Categories
Math

Learning Soroban – Japanese Abacus

A while ago I posted about making a homemade soroban for my kids out of a Melissa & Doug abacus. The bead size of a traditional abacus was just too small to be truly effective for my son, age 3. My daughter did alright with a small abacus, but in general bigger is still better with my kids while they are young. It makes the learning more “obvious.”

I thought the adapted Melissa and Doug abacus would be sufficient but the design didn’t turn out as well I planned, I unknowingly cut the rods too short. Whenever my overzealous son manipulated the beads, he used too much force and the beads would bounce back instead of staying in place against the answer bar. Darn it. 
 
We started out by using my iPhone to teach the kids to count to 100 on the soroban using the Talking Abacus app. They have it for the iPad as well. It worked out beautifully because the kids were able to learn without me standing over their shoulders and I could easily hear how they were doing nearby.
They already knew how to count to 100 from memory, so the app provided immediate feedback. It announces each number when they set the beads. My daughter self initiated some skip counting practice on it, as well. After they learned to count to 100, we then began the Abacus Adventure app (iPad only) which parents on the BrillKids early learning forum had highly recommended.
It was an immediate hit! The kids loved the idea of saving the princess level by level and were motivated to play it. I can actually hear my son on the couch playing Abacus Adventure as I type this, although we do it together most often. 🙂 Overall, I am really pleased with it and it’s finally allowed us to make some progress in this subject. It’s a little buggy and does freeze up from time to time when the kids get “scroll happy” going up and down too quickly, but they know not to do that now for the most part. If it happens, we have to reboot the machine and it works fine again.
There are a couple of hurdles we needed to get over for my kids to be successful with this. One of them is the Mental Math visualization levels. They are starting to learn soroban relatively young and while they are picking it up nicely, they are still working on their visualization skills. They are not yet able to solve all of the problems in their head, which makes the mental math levels a challenge.
Not being able to advance through these levels would greatly dampen their interest until their visualization skills caught up with them. I feared with that kind of stall, they would lose momentum and motivation. So to get around that, we utilize the pause button to solve the problem on a physical abacus (with more time and Mom’s help, if needed), then resume play and enter the answer. We fit in their visualization practice at other times.
However, as I mentioned our homemade soroban wasn’t working out too well, and my daughter’s cheapie $5 eBay special was too small for my son to enjoy. It’s okay, but it fell apart the very first day, no joke! LOL We had to pick up every  single bead and reassemble it with packing tape. At the time when I bought it, I wasn’t sure how this was going to go so I didn’t want to put out a lot of cash. I liked how the longer rods gave her more room to work, but the edges of the beads are not smooth and it’s just very lightweight. While it’s closer to junk than quality merchandise, it will get the job done for an absolute novice.
So, I went back to the drawing board and took apart our 100 bead abacus, rigged it up with a zip tie, and used that until my brand spankin’ new super duper fantastically beautiful teacher soroban arrived from Japan! ::swoon!::
If I hadn’t ordered the new one, I would have chopped the base in half so it lays flat, removed some of the rods (which can be done by wiggling then in a circular motion, and bought a piece of wood to attach for the answer bar. But, I was ready to invest the money and be done with it, and I am very glad I did. And man this thing is BEAUTIFUL! The craftsmanship is just spectacular, I was just in awe after I really sat down to inspect it. At $163, it was much more than I wanted to spend, but it is very high quality. The kids LOVE IT! And I do too. 🙂 Already it’s got some minor dings in it here and there from being knocked in the fireplace, etc, but I would rather it be loved and used by my kids than stay pristine stored in a closet. I added some adhesive felt circles to the bottom and back to protect it as much as possible.
I love that I can stand it up and show both kids at once, but the kids need to lay it down so they don’t knock it over. I don’t think this is going to help them develop speed by any means, but it is absolutely better for my kids to manipulate at this stage. My daughter could have gotten by without it, but my son is just taking off and I think even passing her now in enthusiasm and skill at the moment. My only regret is not buying it sooner!
It took about 7-10 days to arrive from Tomoe Soroban in Japan and the customer service is excellent. They responded to my question over email quickly. When the kids are ready for an abacus with more rods, I will not hesitate to order from them again. I believe this was the company recommended by SorobanTom, as well.
The second challenge I had to figure out was the issue of the knowing number bonds of 5 & 10 by heart to advance through the levels of Abacus Adventure. A dear BrillKids friend was kind enough to give me some spare Cuisenaire math rods she had a while ago, so I dedicated a few of them for use with the abacus. I am so grateful to her for giving them to me because my kids really enjoy them! And I probably wouldn’t have had a reason to get them otherwise.
I used my label maker and scotch tape to attach them together, and now we keep our big and little “friend sticks” in a Ziploc to use during abacus time for quick reference. They are mostly for Owen because Lily has been exposed to the concept of number bonds with Singapore Math, but soon enough he won’t need them at all. I think of them as abacus training wheels. 🙂
 
