Posted by Gr8beads on 9/17/2014
Any representation of the chronology of beads would be incomplete without including stories about early use of the abacus. The abacus was the first external aid to computing math. It served as a calculation device. While we tend to think of the abacus as being obsolete in America, it is a device still used in other regions of the world.
The Early Abacus
An abacus made with sand and pebbles was first used 2400 BC by the Babylonians. In the first century in China and in India an abacus with beads was being used. Sometime in the three thousand years between those two times the abacus was first used with beads.
The Abacus Today
In China, Japan, Russia, and Africa, the abacus is still widely used by merchants and clerks. In many places in the world the abacus is used to visually articulate and teach mathematics. Modern abaci are made usually with wooden beads. In Japan, bicone beads are used to facilitate ease of movement.
The Abacus In China
The suanpan, the Chinese name for abacus, can be used for functions other than counting. Unlike the simple counting board used in elementary schools, the suanpan can do multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, square root, and cube root operations at incredibly high speeds.
The Modern Version
Today’s abacus is really quite high tech. In 1946, a contest was held in Tokyo between the Japanese soroban, used by Kiyoshi Matsuzaki, and an electric calculator, operated by US Army Private Thomas Nathan Wood. Scoring in the contest was based on the speed and accuracy of results in all four basic arithmetic operations and a problem, which combines all four. The soroban won 4 to T. the electric calculator prevailed in multiplication.
Teaching Groupings Of 10
The most significant educational advantage of using an abacus when practicing counting and simple addition, is that it gives the student an awareness of the groupings of 10 which are the foundation of our number system. Although adults take this base 10 structure for granted, it is actually difficult to learn. Many 6-year-olds can count to 100 by rote with only a slight awareness of the patterns involved.
Highly Valuable Teaching Tool In Japan
In Japan, soroban (the name there for the Abacus,) is utilized in primary education as a part of mathematics instruction because the decimal numeral system can be demonstrated visually. When teaching the soroban, the teacher gives a song-like instruction. Even with handheld calculators, some parents send their children to private tutors to learn soroban because proficiency in soroban calculation can be easily converted to mental arithmetic at a highly advanced level.