a is for.......A-Z Saturdays

My friend Toni, over at Chick Chat, has come up with a new meme idea. She has decided to do a weekly posting featuring a letter of the alphabet, A-Z, over the next 26 weeks.
A is for......

I've decided to join her.
I've chosen Saturdays to do this. 
So here is my beginning, the letter A.

A is for.......Abacus.

My very old dictionary defines Abacus as "A square slab forming the crowning of a column"

There is absolutely no mention of abacus as a mathematical calculation device.
So I went to see my good friend Google and found a Wikipedia entry about the Abacus
I've copied a part of it here for you.

A Chinese abacus

The abacus (plural abaci or abacuses), also called a counting frame, is a calculating tool used primarily in parts of Asia for performing arithmetic processes. 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. The user of an abacus is called an abacist.[2]

As a small child, maybe three years old, I had an abacus, which looked nothing like the one above.
Mine had brightly coloured beads in different colours and I didn't know it was more than a toy. 
I just had fun flipping the beads back and forth and making patterns like this one >>

As a mathematical learning tool, I think that the first image is a better type of abacus.

There is a divided section with less beads, so the main body of beads could be representing single units, while those in the smaller section could represent fives, tens, fifties, even hundreds.
So after counting ten beads in the larger section, a single bead was moved on the smaller section, another ten beads, another "ten" bead. By the time you'd moved a hundred beads, (using the beads over if you'd run out), you'd then have ten beads moved on the smaller section, thereby learning that ten lots of ten beads is one hundred beads, with the ten beads representing the ten lots of ten moved.

In the second image a similar learning effect could happen if the different colours represented higher numbers. For instance, count twenty beads, then move across a green one. Or something.

I've seen these used in movies, quite large Abaci, standing on a floor, while someone used it for calculating whatever.
What truly impressed me was the speed at which these calculations were happening.

I find the early history of the Abacus quite interesting.
Beans or stones in grooves in sand or on tablets of wood, stone or metal.
I already knew that the Abacus had been in use many, many years before the modern numeral system.

Mmm, black grapes.
I'm eating black grapes right now.....

*edited to link to Toni*


  1. I had one of those colourful ones as a kid.....I find them very confusing but then again, I don't have a mathematical mind. Some days I'm not even sure I have a mind at all. I don't believe I've ever seen black grapes...we have green and purple here.

  2. Our dad made us an abacus when we were kids. Like yours, it 10 colums of ten bead. I never understood the practacility of it it until I encountered a frame with a second, divided section. But it was fun to take to school and pretend to know what I was doing with it.

  3. I've seen a woman in an Asian market using one. Her hands just flew as she calculated. It was fascinating to watch. I tried to learn from the internet how to use one and it is not easy.

  4. Great concept for a meme... and love Chinese abacuses (or abaci)... I have two beautiful ones of my own!

  5. Delores; when I had mine, I wish someone had explained to me how to count and multiply with it. As a toy it didn't hold my interest more than a few months. We have green, red, purple and black grapes, usually not all at once, the green are mostly year round, then the red, of which there are several kinds, (the really dark reds are what I call purple), then the black grapes have a short season. I LOVE the black grapes. I pictured them on the blog here last summer I think, maybe the summer before.....

    Joanne Noragon; I'm toying with the idea of getting one of the divided models and if it has instructions that are in English, maybe I could try to use it.

    Andrew; their fingers do really fly with those beads! I think perhaps the Asians use them from babyhood, it probably explains why they're so good with Math.

    gaby@727m2; great idea for sure, but I'm stumped already trying to find something for B and C. I may choose random words from the dictionary. I may buy an abacus of my own.

  6. I saw people using them with flying fingers in India, Thailand and Singapore. I didn't notice any in Nepal. The skinny portion told me that the mercants in the markets in the middle east used them. He saw a speed challenge between an abacus and a calculator. The abacus won. So impressive.

  7. Elephant's Child; I saw a similar challenge once on TV, the abacus won there too.


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