Cuisenaire Rods

September 22, 2008

Are you of an age to remember Cuisenaire Rods? (M. Cuisenaire, incidentally, merits entry on the list of famous Belgians.) They are little wooden sticks of various lengths, square in cross-section, with each length a different colour, and are used as a visual aid in the teaching of arithmetic in junior schools.

MiniBish1 was given some maths homework this week based on the rods. It involved questions such as “What is the total length of 5 blue and 3 dark green rods?”, “How many yellow rods need to be added to 4 pink rods to make 64cm?”, and “… light green and … red rods make 73 cm”. Those are not verbatim so don’t go and try it – it might not work out. You get the drift though.

Now, you’ll have spotted the problem. This is easy to do if you have a set of rods, but this is homework remember, and although Bish Towers may have a lot of things strewn about it but, like pretty much every other household, Cuisenaire Rods are not amongst them. Perhaps with this in mind, the teaching staff had thoughtfully included a key on the homework sheet showing the rod lengths. Not shortest to longest or in any helpful order like that of course, just a randomly arranged cluster at the top of the page. So far so bad, but to cap it off, the sheet was copied in monochrome, so this sprinkle of bars was all black (except white and yellow which were black outlines), necessitating a legend to be added under each one such as “Light green, 3cm”.

With a set of rods, this could have been an illuminating exercise in the meaning of multiplication tables and the nature of division. Without them, it made a set of simple arithmetic questions like “What is (5×9)+(3×6)?” into a time-consuming nightmare of coloured pens, rulers and rolls of lining paper. We’d have been better of just practising times tables.

Sorry to unload on you, gentle reader, but it made me almost cross, really it did. What do they teach them on all these INSET days? M. Cuisenaire would be spinning in his grave, however many centimetres long it is.

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