Making Meaning of Math Tools

8 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


Students will be able to find equivalencies and form fraction models using Cuisenaire Rods.

Big Idea

Children need to make meaning of tools before we ask them to use them for modeling their thinking. Fraction rods are a perfect example in this lesson.

Mini Lesson

10 minutes

In order to engage my students in exploring Cuisenaire Rods, I begin with a short history lesson of their creator, Georges Cuisenaire.  Below you will find a brief explanation of the man and the tool, as found on Wikipedia.

I show students the page that you will see in the reference section, helping them find Belgium on the globe, and explain that today they will find out for themselves why teachers around the world use these tools.

I encourage my students to find patterns and make sense of how wooden rods of different lengths and colors can become math tools for their use (MP5). I remind them to make sure they kept track of their findings in their math journals. 

Cuisenaire rods were devised in the 1920s by Georges Cuisenaire, a Belgian educator.Similar to how written musical notes make music visible, Cuisenaire rods were designed to make mathematics visible by using wood rods of varying lengths and colour. By 1931, the Cuisenaire rods, which were then known as réglettes, had been improved and the use of Cuisenaire rods in the 1930s by Cuisenaire at one primary school in Thuin, Belgium lead to others seeing that school as one where students "learned mathematics faster than most other students in the world." In 1953, Egyptian-born, British mathematician and education specialist Caleb Gattegno named the math devices "Cuisenaire rods" and began popularizing these visual aids since he believed the rods allowed students "to expand on their latent mathematical abilities in a creative and enjoyable fashion."  Gattegno's formed the Cuisenaire Company in 1954 and, by the end of the 1950s, Cuisenaire rods had been adopted by teachers in 10,000 schools in more than 100 countries.

Active Engagement

25 minutes

As students move from their few minutes of exploration into recording their findings, I show them an example of how to record by sharing my journal. You will find that in the resource section.  I then ask them to record some of their findings and write how they know their patterns work. 

The clips below provide two examples of students working through their thinking and recording. This is an important step because it creates accountability and expectation around an activity that may seem like play to some. 

In this video, my student has a perfect example built, but is struggling to write the model mathematically.  Remember not to assume that if the model or picture is correct, that the learning is solid.  It is critical that students learn to express (verbalize and write) their thinking as well.

In this video, I prompt the student to explain his representations using fraction vocabulary. You can easily see that this exercise gives him the opportunity to find patterns, which will help him visualize equivalent fractions later on.

Sharing and Closing

10 minutes

To close, students share and explain some of their favorite findings.  In doing this, I facilitate to insure we review some of the vocabulary words as well as listen for misconceptions.  Tomorrow we will use these rods in a more focused lesson and I want to be sure the students are using and naming the rods correctly.

This team of boys had an "add on" to a student's findings.  While they share, I ask them to explain and show how they know their language is correct.

At the very end of the lesson, while everyone is cleaning up, this student came to my desk excited and wanting to continue talking about her findings.  This is, for me, a sign of a successful lesson!