Georges Cuisenaire 1891 – 1975   Inventor of the Cuisenaire Rods

During a lifetime of teaching. Georges Cuisenaire's inventive genius found many ways of helping his pupils with their studies.

His writings on teaching Art, Geography, Biology and Music earned for him many years ago a place of respect among colleagues in his native Belgium.

One of his inventions was a set of coloured wooden rods and some similarly coloured cardboard materials. He used these to teach arithmetic and found he achieved something rare with this subject.

The standard of the results he obtained greatly improved and his pupils enjoyed and understood the work they did. Nevertheless this invention remained almost unknown outside the village of Thuin for about 23 years until a providential meeting of this teacher with another resulted in the use of this invention spreading to classrooms throughout the world.

And in the 70 years since that meeting the proven success of Cuisenaire's rods has made his name a household word.


Dr Caleb Gattegno 1911 - 1988

Dr. Caleb Gattegno met Cuisenaire during 1953. It seemed, he wrote some years later, as if all his previous work as an educationalist had been in preparation for that moment.

For many years he had been a leading figure in the movement to bring improvements to mathematics teaching at the primary and secondary school levels.

His firm belief that special teaching techniques coupled with the development of a hitherto unexploited intellectual ability in young children could produce such improvements, had already been demonstrated with encouraging results where his influence had been felt.

In Cuisenaire's rods he saw what many had already seen but found at once what few had been sufficiently prepared to understand. Physically the rods behaved in the way numbers behave, providing the learners with an algebraic model for the study of mathematics. But perhaps more important still, he realised that they provided teachers with a means for making the lesson a personal investigation of mathematics for every pupil.

In the years following that meeting Dr. Gattegno lectured in many countries to teachers wishing to know more about these rods. His work with children convinced him and others wherever he went that all have a latent ability which, in classroom situations, where the rods are used and where teaching is learner-centred, can yield truly remarkable results. And it was this experience and this technique of subordinating teaching to learning which Dr. Gattegno subsequently crystallised in his pupils' textbook series MATHEMATICS WITH NUMBERS IN COLOUR.

We are very pleased to have permission to reproduce the following article:

Powell, A. B. (2007). Caleb Gattegno (1911-1988): A famous mathematics educator from Africa? Revista Brasileira de História da Matemática [Brazilian Journal on the History of Mathematics], 199-209.

A comprehensive account of Caleb Gattegno's life and work.