The Ripple Effects and the Future Prospects of Abacus Learning
I. The first effect is improvement of numerical memory.
The first effect, the improvement of numerical memory, can be demonstrated by asking students to remember three- to nine-digit numbers read aloud and to recite the memorized items orally. Abacus students are found to be superior in the accuracy of their memory and the number of digits they are able to memorize when compared with non-abacus learners of the same age. This is because abacus students place numbers on the abacus image in their head as they mentally calculate with the abacus method. The retention of the numbers is certain if the number of digits does not exceed the limit of the mental image of the abacus. Utilization of the abacus image enables students even to recite the memorized numbers backwards. This is possible because of the application of the procedures used in the abacus method of mental calculation to solving the memorization assignment.
II. The second is improvement of memory in spatial arrangement
The second beneficial effect is the improvement in memory of spatial arrangement. This was examined by assigning students to remove the location of several small black dots. These dots were placed on different intersection point of squares made with 3 to 5 lines in both vertical and horizontal directions. The students first looked at these dots for a few seconds to memorize their location, then they were asked to recreate the same picture by placing black dots on blank squares. As a result, abacus learners were found to score higher than non-abacus learners. The spatial arrangement of the dots does not have the same numerical values as beads on the abacus board. However, we can speculate that the training to obtain the abacus image visually had the effect of making students sensitive to spatial arrangement.
a. Findings from an investigation with third grade students show that about a year of study at an abacus school enabled the learners to score higher than non-abacus learners on certain mathematical problems.
b. On the higher level, advanced abacus learners were found to have received even more desirable effects in solving certain types of mathematical problems compared to non-abacus learners. These problems include the comparison of the size of the numbers, the calculation of numbers with multiple choices of proposed answers, word problems, and fractions.
c. Abacus learners tend to solve problems in a form in which they can utilize their knowledge of abacus calculation when confronted with various mathematical problems. They tried solving the problems by changing the numbers into the form they understood best.
Source: Ms. Shizuko Amaiwa (Professor, Shinshu University, College of Education)