Friday math movie - The Amazing Abacus

By Murray Bourne, 08 Feb 2008

When I first arrived in Japan for a four-year stay, I was very surprised at the number of people I came across using the abacus (called そろばん - soroban in Japan).

Most banks and post offices had rows of well-dressed Japanese women at the back, feverishly working away at some extraordinarily important calculation using their abacus. Was I really in the country of high-tech efficiency, the country that brought us the hand-held electronic calculator in vast numbers?

For basic arithmetic operations, abacus users can get their answers lightning fast.

The portion towards the end of this video where the kid is doing the calculation without the abacus reminds me of the savant-like abilities of some people that I featured in an earlier video: The RainMan in each of us.

The value of the abacus is that it gives a strong visual and kinesthetic model for learning the decimal place system. See also Kane Dead Reckoning Computer for more on making math concrete using physical calculating machines.

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