Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Thank you Monsieur Cuisenaire!

In Year 5 we've been getting some of the classic bits of maths equipment off the shelves and dusting them down. Things like the cuisenaire rods, invented by the Belgian teacher Georges Cuisenaire in 1931 and recommended to the world by Caleb Gattegno in the 1950s. They seem to get talked about less these days, as a Google Ngram check shows:

But even if they're less fashionable, it's still worth seeing what they can do...

In Year 5 at IST we used them to investigate the "walls" of numbers. So, with ten for instance, what layers of the wall can you make out of just one colour? In this case there's the orange ten itself, the yellow fives, the red twos and the wood-coloured ones. The layers, of course, are the factors of the number. And it soon becomes apparent that some numbers only have themselves and one as factors: the prime numbers.
In fact using the cuisenaire rods now makes more sense than it did in the past. You can easily make a record of what you've done with the rods online. The cuisenarie environment here does the job very well.

If you're at IST you can see a video of some of the Year 5 children explaining prime numbers using the cuisenaire rods as examples here (you'll need to sign in to your Google Apps account).

As a footnote, it's fascinating watching how Caleb Gattegno used Cuisenaire rods in this film of a model lesson from 1961:

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