Learn How to Use an Abacus

Abacus for Math

Did you know that the abacus has been around for thousands of years? It was created long before people could write and has been used all around the world. It is great for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, and even some modern day mathematicians prefer using an abacus over a calculator. It comes in handy for blind people, because like with braille, they can feel what is in front of them. While the modern version of an abacus is made with beads on a wire, the oldest versions were made with sand. And actually, ‘abacus’ is the Latin word for ‘sand tray’. Click the Wikipedia link here to read more about the fascinating history of the abacus and how it has been used to make mathematical calculations for all of these years.

Abacus Diagram

Image Source: Math is Fun

How to use an abacus:

– An abacus is comprised of 2 sections, which is separated by a beam in the middle.

– For the top section, each bead is worth 5.

– For the bottom section, each bead is worth 1.

– Each column is a different digit: tens, hundreds, and so on…

– Only the beads that touch the beam will be counted.


Check out the example below:

– In the ‘Hundred Thousands’ column, there are 2 ‘one’ units = 200,000

– In the ‘Ten Thousands’ column, there is 1 ‘five’ unit = 50,000

– In the ‘Thousands’ column, there is 1 ‘one’ unit = 1,000

– 200,000 + 50,000 + 1,000 = 251,000

abacus diagram example

Image Source: Math is Fun

The best way to get comfortable with an abacus, is to play around with one. Check out this FREE online abacus you can play around with here.

For a detailed step-by-step tutorial, check out the video below.

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