# SIMON GREGG: HOW I TEACH USING CUISENAIRE RODS

Posted by Mathagogy on Jun 7, 2013

Simon Gregg, Toulouse, France

Cuisenaire rods, invented by the Belgian teacher Georges Cuisenaire in 1931, are one of the great manipulatives we use in the classroom so that children can see and handle numbers as objects, and explore the properties of numbers physically and visually. There are two examples of their use in this video: using the rods to represent the factors of a number, and using them to investigate a particular case of the difference of two squares.

Here’s a fascinating video of Caleb Gattegno using Cuisenaire rods with young children. The nrich Cuisenaire environment is a easy way to try things out online, and to record what has been done with physical Cuisenaire rods. The nrich site has a lot of other activities that use the rods too.

See my blog post for a more open-ended way that I’ve used the rods to explore visual patterns.

1. ##### Emma
10 June 2013

Despite being a secondary teacher I found this incredibly interesting. Particularly the lovely, simple, visual representation of the difference of two squares. It’s sad that these and other tangible resources, which are clearly powerful tools to develop understanding, are absent from many secondary maths classrooms. Thanks for the inspiration Simon!

2. ##### Michael Kelly
15 July 2013

I think the beauty of primary maths teaching is here. It is a joy to work with the essential : the idea the experience and the generalisation. This is elegant and aesthetically pleasing.

3. ##### Julie
22 July 2013

I have had these rods for a few years knowing they were mathematical, but not having a good way to use them. Thank you for this video.

4. ##### Oliver Wilkinson
27 September 2014

5. ##### Simon Gregg
7 October 2014

Oliver, that’s really interesting, and I’m so pleased you had such a positive experience with your daughter! Thank you for taking the time to share it with us.

Isn’t it great how the rods hand over so much power to children to visualise and represent, to play and to explore!

I guess, you could always do a little home educating along with the day job. And there’s plenty more reasons to get the rods out again. Here’s a few lessons I’ve used them for:

http://pinkmathematics.blogspot.fr/search/label/cuisenaire%20rods

6. ##### James Briggs
15 March 2015

7. ##### Siobhan
31 March 2015

We have three children educated in the state school system in France. One child in CE1 (grade 2, I think in the British system) is by his teachers’ assessment in “grande difficulté”. He stumbles with basic arithmetic and still counts on his fingers etc. However I, perhaps naturally as his parent, can only see his immense potential, originality and creativity. He’s bilingual, musical, literate and despite having problems following his maths lessons at school, is great at geometry which they have barely touched on at school (we do IXL online). I find the French curriculum incredibly slow and frankly, the teaching methods and organisation in the French classroom appalling. I now find myself in the position of having to double up and tutor at home in order to compensate.

I do have a set of cuisenaire rods and the children have been playing with them freely for a year or so now. I find them incredible, but I’m overwhelmed by their potential and despite having all the original Gattengo workbooks, I’m finding it hard to start the literal work.

Given that my child is 8 and a half years’ old, I feel that if I start at the beginning we’ll never catch up. And when do we find the time to do all the very measured, step by step discovery that is required? I’m not sure I’m presenting the material properly or if I’m trying to go too fast. I want to do everything at once and find it hard to step back and be patient.

In the meantime he still has to go to school (tortured by worksheets, bad marks and insults) and is not that keen to do extra “work” at home. I’m finding it hard to conceal my anxiety and frustration. I wish I could sign him up (and his brothers, why not) for a Cuisenaire holiday camp to get them off to a good start so I could build on what they’d learnt. I’m not sure I’m up to the job of doing it all on my own. Any advice? (Other than moving back to the UK, we’re seriously considering it… and unfortunately we can’t afford the fees at the Toulouse International or we’d be there in a shot!)

8. ##### Simon Gregg
23 April 2015

That’s interesting to read Siobhan. My son went through French primaire, so I’ve got some experience of what the system can be like. It can be very much a “deficit model” of learning. Marks out of 20 in the weekly contrôle…

What a good idea a Cuisenaire Camp would be! They are a great tool the Cuisenaire rods.

It’s wonderful that you’re up for supplementing what happens at school.

Here are some of the things we’ve been doing with them at IST this year with the 8-9 year olds:
http://y4ist.blogspot.fr/search/label/Cuisenaire%20rods
Maybe scroll down and look at older posts first.
And while you’re at it, it might help to look at all our maths posts:
http://y4ist.blogspot.fr/search/label/Maths

9. ##### Linda
24 August 2015

I initially discovered these rods for an activity for children with dyscalculia on the Ronit Bird website. I was researching how else I could use them and if it was worth investing in a set. I’m going to purchase a set now!