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Beaded Beginnings - All About the Abacus

Every great item that has ever made its mark in history has all started from somewhere. As tiny as they are, you would think that beads wouldn't have that much of an important backstory, right? Wrong! Did you forget about the abacus? It's only known as one of history's FIRST mathematical tools...and it's completely made out of beads! Some people refer to it as "the first calculator," since it was created LONG before the technology age came along.


It's been documented by several sources that the very first use of an abacus dates back to the days of 2400 BC. Supposedly, it was made with sand and pebbles. The Babylonians used it. Surprisingly, they weren't the only ones who used the abacus. China and India useds abacus' with beads in the first century. An exact date hasn't been pinpointed just yet, but it's been said that the abacus was used with beads by these two countries at some point only two times in a three year period. Depending on who you ask, there are many estimations regarding approximately where these abacus' were first useds. Some researchers have been known to say Ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia. However, others have disagreed, saying it was used in Rome or Greece around approximately 300 BC.


There's one major benefit to children of any age when they use an abacus. When they use it to learn how to count and do addition, students learn how to work with groups of 10. As we all know, that's an extremely important number factor in math. Thanks to an abacus, children can easily count to 100.

In Japan, the use of an abacus has its own word, known as "Soroban." It is even taught as a subject in school to students, believe it or not! The reason for this is because decimals can be taught to students in Japan better with the use of pictures and visual aids, as opposed to the US, where working everything out on paper is encouraged. Also, instead of teaching Soroban by using books or paper, teachers sing to the students! Pretty unique way of teaching, isn't it? Some parents who consider Soroban to be too difficult to be taught in schools hire private tutors.

Quite the contrary to popular belief, there is more to the abacus than it just being something nice to look at as a visual teaching aide. Another reason why it is used and so effective is because of its tact. Blind people use Cramner abacus' because of the special bicone beads it is made of. What makes this abacus so special, you ask? It is special for quite a few reasons. First of all, it teaches blind students how to count through hearing. Next, it doesn't just stop at teaching addition and subtraction. The Cramner abacus teaches cubic root, division, square root, and even multiplication!


Believe it or not, the abacus is still used by store and business owners in different parts of the world. This is especially true for places like Africa, Japan, China, and Russia. Wooded beads are usually what make up your average abacus today. However, in places like Japan, bicone beads are still used because they're considered to move more easier.

In China, they refer to an abacus as a "Suanpan." These can be used for more than just counting. Like the Cramner abacus, these also can be used for multiplication, addition, division, subtraction, and even cube and square roots in a fast amount of time.

You would think that since the abacus has been around for hundreds of centuries, it has to be outdated and useless, right? Wrong! It's hardly what you would consider old-fashioned. To prove this, a contest was held back in November 1946 in Tokyo. A man by the name of Kiyoshi Matsuazaki used a regular Japanese soroban. The other man, a US military man by the name of Nathan Wood, used a regular electric calculator. For the contest, both instruments were tested to see how fast and accurate they each would be at performing addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Lastly, a final test would include a problem that combined all four. The winner was the soroban, beating the calculator 4 times out of 5. The only thing the electric calculator beat the abacus at was in multiplying.


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