Alternatively to creating number bond sticks, you could just use a 100 bead abacus to figure out the “friends” each time. Since mine was rigged up and in use, this was an easy fix. You could also make some homemade out of popsicle sticks or just use Unifix cubes. However, I know my kids and those interlocking cubes can be a distraction because they’re just so fun to take apart! 🙂
We have been dabbling in the Nurture Minds workbook but it’s a bit slow and my kids are so techy, they seem to prefer the iPad. I am still kicking around getting some instructional videos to help reinforce concepts, we’ll see. Math Genie offers addition and subtraction now but will release multiplication and division in the next 3-6 months. They were very nice on the phone and said if you get stuck, just email them for coaching/questions as you go. They recommend one lesson a day. We still use Math Secret off and on (and I do intend for the kids to work through the curriculum one day independently, even if it’s a review at that point) but for the moment our current approach is working well.
Anyway, that’s been our abacus experience thus far. The kids have made such great progress in a short amount of time and the above tools have really helped ME understand this subject and teach them better. Remember, you don’t have to be able to calculate 14 digit numbers in your head to teach this….just stay one step ahead. 🙂
Happy Teaching!
Categories
Math

Teaching Place Value the DIY Montessori Way

Recently I came across a video from a fellow YouTube Mom who demonstrated the Montessori way of teaching place value through layered cards. So I got inspired and stayed up a little bit late to make a set of my own. I happened to have a few stacks of blank “Word Strips” from the Dollar Tree laying around. They have traditional lines on one side and they are blank on the other. I chose to use the blank side because I figured it would be less distracting. You can cut your own cards from cardstock or poster board, but I found it to be much easier to just have to cut the length.

Initially, I thought about nice they would be if I printed them in color on the computer, used my paper cutter (which is packed away at the moment), laminated them, etc… and then I realized that a DONE project is better than a PERFECT project! So I whipped it out in just an hour or two and while it’s not perfect, it’s still effective and that’s what matters.

I color-coded mine in  Do Re Mi colors since my kids are already familiar with the sequence and I figured it would help them remember the order better. The cards weren’t long enough for some of the bigger numbers, so I wrote on them first and then used packing tape to tape them together. They are relatively sturdy.

I included a small chart to set next to it to simplify reading the columns. My kids knew some of these already, but not up to a million. I measured out two-inch lines to create a guide, which I laid next to each card as I wrote on it. It’s important that each column is covered up properly when layering the cards so the numbers needed to be sorta-kinda straight and evenly spaced. 🙂

Happy teaching!

Categories
Math

DIY “Right Start” Abacus & Soroban

Lately we have been practicing more skip counting with the kids using Little Math and reinforcing the lessons with our abacus. We also use some youtube videos, as well. There are a few learning playlists available on my channel, including skip counting, at www.youtube.com/teachingmytoddlers.

While you can count with any manipulatives or household items, what I like about the abacus was that there is no mess to clean up afterward. However, the abacus just didn’t seem to be as effective as it could be.

I decided a long time ago I should paint it, but I finally buckled down and took a few hours out of my morning to actually do it. I used one of the kids’ paintbrushes and it’s definitely a mediocre, amateur paint job. I suppose I could have just replaced the beads with colored beads from a craft store, but instead, I used what I had on hand didn’t cost me a cent out of pocket.

It started out looking like this-

I originally started to paint it with the beads on, I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to go through the hassle of trying to take the thing apart. However, right away I could tell that it was going to be a pain and was better off taking it apart. Turns out, it only required a screwdriver and about a minute to easily disassemble it.

Plus, this allowed me to separate the beads to paint the lighter colored beads yellow and the darker colored beads blue. I slid them on bamboo barbeque skewers to dry and spray with a clear coat. I could have used any color paint I suppose, but I chose Right Start colors in case I decided to use their iPhone/iPad app or official workbooks in the future things would match.


Using the supplies you have around the house will save you money if that’s important to you, but using spray paint versus a brush will speed up the process a lot and save the frustration of multiple coats to cover the red, for example. I happened to find some spray primer in the shed AFTER the fact and it would have really helped to get the paint to stick easier, I wish I had found it sooner.

The results of this paint job were profound and instantaneous! I highly recommend dismantling a rainbow abacus you may have at home to paint or slide on new beads. It really helps my kids learn to think in 5’s and 10’s and it also helps ME teach more effectively when sliding the beads around for skip counting.

It is sooooo much easier to count on this thing now! The kids’ interest in math has risen dramatically from just a few coats of paint. It was time well spent and I only regret not doing it sooner. It’s perfect to let my daughter use it to help her solve equations in her early learning math workbooks. It’s so sturdy that I have no qualms about letting the kids play with it until their heart’s content and today Lily was happily “teaching Daddy.”  Here is the finished product:


So, go be inspired and take apart your abacus that is just collecting dust and slap some paint on it! You’ll be glad you did.  

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Just the other day I decided to do this again, this time modifying a Melissa & Doug Abacus into a Japanese soroban. It’s not ideal, but they are traditionally just a bit too small for my son’s hands right now as he is still building up his fine motor skills more and more every day (he’s almost 3).  I had to enlist my husband’s help as a handyman but of course, I did all the painting. They were infinitely easier to paint with spraypaint! And although it’s difficult to tell in the picture, they look soooo much prettier compared to the first one where I used a paintbrush. Here’s the finished product-

I painted the beads to match the www.MathSecret.com bead colors. You can download their e-book and practice on the web-based program for 10 minutes daily at no cost. Simply create an account and then add multiple students in it so each child’s progress is tracked separately for the timed tests on each level. “However, do NOT get their “free, you only pay to ship, too good to be true” abacus. It’s JUNK.