I Would if I Could, but I Can’t, So I Won’t…It’s All Rods & Poles For Me

cuisenaireDoes anyone remember learning mathematics using Cuisenaire rods?
I enjoyed playing with these pretty-coloured wooden rods, especially making lines out of the colours from the polar opposites of the spectrum, but did it teach me the finer elements of the basics of arithmetic? – I doubt it.

The idea of using cuisenaire rods in primary school was to teach  students the four basic arithmetic operations and working with fractions.  This method of teaching began in the 1950s, when Caleb Gattegno popularised the set of coloured number rods which was originally created by a Belgian Primary School teacher (and former violin player), Georges Cuisenaire (1891-1976), who called the rods réglettes, and published a book  “Les nombres en couleurs” in 1952.

Cuisenaire, who taught both music and arithmetic observed how some children found it easy and enjoyable to pick up a tune and yet found mathematics neither easy nor enjoyable. This lead him to experiment in 1931 with a set of ten rods sawed out of wood, with lengths from 1 cm to 10 cm. He painted each length of rod a different colour and began to use these in his teaching of arithmetic. The invention remained almost unknown outside the village of Thuin for about 23 years, until Caleb Gattegno came to visit him and observe Cuisenaire’s lessons in 1953. With Gattegno’s help, the use of the rods for both mathematics and language teaching was developed and popularised in many countries around the world and utilised in the Montessori method of teaching. The decimal colour sequence is represented as such:

1=white, 2=red, 3=green, 4=pink, 5=yellow, 6=jade green, 7=black, 8=brown, 9=dark blue and 10=orange (the 20 pieces =120 at basic value).

I used to refer to the yellow one’s as bananas. So therefore, two bananas (representing 5 apiece) = one orange (stick) and the green one’s as apples (equal three) and so forth.

So, you can imagine my conundrum once we started logical problems in maths when we began to compare apples, pears, oranges and bananas, etc.

For example: You are deserted on an island and there are three crates of fruit that have washed up in front of you. One crate contains only apples. One crate contains only oranges. The other crate contains both apples and oranges, and of course, each crate is labelled.

One reads “apples”, one reads “oranges”, and one reads “apples and oranges”. You know that NONE of the crates have been labelled correctly – they are all wrong. If you can only take out and look at just one of the pieces of fruit from just one of the crates, how can you label ALL of the crates correctly?

Well, I would get out my orange rods (which represent 10), my green ones (which represent 3). There are no bananas, (so I can’t use my five rods), so I would come up with something about orange (=10) minus green (=3) = 7 (that would be black); or, green (=3) plus orange (=10) = 13 (which is also wrong), so you can see that arithmetic is not my strong suit… but I am a total VISUAL… and I just love creating lines and strings out of those lovely colours!

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