Today, I was tutored in the ancient art of Abacus math （算盤). My interest to study this long lost finger ballet came from my teacher's college class in math manipulatives. While teaching kindergarten, I also noticed a rekenrek being used in the classroom. Math manipulatives seem to be a focus in Ontario education as they allow students to collaborate and communicate their ideas creatively as opposed to the limitations of using paper and pencil calculations. When I returned to Taiwan, I made it a priority to learn how to use this complicated looking piece of machinery. :)
The Chinese abacus is still widely used in elementary schools in Taiwan and Japan (although it is not mandatory). There are even competitions here in Taiwan. The Chinese abacus uses a base 5 counting system with each row representing a different place value. Many believe that when it is studied and eventually mastered by students it can aid in the speed and accuracy of mental math (心算）.
The abacus teacher impressed me with his ability to visualize the abacus in his mind and calculate the addition of long strings of numbers before I could finish typing them into the calculator app on my phone. I'm a long way from gaining this math prowess though, as I'm still learning how to use it to count, add and recognize numbers. Surely, this math device will unlock a whole world of possibilities in my journey for fast addition skills.
Watch an intro to abacus video here.