As one of the calculation tools, abacus has played its role in calculation for quite some time, but nowadays, it is used less and less. However, it has been found in practice that the long-term use of calculator is not conducive to the development of human computing power, because people will easily rely on the calculator. In 1966, the United States set off the “new math” movement and each primary school student at that time was handed out a calculator. It turned out that the computing power of students declined significantly, and they were even unable to make a simple oral calculation. The Japanese experts have also pointed out that children use calculator prematurely will cause a decline in their thinking abilities.
Based on research on abacus and electronic calculator, scholars have found that the calculator and abacus apply the same principles and computing model and similar system and algorithm program, and their methods and skills can be shared; the difference between calculator and abacus is that the former is driven by electronic technology and the latter is driven by hand. Therefore, to cultivate human intelligence that meets the needs of modern technology, abacus is a perfect edge tool. The abacus mental math is exactly the sublimation of abacus, as well as the inevitable development of abacus with its inherent superiority.
Abacus mental math refers to a way of doing calculations by mentally visualizing an abacus. It is a unique computing skill that can quickly and efficiently finish complex quantitative calculations in mind with the help of the internalized “imaginary abacus (the image of beads)”, namely, avoiding the use of actual abacus as well as the motion of dialing abacus. In the 1980s, some children showed the magic power of abacus mental math in the abacus competition, arousing the enthusiasm of people all over the country for the abacus. It has been found in practice that students who learn abacus mental math can generally achieve faster reaction and better results, especially in math and physics, than the others who don’t. The advantage of abacus math education in inspiring wisdom is becoming more and more obvious. In the early 1990s, The Chinese Abacus Association proposed that abacus shall be a systematic project and popularized among children in China.
It seems like that the application of our ancestors’ wisdom in calculation started to get better in the 1990s. The abacus mental math education is mainly suitable for children at the age of 4 to 13. At present, there are about 3 million primary and middle school students in China learning abacus mental math; more than 30 countries and regions, including the United States, provide abacus mental math education. On October 28, 2002, “The World Association of Abacus and Mental Arithmetic” was established, marking a new development stage of abacus math and mental math. Through thousands of years of development, now the ancient abacus has regained its vitality.
The wisdom inspiring and talents cultivating should start with children
At present, abacus mental math has been popularized in many cities and regions in China, which has achieved remarkable results. Taking Liuyang City as an example, its teaching quality and annual enrollment rate of abacus mental math rank No. 1 in Changsha. This is inseparable from its efforts in the popularization of abacus mental math. Then, how does the abacus mental math inspire wisdom and cultivate talents? It is easy to get the answers from the experiments of abacus mental math education carried out in various regions.
The childhood is a period in which image thinking predominates. For this reason, compared with adults, children can grasp the essentials of abacus mental math quickly and achieve the effect that cannot be achieved by moving beads by hand. Moreover, the children need to coordinate their hands, eyes, ears, mouths, and brain in this process, and the more the coordination is, the better the brain development will be. At the same time, the abacus mental math pursues both accuracy and quickness, so the children are required to highly concentrate on it, which can effectively enhance the stability and persistence of their attention. In the experiment, it was found that the average attention focusing time of ordinary children is 4 minutes per time, and that of children learning abacus mental math is 7 minutes per time; moreover, some of them can even reach 35 minutes of attention focusing at a time.
In the experiment, by using mental math, many children can directly do the multiplication of five-digit numbers by two-digit numbers or addition and subtraction for two five-digit numbers. To do this, children are required to memorize these numbers accurately at first, and that’s why learning abacus mental math can improve memory. A memory test was carried out at Changshu Baoben Central Primary School, Jiangsu Province. The test content includes 44 Arabic numerals, 70 English letters, and 30 Chinese characters in random order and the time is 10 seconds. The results showed that the memory ability of the students in the experimental class is 2.5 times that of the ordinary students. Most of the students who have learned abacus mental math have achieved quick memory, and they have strong sensitivities to numbers and symbols. Therefore, it is easier for them to learn English or any other subjects with more content to be recited.
With the proficiency of skills in abacus mental math, the calculation accuracy and speed of the children learning abacus mental math are much higher than that of the ordinary children. When other young children are learning the numbers from 1 to 10 with fingers, the children in the experimental class are proficient in the addition and subtraction of 1 to 100 by mental math. In training, the teacher constantly adjusts the standards of speed, accuracy, and difficulty. For example, to adjust the speed from 30 questions within 4 minutes to 50 questions within 30 seconds, and then to 10 questions within 5 seconds; to adjust the difficulty from four-digit numbers to six-digit numbers, and then to eight-digit numbers or from integers to decimals. The “most excellent mental math student” in China can do the calculations of 24 numbers per second. These children have formed a high-speed and high-accuracy computational thinking process in their brains, which becomes a unique advantage in brain function.
What’s more, the students in the experimental class achieve the development of both intellectual factors and non-intellectual factors. The survey shows that more than 70% of the students learning abacus mental math have demonstrated good quality and excellent talents not only in learning, but also in uniting classmates, respecting teachers, loving labor, and obeying organizational management.
Due to the inherent superiority of the abacus mental math, the Chinese Abacus Association currently encourages all regions to carry abacus mental math education experiments in all forms in line with the principle of “joint development”. Ningbo Depei Kindergarten has put forward the green education method of “happy abacus mental math”. It is to teach abacus mental math in entertainment, such as children’s games, cards, chess, etc. By turning the boring addition and subtraction into fun educational games, it is popular with parents. 41 primary schools in Haicheng District, Beihai City, Guangxi applied the intuitive and vivid multimedia demonstration into abacus mental math teaching to mobilize students’ various senses and arouse their interests, which has obtained good results.
The problems in popularizing abacus mental math need to be solved
“As a new thing, the abacus mental math is limited to a certain extent, but it has a promising prospect, and now it needs improving.” said Chi Haibin, the president of China Association of Abacus and Mental Arithmetic.
The abacus mental math education is simple and easy to operate, and its results are significant, so it is very popular with parents. However, scholars and educators hold different opinions on abacus mental math—a new teaching theory. Some of them question about the bad effect of abacus mental math on increasing students’ burden; the others question about the good effect of abacus mental math on promoting students’ brain development. They put forward that it is necessary to carry out further verification through scientific means. In fact, the understanding of abacus of the public is still perceptual, and there hasn’t been discussion on brain function and test under strict experimental conditions. So, it is imperative that all relevant departments shall work together to carry out scientific explorations in the abacus mental math, uncover its mysteries, and realize the change from perceptual knowledge to conceptual knowledge of abacus mental math.