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 whichdemonstrated 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 world wide. The work started by Cuisenaire remained relatively unknown for twenty years or more until a meeting between him and a visiting lecturer from theUniversity of London, Dr Caleb Gattegno, mathematician and lifelong educator, who instantly 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 farmore 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.
Cuisenaire and Dr. Gattegno
During a lifetime of teaching. Georges Cuisenaire’s inventive genius found many ways of helping his pupils with their studies. His writings on teaching Art, Geography, Biologyand Music earned for him many years ago a place of respect among colleagues in his native Belgium. One of his inventions was a set of coloured wooden rods and some similarly coloured cardboard materials. He used these to teach arithmetic and found he achieved something rare with this subject. The standard of the results he obtained greatly improved and his pupils enjoyed and understood the work theydid. Nevertheless this invention remained almost unknown outside the village of Thuin for about 23 years until a providential meeting of this teacher with another resulted in the use of this invention spreading to classrooms throughout the world. And in the 13 years since that meeting the proven success of Cuisenaire’s rods has made his name a household word.
Dr. Caleb Gattegno met Cuisenaireduring 1953 It seemed, he wrote some years later as if all his previous work as an educationalist had been in preparation for that moment. For many years he had been a leading figure in the movement to bring improvements to mathematics teaching at the primary and secondary school levels. His firm belief that special teaching technniques coupled with the development of a hitherto unexploitedintellectual ability in young children could produce such improvements, had already been demonstrated with encouraging results where his influence had been felt, In Cuisenaire’s rods he saw what many had already seen but found at once what few had been sufficiently prepared to understand Physically the rods behaved in the way numbers behave, providing the learners wnth an algebraic model for the study ofmathematics. But perhaps more important still, he realised that they provided teachers with a means for making the lesson a personal investigation of mathematics for every pupil.
In the years following that meeting Dr. Gattegno lectured in many countries to teachers wishing to know more about these rods. His work with children convinced him and others wherever he went that all have a latentability which, in classroom situations where the rods are used and where teaching is learner-centred, can yield truly remarkable results. And it was this experience and this technique of subordinating teaching to learning which Dr. Gattegno subsequently crystallised in his pupils’ textbook series MATHEMATICS WITH NUMBERS IN COLOUR.
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