Posts Tagged ‘abacus’

More On The Abacus As Fun Brain Training

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Abacus or Soroban

Back in June I wrote about the revival of the abacus or soroban in Japan. This subject fascinates me in part I think because it reaffirms two appealing philosophies:

  1. The integration of mind and body. What we do informs the shape of our mental processes. Likewise what we think informs our physical being.
  2. Sometimes progress in one area leads to regress in another. The technological innovation that brought us the calculator robbed us of the valuable mental training that comes from regular mental arithmetic.

(As another example of #2 I was recently given a Chemex coffee maker — one can’t imagine a simpler coffee-making device, and yet for someone who values good-tasting coffee it outperforms electric coffee makers that tend to be vastly more complicated and expensive.)

Now NPR reports on the resurgence of the abacus in modern Japan. Advocates think it will help schoolchildren develop focus and improve their connection to the mathematical concepts being studied.

‘Silently, a third-grader named Sho Uchida races through a written worksheet of arithmetic problems — without the aid of his abacus … his fingers dancing across the page.

‘Hanaka Iwai says being able to conjure up and manipulate a mental abacus is a skill known as anzan.

Anzan enables you to visualize the beads in your head. … you can literally carry the device in your brain,” she says.

‘The system is so intuitive, teachers say, almost any child can master it in a matter of months.’

I like the punchline — “a matter of months.” To those of us who like to master things quickly, the idea of spending months on learning how to use an abacus sounds a little daunting — yet another confirmation that we need to cultivate these kinds of skills rather than curate them.

New Brain Training System – The Humble Abacus

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

This story reminds us that many of the traditional teaching methods that fell out of favor in the last few decades had some distinct advantages, as brain training tools, over those that replaced them. Repetition and focus help strengthen and tune the brain’s processing skills as well as fine motor skills. Along with penmanship, times table memorization, and rote learning the abacus develops the raw material of intellectual development…

Akita Japan

Akita, Japan

A report in the Daily Yomiuri indicates that the abacus, or soroban in Japanese, is returning to favor as a means of assisting in the development of concentration and memory.

Abacus training and certifications are on the rise and some elementary school have reintroduced the deceptively simple-looking counting device.

Parent Haruko Sato said her fourth-grade son “listens better and has become more motivated” after studying at an abacus school.

Kiso Kubota, a professor emeritus at Kyoto University, cognitive neuroscientist and author of a book on the abacus, attributes the mental benefits of the abacus (better memory and the logical thinking skills) to the intensive use of the prefrontal area of the brain for mental arithmetic.

japanese abacus brain training

Japanese Abacus or Soroban

In the 2011 school year, abacus will become a required subject for both third- and fourth-grade primary school students in Japan. In the 2009 school year, 3,147 public primary schools requested abacus instructors from soroban schools and related entities.

Unfortunately, given its long fallow period, many soroban instructors are nearing retirement age. The abacus league’s executive director, Shimpachi Waku, said the organization will increase its efforts to develop educators so soroban will remain “part of the country’s education and culture.”