Can you imagine a world without numbers? Just for kicks, imagine riding on a time machine and going back in time. Say, 5000 or more years back in time. Picture life in the ancient times. It was a world devoid of numbers. It’s hard to imagine that once upon a time, there were no written numbers at all.
Now, what’s even harder to imagine is counting without numbers! Whether you have a close kinship with numbers or not, you cannot refute that numbers are indeed necessary. Don’t you think so? That’s why a number system was developed. People used their fingers to count and when the numbers grew big and there were not enough fingers and toes, they used pebbles and sticks.
Counting was a necessity even during the earliest times. People needed to record their supplies – like the number of sheep they own or the number of fruits they have harvested. Long ago, people counted by matching one set of item withanother set – for example, pebbles and fruits. One pebble stood for one fruit. The arithmetic operations of addition and subtractions were as simple as adding or subtracting the objects to the bag of pebbles.
Counting sticks and stones was cramping the primitive man’s style, so later on they developed counting tables and devices. This brought in the idea of positional notation that we still use in abacus today. This early counting machine helped people count large numbers. Eventually, these counting machines gave birth to the abacus -– which used the same concept of one set of objects to represent other objects in another set. Some historians say the Babylonians invented the abacus and some say the Chinese invented it. One thing for sure though, it was the Chinese who popularized the abacus and spread it across the globe.
Now, hop back in your time machine and zoom back in the present time. You’ll be surprised to find out that abacus is still a hot item these days—even if electronic calculators are now part of the counting scene. But what’s cool about the abacus is – it does not do the actual computing like what today’s calculators do. The abacus merely helps people keep track of numbers as they do the computing. The computation happens inside the human brain. What’s awe-inspiring about using the abacus is that people who are adept in using it can do calculations as quickly or even faster as someone using the electronic calculator. That’s downright amazing. The Chinese abacus that we know today is called suan-pan. On each rod, this classic Chinese abacus has two beads on the upper deck and five beads on the lower deck. This is referred to as a 2/5 abacus. The beads are manipulated to perform arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and even finding the square root.
Later on, the Japanese developed a modified version of the Chinese abacus –- with one bead on the upper deck and four beads on the lower deck. This is called the 1/4 abacus or the soroban. The soroban has an advantage over the hinese abacus because it can visually show the decimal numerical system. The soroban is what CMA uses in its curriculum. Now, we invite you to find out what makes abacus training more awe-inspiring in this day and age through the CMA curriculum.
What is Mental Arithmetic?
As the name suggests, mental arithmetic is the process of performing arithmetic calculations mentally without the use of any tangible objects like pen, paper or calculator. If that just gave you a wow-moment, wait until you read the rest of the CMA curriculum. Please read along.