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Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Caleb Gattegno. He was an educator, particularly in mathematics, but also in linguistics, publishing many seminal works on the theory of education. But none of this theory was detached from the real world. His ideas were based on practical, real-life situations, and what, according to his observations, helped his students the most. He was also an inventor, creating tools for the classroom that are still used and found invaluable by today's teachers.
Gattegno grew up in Alexandria, then lived in Cairo, London and New York. He worked all over the world and devoted his life to a study of learning, not only creating a number of important innovative techniques for the teaching of languages and of mathematics, but also made a remarkable, seminal contribution to the understanding of the learning process at all ages. In 1952 he founded the organisation that would later become the Association of Teachers of Mathematics, and its magazine Maths Teaching. This year, the ATM is making Gattegno and his work the theme of their annual conference.
Caleb Gattegno made a significant impact on teaching and thinking about education not only in the UK but also in many countries around the world. Within mathematics, apart from the creation of ATM, his work included the promotion and use of Cuisenaire Rods, the creation of geoboards, developments of the animated geometry films of Nicolet, and the Gattegno ‘tens’ chart for number. Cuisenaire Rods were so effective, he thought, that he founded the Cuisenaire company in the UK.
In addition he challenged many in the educational world to consider what is involved in learning, encouraging them to allow an explorative approach. The teacher's actions should be subordinated to the way in which the child learns through exploration and investigation. His idea that only awareness is educable breaks the learning process down into four stages. The first, the most important, is a single act of awareness, for example that something is there to be learned or can be explored. Without this realisation, or any notion that there is a challenge, problem or issue to be explored, the pupil will not be able to proceed to the next three stages. These stages can be described as exploration, transition (which begins with the new skill being something that can be achieved with a lot of concentration, and ends with it being automatic) and transfer, in which the new skill can be used and applied to the learning of yet other skills and ideas.
Use of his teaching aids was developed in classrooms, and to demonstrate their power he was prepared to teach children of any age or ability, at any time, in front of other teachers. He ran many seminars through his lifetime and his personal influence was felt profoundly by those who saw him in action.