Thursday, December 22, 2011

How to use an abacus

Why I want to teach math with an Abacus?

I am a bit of an old fashioned type of guy, and I guess it carries into my homeschooling style and this is a perfect case in point.   For me the Abacus is a fun way to start teaching math, specifically counting, as it is simple, colorful, and hands on.   The abacus can be used to teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, pattern, and more.  It incorporates the physical participation of the child and makes the concept of numbers easier to visualize and understand.

History of the Abacus
An abacus is an old counting tool dating back to the period 2700–2300 BC in Mesopotamia.  Today, abaci are often constructed as a bamboo frame with beads sliding on wires, but originally they were beans or stones moved in grooves in sand or on tablets of wood, stone, or metal. The abacus was in use centuries before the adoption of the written modern numeral system and is still widely used by merchants, traders and clerks in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.  In this post we’ll be discussing how to use a modern abacus shown at the top of the article and not one of the older versions shown to the side.

How we make it work
As soon as your child can speak and differentiate between more than three objects than I think you’re more than ready to start. 

First Step Start counting from 1-10 

1.       Demonstrate  Start counting  from 1 to 3 and just do it for your child.  Every time you count a number placing your finger on the bead and sliding it to the opposite side, while saying the number out loud.  Repeat this a few times before asking your child to do the same.

2.       Let them try it on their own.  You should make sure that your child follows the same pattern as you so that you build up consistency.  Make sure he/she slides the bead in the same direction as you, one bead at a time, while saying the number out loud.  If at any point he/she starts to make mistakes, just demonstrate it again and ask him/her to repeat.  There’s no harm in coaching by saying the beginning sound of each number if he/she forgets.  

3.       Move up Gradually.  Once you he/she can count up to three, go to four, once four is easy go up to five, and continue until you’ve reached ten.  This may be very easy for you, especially if you’ve been doing some of the things we mentioned previously regarding counting things in the house, the steps of the staircase and so on, but don’t rush it.  The numbers one through nine will be the foundation for everything he/she will count after this.

Step two Counting from 11-20.  This is the hardest part regardless of what language you are teaching as in most languages 11 and 12 just don’t seem to follow the pattern.  In English even those learning it as a foreign language ask “why don’t we say one teen, and two teen.  Be patient with them getting over this hump as it is all downhill after 20.

1.       Teach them eleven and twelve.   Try counting it out with them without the abacus.  After they are running around the house saying eleven and twelve enough times, try it out on the abacus using the same method mentioned above, then once they have got it, have them start from one and count all the way up to 12. Make sure they go one bead at a time maintinging the same direction and saying the number out loud and don't forget to demonstrate each time. 

2.       Teach 13 to 20.  I found this to be the hardest part of teaching counting.  I was stuck on this for a few months, trying and then giving up, then coming back to try again.  The best thing to do is demonstrate as much as possible.   Remember to “help” by sounding out the beginning of each number if they need help.   Add a number at a time just as you did with one through ten.  If you feel they get stuck try starting at ten or fifteen rather than returning all the way back to one.  Just remember to not have too high expectations, move at their pace and do not discourage them. 

Step Three Teaching from twenty to one hundred  This is the easiest part as the numbers all follow the same pattern.  So once your child learns how to count from twenty to thirty, he has learned how to count all the way to one hundred, so long as he/she can remember the tens. 

1.       Teach them to count by 10’s.  Show them by sliding all of the beads 10 at a time to one side, counting out loud saying ten, twenty, thirty, and so on up to one hundred.

2.       Adding the ones placement Teach them to add one through nine at the end of the twenties.  Saying out loud and demonstrating for them twenty one, twenty two, all the way through to thirty. 

3.        Let them try After demonstrating for them twenty one to thirty, let them try it out, give them help when needed and repeat as many times until they are able to do it themselves. Then move on to teaching the thirties.

4.       Review In-between each set of tens, go back and count by tens.  In other words, once you’ve reached thirty, go back and count for them while sliding the beads by tens, ten, twenty, thirty, until you’ve reach one hundred.  This will remind them of the tens placement as they move along. This will serve as reinforcement for them so they don't get stuck at 59 going to 60, or 69 going to 70.

5.       Keep it easy As you’re teaching the tens you can try to have your child start from one and count all the way up to fifty, but if they find this difficult or hard at any point, or for example if he/she is having difficulties in their sixties, then start them at fifty and let them work their way up.

Sometimes the abacus can get a little bit redundant for the child and they may need a break.  Here are some ideas of how to keep things lively and fun. 

1.       Celebrate every new number like a grand slam in the ninth inning of the world series.  Jump up and down, clap, yell for joy, get your other children in on the celebration.  Kids love to be praised.

2.       Don’t call it anything but play.   I noticed my son receives studying a lot better when we refer to it as “playing”.  So don’t ask your child to come study numbers or math, tell him/her we’re going to “play” abacus.

3.       Bring out some m&m’s.   I love this exercise.  If my son does well, I am happy, if my son does not do so well, I eat the remaining m&m’s.  Every once in a while I will lay out a bag of m&m’s on the table and line them up in a row.  For every m&m my son counts, he gets to eat.  The rest go to me. 

We hope this was beneficial and not too confusing without a visual example.  In the future God willing we hope to post a video tutorial to make the process easier to follow.