[Squeakland] Is our fondness for Cuisenaire Rods just nostalgia?

Alan Kay alan.kay at vpri.org
Fri Oct 5 11:02:30 PDT 2007

Hi David --

I was using the actual Cuisenaire Rods as an analogy to the need for 
concrete manipulables for magnitude and sense. When we found them in 
early classrooms we painted arrows on them to turn them into vectors 
and got the kids to start thinking about concrete ideas of 
accumulation in dimensions 1, 2, and 3. The best thing to use today 
is an extension of the original Rods ideas that aims very strongly at 
geometric vector representations for arithmetic and many other 
branches of mathematics.

A general comment about educational fluency is that most of the best 
ideas in education in powerful ideas for young minds go back more 
than 100 years -- and my opinion is that the best ideas of the last 
hundred years are enough to make great curricula for children today. 
This is not a conservative statement, but a radical one. (Almost none 
of the best ideas from the last 100 years are in most classrooms today.)



  05:20 AM 10/3/2007, David Corking wrote:
>Something that Alan Kay posted to the list made me wonder if rods have
>gone out of fashion in some countries.
>I did some reading around and found other people saying the same thing.
>Then I started to wonder if the desire of some of us to see the next
>generation taught with these lovely tactile tools was merely the
>nostalgia of an older generation for our schooldays.   We can't have
>been that much more fluent in 'mathland' than the current generation,
>can we?
>This article reinforced my nostalgia hypothesis:
>See the phrase "According to the company that sells them, their customers are
>people like myself, on whom they made a lasting impression, or
>grandparents whose children used them successfully in the 60s
>and 70s. "
>But this one made me wonder why my class 'grew out' of rods sometime
>in the second grade:
>How strong is the research that says that they work?
>I read that there is a plan to bring rods to Etoys, but I can't find
>that plan, and I saw that another firm has created rod software first.
>Should OLPC be distributing teacher instruction cards, or pupil
>activity guides based on rods, and encouraging local artisans to cut
>and paint real physical rods (and baseboards, frames and boxes)?   Or
>even simulated Etoys rod objects?
>If there is still an Etoys rods project, please point me towards it.
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>Squeakland at squeakland.org

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