When Dr. Caleb Gattegno first observed students learning math with colored wooden rods, he later wrote, “I witnessed a miracle in education where there are so few.” The students Gattegno observed lived in Thuin, a small town in Belgium. Their teacher—and the creator of the rods—was a man named Georges Cuisenaire. And thus, the world discovered Cuisenaire® Rods.

Georges Cuisenaire taught both mathematics and music. He found it curious that his students could quickly grasp the concept of whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and so on, but they struggled with the same ideas in a math context. It occurred to him that perhaps students found music notation easier because their instruments made the concepts visible. That led him to develop a set of colored wooden rods to act as a “keyboard” for math. And it worked.

Cuisenaire’s students found it much easier to grasp math once they could visualize it with the colored rods. He kept using the rods for over 20 years. And then, in 1953, he got the visit from Gattegno that would make his invention famous. Let’s take a close look at this “miracle in education” and its applications in modern classrooms.