Sunday, 6 September 2015

Caleb Gattegno and Cuisenaire rods

A couple of years back I uploaded a brief video about Cuisenaire rods for Mathagogy.
I've done a lot more with the rods since then, and would make a different video. But I still think, suspect most of the learning is ahead. One of the things that makes me feel like that is this 1961 video of Caleb Gattegno:
What do you think when you see this?

Me, I'm very attracted to the possibility that young children can learn so well using the rods. But I must admit to some discomfort. 
I know it was a demonstration, not a lesson but...
Those children! They obviously get the mathematics, but... they seem so, well so quiet, these five year olds! And so clever. Were they selected from among many to be in the film? (The children in the French version of this film seem a little more like the five year olds that I know.)
And Mr Gattegno, he seems like the giant that the tiny students follow, and maybe we teachers follow. The demonstration is very directed. Was that how he taught? I would love to see a proper lesson.

Really, what do you think?

My feeling is that Gattegno's real lessons would have had more input from the children themselves, would have allowed them to explore and to talk. I like this diagram that Gattegno drew to explain how he sees the teaching situation he wants, on the right:
I'm not sure from his books how the lessons went exactly - I know he started off with free exploration and play - and the impression I get is that children were playing games with each other, trying things out, explaining things. This seems to be part of his philosophy. And I think to get to the understanding we see in the film, they must have been doing and discovering things for themselves.

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