Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Cuisenaire around the world

There is a story about Nasrudin:
Terribly afraid one dark night, Mulla Nasrudin travelled with a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other. He had been told that these were a sure means of protection. On the way he was met by a robber, who took his donkey and saddlebags full of valuable books. The next day, as he was bemoaning his fate in the teahouse, someone asked: 'But why did you let him get away with your possessions, Mulla? Did you not have the means to deter him?' 'IF my hands had not been full' said the Mulla, 'it would have been a different story.'
I thought about this when I read  Kim Van Duzer's candid blog post about trying to use tape diagrams (bar modelss) with the class and the lesson going wrong. A big part of the problem, as I see it, was that the method had been dropped on teachers from above and Kim didn't really have a feel for the way teaching with the tape diagrams evolves from early beginnings and a liking for what they can do.

Some people suggested Cuisenaire rods and Kim took up there suggestion:
I'm not trying to say that tape models are bad and Cuisenaire rods good. More that, like Nasrudin, when someone else gets us using an unfamiliar tool, and we don't know it and don't particularly like it, we're not going to use it  with the required subtlety and skill, and the students are not going to benefit. It helps if the process has been more voluntary, and we've built up our liking and skill with the tool ourselves.

Which is why thousands of Cuisenaire sets languish unloved at the back of cupboards. They were promoted in a similar way to Kim's diagrams (and Nasrudin's sword) and without the understanding and enjoyment of them they're pretty useless, may indeed if you're told to use them stop you doing something better that does make sense to you.

Having said that, yesterday was an amazing day for friends voluntarily using the rods, with understanding and pleasure, some of them just beginning their Cuisenaire journey others trying new things.

In our staff meeting at the International School of Toulouse we all stood in a circle and shared things that have gone well recently. Estelle, who every day is trying all sorts of new and wonderful things with her K2 children (4yos), had the rods and square frames out:
Amanda told us how her Grade 1s had been making and verifying Hundred Faces. Isobel shared how they had adapted the Hundred Face idea to be about signs:


And that very same yesterday Kristin was trying out the rods with Ks and 3rd Grade!
Kristin's careful planning, brilliant collaboration and enthusiasm for the students taking centre-stage make me all the more excited to see how she uses this tool!

 Over in Adelaide meanwhile, David Butler had a set arrive:
And yesterday he got the people at One Hundred Factorial puzzling with them:
Meanwhile in Maine, Sarah Caban's Hundred Face posters were up:

(Read her blog posts about this here and here.)

And if that wasn't already an plenitude of surfeits, over in Winnipeg Geneviève Sprenger published a storify about how she's adapted the Hundred Face idea to be about evolving monsters:

My friends, it gives me a lot of pleasure seeing educators and teachers having a go at these things, not because they have to , but because they can imagine good things happening and know how to guide others to the same kind of curious, open and reflective approach!

5 comments:

  1. Simon, thanks for your thoughtful reflections on my post and for this post about Cuisenaire rods (which are probably my favorite math tool). I wanted to respond to this part:

    "I'm not trying to say that tape models are bad and Cuisenaire rods good."

    Yes. Like you, I was not trying to say that tape models are bad and that Cuisenaire rods are good. I see a lot of value in tape diagrams, but have struggled to get KIDS to see the value (at the 4th grade level) and to get kids to even understand how they work (at the 2nd grade level).

    "More that, like Nasrudin, when someone else gets us using an unfamiliar tool, and we don't know it and don't particularly like it, we're not going to use it with the required subtlety and skill, and the students are not going to benefit. It helps if the process has been more voluntary, and we've built up our liking and skill with the tool ourselves."

    I've been working with tape diagrams for several years now, so I do feel like I know them (though I can always learn more), but it's true that they were foisted upon me by EngageNY and so it wasn't a voluntary process. I guess one question I have about that as a teacher, though, is: is there ever a time when we should make a particular tool or model mandatory because we are trying to help kids become familiar with it, so that later they can have a choice about whether to use it or not? My leaning has always been toward not mandating any tool or model ... toward always leaving it open to the child to explore and choose the representation that makes sense to him/her. But when I started working with younger kids, it seemed like it might be necessary to "mandate" certain models (like the tape diagram, or the number bond, or the "quick tens" drawings) for at least a couple of days as a way to lay a foundation. I wonder deeply about this, because it goes against my instincts to mandate, but then I think that maybe as a 4th grade teacher I was just benefitting from the groundwork that my colleagues had already laid through some of their "today we're all going to try this model" work. Would love your thoughts on this.

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    1. Thanks, Kim. I needed more space to reply to this, so I've made a new blog post: http://followinglearning.blogspot.fr/2016/11/mandating-materials.html

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  2. Simon, thanks for your thoughtful post that recognizes the power of Cuisenaire Rods and celebrates the learning that is occurring in classrooms around
    The globe. I have loved rods and the learning contained within them ever since I began my career in 1986 as a gr.1 teacher. Wonderful post, and the power of Twitter has helped connect learners far and wide. Look forward to continued learning and lovely photos of learners thinking!

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  3. Hello! This post was recommended for The Best of the Math Teacher Blogs 2016: a collection of people's favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts at the end of the year and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via http://goo.gl/forms/LLURZ4GOsQ whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.

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