The term abacus comes from the Greek word ábax, which literally means “table to count”, although some sources claim that it comes from the Hebrew word abad, translated as dust. What is Abacus?
Both etymologies have something in common, as it is believed that in the past, basic mathematical operations were performed on a table with accumulated dust and through which graphic symbols or ticks were noted for counting.
It should be noted that the use of numbers known today, that is, Arabic numerals, appeared in the 10th century and the symbols + and – appeared in the 15th century.
The abacus was invented in China in AD 190. Ç
In its origin this mathematical calculation instrument was made of wood. Some moving parts were placed on boards with different rods; these pieces moved to perform arithmetic operations. With this device it is possible to count numbers and perform additions, subtracts, multiplications and divisions. It can be said that this utensil was the first calculator used by human beings.
Although its use is minority in the education system , it is still used in countries like China, Japan and Korea. From the point of view of mathematics didactics , it is a useful tool to understand the importance of the position of the digits and the meaning of basic operations. In recent years, the abacus has become fashionable as an educational toy for children. What is Abacus?
Purpose of abacus
Through this object it is possible to perform complex addition, subtraction, multiplication and division calculations. The new generations, who have already grown up with calculators, computers, smartphones and many other tools that do calculations by themselves, often cannot even imagine that there is a manual object with this utility.
Whats the matter?
Knowing all the technological evolution that has happened over the years, the truth is that, for many people, the abacus doesn’t make much sense. However, it is worth mentioning that it remains an important tool for the learning process , since staying in the comfort zone is often not favorable.
Especially at the beginning of the school day, children learn a lot using the abacus. In addition to mathematical calculations, the millennial object helps to develop other mental aspects, such as memory , logical reasoning, observation, concentration, deduction, among others.
The practicality offered by technologies ends up making some processes too easy and reducing the space for learning, with the abacus being a great resource to encourage all of this.
At first, you might think that all abacus models are the same, but that’s not quite true. Small differences can be found in versions that were created and adapted over time.
One of the main differences you already know: that the abacus can be horizontal or vertical, without interfering with the calculations. Take the opportunity to discover other curiosities!
In 1846, historians found a tablet on the Greek island of Salamis, dating from 300 BC The equipment, made of marble, is 149 centimeters long, 75 cm wide and 4.5 cm thick, and is considered the oldest model to date. .
Also known as Suanpan, the Chinese model is about 20 cm tall and can have different widths, depending on the manufacturer.
The most interesting thing is that, unlike the models found in schools, the Chinese version allows you not only to perform basic math such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, but also square root and cube root.
The abacus in Japan, Soroban
Although unusual in most countries, Soroban, as it is named in Asia, is widely used in Eastern culture. In Japan, handling the tool is already taught at a basic level — and for those who wish to improve, there are private lessons.
The interesting thing is that, in the long term, the repetition of the exercises enables the trainee to perform large calculations mentally. It’s such a common practice that, to get a job in most offices, you need to have level three certification.
Teachers in Japan recommend teaching and using the abacus, because in addition to contributing to faster thinking , it helps memorize and allows you to process information more quickly , you know?
One of the biggest advantages over other demonstrative resources is that the instrument allows a better visual notion of the groups of 10, which are the basis of our numerical system.
The abacus for the visually impaired
Helen Keller, a blind and deaf American writer and social activist, was responsible for creating an abacus model adapted for the visually impaired. The model is made up of a piece of fabric or rubber that is placed behind the balls, so that they do not move involuntarily.
This model was designed so that, in addition to the basic operations, it could also calculate the square and cube root. Even with talking calculators available, through the use of the abacus, the visually impaired (or partially impaired) acquire skills and abilities that would not be learned with calculators.
How to do calculations on the abacus?
As we mentioned above, the most popular abacus here in the western world is an object with parallel rods with colored balls (or beads). Each rod has balls of a certain color to represent the decimal system, between units, tens and hundreds.
The units stem is first from right to left, then tens and hundreds in ascending order. There are more complex abacuses, which have rods for thousands or fractional numbers, for example. Therefore, it is good to check the model you have in your hands!
Since each ball has the value of its house, three ones balls represent the number three, and four tens balls represent the number forty. Together we have the number forty-three.
In an addition operation, the first number must be represented by the balls, and the number to be added in the calculation is added with new balls in each space — always from left to right.
3 benefits of using abacus
Improved concentration and memory
These are two very important skills for us to perform different functions, whether at school, at work or in everyday tasks. With the amount of information and stimuli we receive every day, it is extremely important that we always try to do everything with care and attention.
When performing calculations with the abacus, we use the skills of concentration, reasoning, learning and memory , as we must focus all our attention on carrying out the calculations — since any mistake or deviation of attention compromises the result of the calculations.
stimulus to learning
And by training focus, concentration and memory in this activity, we can expand these skills to other areas, such as studies. Students who perform the practice regularly develop speed in information processing and greater storage capacity.
Many parents recognize the benefits of handling the abacus in many other ways of learning. Reports include faster absorption and storage of information, as well as increased levels of concentration and patience.
Do math like a calculator
Have you ever imagined doing extremely complex calculations at a speed similar to a calculator? With the abacus, this is possible!
An article recently published by BBC News presented the story of Yu Ohira, a teenager who can multiply 6-digit numbers in about 11 seconds — this is because she is already at the 10th dan of the abacus (which is a very advanced level) and does not need to more of it to do the math.
Anyway, the abacus really can be a powerful learning tool and it is worth continuing to use this resource, even with access to all kinds of technological solutions. The big difference is in the skills that are developed while each person learns to deal with the abacus and do calculations.