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ABACUS: Mystery of the Beads

  • The Japanese abacus, called soroban, has a frame with vertical rods wherein the beads can be moved up and down.
  • The upper and lower portion of the abacus is divided by a horizontal bar called beam or reckoning bar. The modern day soroban has one bead above the bar and four below. The beads located above the bar have value of five and these are called heaven beads. The ones located below are called earth beads and each have a value of one each.
  • While going along the beam, we find that after two vertical rods, every third rod has been marked with a dot and these are called unit rods. Usually, which rod has to serve as the unit rod is decided by the operator.
  • While beginning your calculations, you always start on an empty or cleared abacus. Another basic rule is to always make your calculations in the direction of left to right. This is important since we end up reading and solving numerical calculations the same way as we read them.
  • Also, it’s important that you learn making your finger movements quickly. Though the accuracy is of paramount importance, it’s been observed that the best abacus operators are also pretty quick.
Before the invention of abacus, even simple calculations were difficult to perform. Our ability to calculate was limited by our ability to memorize numbers and experience. The advent of abacus, however, changed the education picture completely as it led to rapid expansion of commerce as well. It’s only recently that the use of electronic calculator has completely overtaken the abacus.

The Evolution of Abacus

The first device to be used for the purpose was probably the counting board, which was used at several places across the globe at different times in the history. The earlier counting boards used sand which was spread evenly on the surface and the users would simply draw the symbols. To start anew, they would simply shake the board or spread the sand evenly on the board again. The use of sand was later abandoned first in favor of pebbles, and then later for beads though the momentum of abacus education was . The hand abacus consisting of metal plate with metal beads was probably invented by the Romans. The Chinese abacus, called suan pan, was developed in the 11th century.

The Basics of Using Abacus

During actual calculations, when all the beads (or the other counters) are on one end, the result is zero. It doesn’t really matter whether you use Japanese or the Chinese abacus; the basic procedures remain the same.

Why does Abacus Work?

While making calculations with the help of abacus is fun, it’s basically a way of recording of the place value of numbers while making calculations. This way, you can break a complicated calculation into various manageable segments which can then be quickly solved.

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