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Cuisenaire rods (wikipedia.org)
43 points by pdubroy on July 31, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 20 comments

I'm using these rods to help my daughter (6 years old) with number sense right now. I've found them to be pretty effective at helping her build the concepts around manipulating numbers for arithmetic. The only pitfall we've run into was in connecting the manipulation of the rods with the manipulation of the more abstract numbers.

They've really helped in the area of modeling the problems. Depending on where you put the unknown, there are several ways to ask the same arithmetic question, eg:

    _ + 2 = 5
    3 + 2 = _
    3 + _ = 5
Using the rods to model the knowns and unknowns has been really helpful for her to connect the abstract ideas of the equations with the reality of what the numbers mean, and how the manipulations work on each side of the equality.

Overall I think they're a pretty powerful tool, but they require some creativity to really get the most value from them, and they definitely require the use of other learning aids in conjunction like number lines, 99-charts, and base-ten blocks. We also use money, marbles, and other things to try to avoid getting too dependent on a particular manipulative.

Actually the biggest breakthrough we had was making up a card game to learn complements of ten. If you've played "set" you know the basic idea - we lay down 12 cards numbered 0-10, and we compete to see who can make pairs or triples that sum to ten the fastest. She loves it, and she's gotten to where I really have to work to keep up.

We used them in my education too.

Do you have the track?[1] It can help with the concrete/abstract correlation.

[1] http://marcialmiller.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/0...

I don't... thanks for the tip. That looks like it would be really handy.

I think your daughter would love Digi-Block. It's the only base 10 model that truly embodies the number system. Digi-Block makes all 4 operations extremely intuitive. Here's an amazing video of a 4 year old doing division with the blocks: http://digi-block.wistia.com/medias/6trjj9xt32

Those look really cool, I'll have to pick up a set and try them out.

> The only pitfall we've run into was in connecting the manipulation of the rods with the manipulation of the more abstract numbers.

You could try clearly printing the numbers on the rods - connecting the abstract symbol to the physical unit of measure. No science behind this, just the gut feeling of a father of 3.

The brilliance of the cuisinaire rods is they are accurate and so the way they fit together was immensly pleasing to me when I was little.

The smallest one is a cube, then a red rod exactly two cubes.

I loved the cuisinaire rods I had as a child, the colours were harmonious and I can still count in that spectrum.

None of my other blocks made patterns as well, they were just innacurate and at a certain age I loved patterns & ziggurats.

They were my absolute favourite building blocks and perhaps helped me become numerate, I certainly knew how many red blocks matched a green and understood add, multiply, & divide operations with coloured blocks intuitively before I knew number symbols.

I think the only change I would try is to add the base 10 number symbols to each one which might make the transition to symbols easier ( maybe put binary notation on the other side* ;)

*[ my dad was a programmer so I learned binary, octal and hex counting as well as base 10 ]

I didn't have the numbered track that seems really cool but there was a very long one in my box, longer than 36 units, maybe it was 100, can't remember, was less fun than the coloured ones.

That the numbers on the track are not coloured according to the blocks seems odd, it is not quite as pretty as the blocks. Perhaps putting symbols on the blocks would make them less appealing to the infant mind ?

These are amazing, primarily because they teach the related concepts of numeracy and geometry/scale all at once. From free play and 'building' to patterns, simple arithmetic, they just keep providing a direct physical analogue for numerical operations. Used on me, and on my children.

I wouldn't have remembered that I actually used this if this wasn't posted here!

I don't recall when or in what depth, but I definitely recall them being involved in my education when I was learning addition and maybe even multiplication.

Cool nostalgia

Like to see some evidence they work and to know why they have gone out of fashion.

[edit] Reading the conclusion in one thesis, their findings were the colors did more harm than good. But the concept of using blocks might have befit.


My early math education was based on these rods, as well as a stackable Lego-like plastic clone[0].

I used to think it didn't have very much impact. But in retrospect, I think it really opened my young mind to math as spatial reasoning. It wasn't long before I could visualize the answer, or at least a very close approximation, to complex algebra much more quickly than I could do actual calculations.

[0] http://www.mathusee.com/

Wow, that brings back memories. My parents had me using these from preschool to probably fourth grade. They sure made math a lot more fun. It's funny, I can actually trace my number synesthesia back to the colors of the pieces. The only exception was the number 2. I remember being frustrated that the Cuisenaire 2s were red when 2 was so obviously yellow. Sometimes I would even avoid using those pieces, just because they didn't match the numbers I was writing down.

These were used in my math education. Theoretically, it's a good way to explain base ten but I don't think it helped me much.

Oddly enough dominoes somehow lodged themselves in my mind though, I still picture the number ten as two sets of five dots arranged.

how is "base 10" related to these rods?

The rods often (typically?) have 10 units on them.

More than that, they are 1cm^3 for the base unit and the orange rods are 10 cm's long. The precision is pretty good on the ones I had growing up. 10 of the long rods fit a meter measuring stick to within the precision of the markings on the ruler.

If you wanted to use them to teach continuous variables, it would be easy to do so by analogy using the volume of the numbers.

I had these as a child. I think I learned multiplication more from Lego blocks but I liked them.

I liked lego much later than cuisinaire but lego was not based on a unit cube like cuisinaire.

Lego has a different unit height than unit width.

Cuisinaire were better for flat math rather than cubic math ziggurats that I dimly recall building.

\\ correction

replace "Cuisinaire were..." with "Lego were better for flat math rather than the cubic math ziggurats..."

Large Cuisinaire would be good, one could start younger like Duplo but cuisinaire - it seems to me there is a lot of value playing with cuisinaire at a younger age, before any numbers are introduced.

We had "unit cubes". We used them to ... something. Still terrible at arithmetic.

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