The abacus may not look more like a toy than math tool at first glance, but it’s a powerful calculator that’s been around for a long time!!
What is an abacus?
An abacus is a wooden frame with rows and columns of beads. The beads can be moved to help with addition, subtraction and multiplication. The abacus was useful to mathematicians long before computers and calculators existed.
When was the first abacus made?
The abacus is so old we don’t know exactly who invented it! Historians have found evidence of abacus use dating as far back as 2700 BC. Some for of the early abacus was used around the world in many places including China, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Persia.
Why was the abacus invented?
The abacus was used as a computation tool long before we had the technology to make modern day calculators. The abacus not only pre-dates calculators, it also pre-dates paper! Imagine trying to solve a long multiplication problem without a pencil and paper. The abacus helped students and mathematicians keep numbers organized while working. Before the abacus people were forced to count their fingers and toes, groups of rocks and stones or to simply make scratch marks in the dirt.
Is the abacus still used today?
Yes! The abacus is still used today. You may as yourself, why – if we have papers, pencils, calculators and complex computers why would anyone want to use an abacus? Remind yourself that in some parts of the world technology is hard to come by and paper is scarce. The abacus is a valuable tool to students and teachers in these areas. Some teachers in all parts of the world even choose to share the abacus with their students as a hands-on approach to understanding how numbers work.
The abacus can also be a very helpful tool for students who are blind or have other disabilities that may make using a traditional paper and pencil or calculator method more difficult for them.
How does the abacus work?
If you want to learn to use the abacus it’s important to know that there are several different kinds of abacuses around the world today.
The classical abacus is also known as the Chinese abacus. It has 5 beads on the bottom of each column and 2 beads on the top. The Modern abacus has 4 beads on the bottom of each column and 2 beads on the top.
What do the abacus beads mean?
The upper beads of the abacus are called the heavenly beads and the lower beads are called the earthly beads. If beads are touching the reckoning bar they should be counted, if they are not touching the reckoning bar that column is equal to zero.
The abacus works very much like our number system! The farthest column to the right represents the ones place, the next column over represents the tens place and so on.
The heavenly beads are worth five times the earthly beads. For example. In the ones column, every heavenly bead is worth 5 and each earthly bead is worth 1. In the tens column each heavenly bead is worth 50 and each earthly bead worth 10.
3 ones would be three earthly beads from the ones column.
5 tens or 50 would be one heavenly bead from the tens column. It would look like this:
If you wanted to show 4,523 you would need 4 thousands, 5 hundreds, 2 tens and 3 ones.
3 earthly beads in the ones column makes 3 ones.
1 heavenly bead in the hundreds column makes 5 hundreds.
4 earthly beads in the thousands column makes 4 thousand.
It would look like this:
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Representing numbers on the abacus can be fun and helps you to gain a deeper understanding of what numbers mean and how they work.