was teaching at his school in Thuin in Belgium when he invented these now famous rods as a means of helping his pupils with their study of arithmetic. He made then a discovery now established as a vital component in mathematics teaching today. He found that by making use of children's natural inclination to play, and giving them an appealing material which demonstrated the relationships on which mathematics is based, it was possible to provide understanding for them all. Many years passed before the work he was doing spread to other countries, but the use of the rods in schools today is probably worldwide. The work started by Cuisenaire remained relatively unknown for twenty years or more until a meeting between him and a visiting lecturer from the University of London, Dr Caleb Gattegno, mathematician and lifelong educator, who swiftly recognised its power and educational value. Gattegno's contribution was to develop the uses and applications of the rods, providing a new teaching approach and a completely revised curriculum for mathematics. His insight into the ability of children led him to the realisation that they are capable of far more than traditional teaching has ever produced; and his expectations have been borne out by children all over the world who have startled teachers with their remarkable grasp of mathematics.
During the period when children use the rods only for building, they are quick to show an appreciation for the manner in which colour is used to denote length, and how colour identifies rods that can be placed end to end to make up the lengths of other rods. That the children have noted the physical properties of the material is confirmed when they answer questions about the rods, with accuracy and with their eyes closed. We can work on this knowledge, once acquired, to provide the further vocabulary enabling them to inform us about their activities in the precise terms customarily used in mathematics.
When you have a moment, spend a little time making patterns with the Cuisenaire® rods and make a few discoveries for yourself. If they are conveniently to hand, say on a table top, you will find yourself compelled to play with them. Almost without conscious effort you rearrange them constantly, forming patterns and shapes and buildings. Respectfully, we suggest that your constructions will seldom match those made by your children for originality and imagination, but nevertheless they will surely bring some satisfaction and, probably without your noticing, some familiarity with relationships of colours and lengths. The characteristic of length and colour has made its impact on you from the time you are aware of accounting for it as your designs take shape. These first impressions and the observations you make compare with what your children experience from the moment they begin to use the rods.
When an idea proves successful, as has that of Cuisenaire and Gattegno, acknowledgement of it is made in a variety of ways, not excluding imitation. There are in fact today various copies of the rods, and those sufficiently faithful to the original doubtless produce some success. But the rods you are playing with are as Cuisenaire himself designed them, and the following notes explaining what topics can be studied with them are based on the work of Dr. C Gattegno.
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