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.

5 thoughts on this video:

  1. Emma

    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

    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

    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

    We were told my daughter was assessed as being around 18 months ahead of her reading age by the end of Reception year, but her Maths (although average) could be improved. She’s 5, and yesterday I asked her “what is 6 + 1?”, she had to use her fingers and still got the answer wrong. When I asked “what’s 10 + 1?” she said she’d not got enough fingers! I am not in any way convinced by the teaching methods in UK classrooms – either for literacy or numeracy – and this simple test just reinforced that view. I asked an Ed Psych friend a while back for some tips on home learning. He advocated a departure from the school approach, in favour of far more effective (and fun) methods. These proved helpful with the reading, and at the time he’d simply said “get yourself some Cuisenaire Rods and play with them together”. I did buy a set from EBay but must confess they’ve sat in the toy-box since. So I decided to find a YouTube video, and came across some fantastic 1961 footage of Dr. Caleb Gattegno (doing what I thought was seriously impressive mathematics) with a group of 1st grade Canadian school-children My daughter started watching with me, but halfway through was already champing at the bit to find the rods; “I’ve got some of those!”. We started by making a ‘staircase’ and following other tasks in the video. Within an hour, she was informing Mummy (who is 27) that she can make her age with three 9′s, or two 10′s and a 7. WIth a little coaxing she was also grasping the concept of Primary Numbers, which with the C Rods is as simple as seeing if you can make up a number perfectly (eg. 9, which is blue) with other rods of a single colour – but not white which is 1. She soon worked out that three (green) 3′s fit the bill and went on to make nine 3′s for 27. We’ve then started memorising the colour/number combinations, so we can call out “seven” and the other has to answer immediately “black” as a fun game, to build on what we’ve been doing. Looking at the clock I think we’ve spent about 1hr 15 mins in total and she’s honestly come further forwards than in the last 6-8 months at school. Why oh WHY did these teaching methods go out of fashion? Bless you Emile-Georges Cuisenaire and Caleb Gattegno! And, with some intrigue, I know see he was employing some revolutionary, or at least highly alternative, methods of learning English and other languages, so there’s more to explore. If I could bear the financial ruin it almost tempts you to start home educating!

  5. Simon Gregg

    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:



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