Monday, March 2, 2009

Cuisenaire Rod Suggestion

On Saturday, I attended a free homeschooler miniconference put on by a local educational supply store. I was impressed with the explanation of Cuisenaire rods (before I understood their purpose, I considered them gimmicky) and have decided to buy a set to help teach my children arithmetic.

However, one thing about Cuisenaire rods really bothers me: the coloring scheme. It's so random. Why couldn't they color the rods in a way that is easy to memorize? Such as the colors of the rainbow! Seriously, wouldn't it make more sense to have the Cuisenaire rod color order be white, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, brown and black? Thanks to the children's book Maisy's Rainbow Dream, my four year old can already say all the colors of the rainbow in order. Given that knowledge, she could more quickly remember which number went with which color Cuisenaire rod if the rods were assigned colors roughly according to the light spectrum. I'm tempted to repaint my rods once I get them. But I'm not very crafty, so I'm afraid I'd ruin them. I just submitted a suggestion to ETA/Cuisenaire via their website to make a rainbow-colored version of the rods. We'll see if they pay attention or if I end up having to find some paint.

UPDATE: I already got a return email from a Product Development Manager at ETA Cuisenaire. He thanked me for my comment and said that he can't tell me why the rods are colored the way they are. They've just been those (patented) colors since 1931 when they were introduced by Georges Cuisenaire. If the colors really were just randomly chosen, that seems like like a waste of an opportunity to help children learn the color spectrum, now doesn't it?


  1. Indeed!
    my opinion:
    Too often there is a divide between "school stuff" and real life. The fact that the link between the colors in the Cuisenaire Rods and anything useful is at best tenuous IMHO is just more of the same (yes, there is a bit of logic in the sequence, but it's rather obscure, and disputable).

    I manufacture educational materials. Especially for preschool. Especially for STEM. Thus the time came that I needed to decide on a color sequence to represent number order. There is the established Cuisenaire, and then a few other here and there, including the binary blue/red montessori. Yet none that I found as used *within* schooling was in any real way connected to anything *outside* of school, meaning as in real life.... Best try might have been the one where 2 is represented by yellow and 3 by blue, and then 6 was green... Alas, weak, weak.

    So, to follow my reasoning process, maybe my search had the wrong end of the horse pushing the cart? What about instead of looking at educationese, let's look first at Real Life, and find if there is an *established* color<->number sequence correspondence? ("established" is important. However brilliant I might be, LOL, it's generally silly to invent a new "standard" iff there already exists one that fits the job)

    That approach actually was too easy. Yes, there is. WELL established. It's called the "Electronic Color Code". Yes, C T, it's basically the rainbow colors, with a few add-ons to get to 10 numbers.

    The big idea I am chasing is to make schooling/teaching content be relevant to real life. What a concept!
    While /any/ color-number order sequence might "work" merely for math's sake, when we see learning as a process of building linked knowledge, as we should, then it makes sense to have ideas and data "connect" with each other. The rainbow sequence is natural, has direct application in physics. The electronic color code is basic for any work/study in electronics. Thus, while we work on numeracy, without adding pain or effort or cost we already are setting up foundations for more "advanced" stuff.

    So far I have made fraction circles set in acrylic using this sequence. Search my name in Etsy to see it... Reading this post makes me realize I also should do numeric rod sets, sort of cuisenarish, but better, because Real Life :-)

  2. Here's my blog post regarding a solution for this, following your suggestion:

  3. sad that the Cuisinaire representative didn't know...
    There is logic within that apparent randomness, but it is contrived and only useful within its own Cuisenaire confines

  4. Just saw your comments, ATXinventor, and I'm so glad you agree with me and are actually doing something to make more relevant, helpful number rods come into being. :) Your website shows that you're involved with promoting similar great projects, and I'm happy to have learned about them. Thank you for your contributions.