Saturday, 6 April 2013

Becoming an Abacist - Middle School Math Project

I start the most years with numeration and understanding the number system.  I found that they enjoy starting the year with a project and get right into it.  I thought of this one summer and shared the idea with a few teachers (strangely a friend of mine thought of the same idea and planned the same project without us sharing it).  The idea is that we build an abacus or actually we made a soroban and learned out to use it properly. 

We used some youtube videos to help understand the sorobans and the students went to work making the abacus.

We used beads and thread and different shoeboxes but many of them turned out to be too big to use well.  The successful ones were made from box tops or lids and a few students used wooden skewers instead of thread.  I will post pictures of examples soon.

My friend used a popsicle stick method and was happy with those.

In designing and creating them the students were suddenly also using some measurement as well to put it together.  It was quite fun watching how the students built there own. 

The biggest benefit of using this project was that the students started to understand what base 10 measnt because of the nature of the abacus.  We also worked on adding and subtracting with an abacus and the students began naturally understanding why we line up the columns when using these operations.

Here is the criteria sheet that I gave the students: It is also free at my  TPT link:


Becoming an Abacist



The abacus, also called a counting frame, is a calculating tool used primarily in parts of Asia for performing arithmetic processes. Today, abacuses are often constructed as a bamboo frame with beads sliding on wires, but originally they were beans or stones moved in grooves in sand or on tablets of wood, stone, or metal. The abacus was in use centuries before the adoption of the written modern numeral system and is still widely used by merchants, traders and clerks in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere.

The user of an abacus who slides the beads of the abacus by hand is called an abacist.


You will become an Abacist by building an Abacus.


·         To learn place value from the millions to the thousandths

·         To learn how to write and say numbers properly

·         To learn how to add and subtract with decimals

·         To build confidence in Mathematics




You will be marked on the following

·         Construction of you abacus

·         Through oral and written work based on the above goals

·         Demonstrating an understanding of how to use the abacus to add and subtract