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Does the Japanese abacus improve underachieving children’s performance in mathematics?

This study reports the results of a pilot maths intervention program carried out over a period of 10 weeks, looking at the benefits of using the Japanese abacus on a small group of underperforming Year 1 children in a UK school. It investigates the rate of progress of children who have participated in the abacus sessions against a control group. Standardised tests at pre- and post-intervention stages are used to examine a number of features of the children’s performance, including computational skills, oral counting, identification of numbers, objects counting and language. The results show that children who participated in the abacus sessions have progressed at an average rate of 40% against the control group of 8%. The intervention group displayed a particularly strong improvement in their computational skills.

Years 3 and 4 intervention group study

This preliminary study reports on the impact of an 11-week intervention programme using the Japanese abacus as a manipulative tool on twelve underperforming Years 3 and 4 children’s place value understanding, computation strategies, and arithmetic scores. A noticeable shift in counting strategies from unitary and finger counting to the use of more sophisticated counting methods including mental computations by the intervention group is evident after the intervention. These findings further support earlier research which has shown that physical manipulation enhances children’s arithmetic abilities.

Years 4 and 5 group (April 2018)

Years 4/5 main results

There is a clear shift in computational strategies used at post-intervention test where children moved from unitary counting (using tally marks) to using more sophisticated methods such as the use of column additions, mental computations, and partitioning of numbers to arrive at answers...

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Year 1 group (May 2018)

Year 1 intervention group

The majority children in this group has outperformed their peers after intervention.


Year 2 group (May 2018)

Year 2 group (May 2018)

Most children demonstrated secure understanding across all five strands of mathematical abilities examined within this standardised test.

An alternative tool in teaching place value concepts

This article has been published by The Association of Teachers in Mathematics' Mathematics Teaching journal, February 2018 edition. The article discusses my experience of using the Japanese abacus in teaching UK primary school children place value concepts and the subsequent effect on their arithmetic abilities.

Participate in place value survey

There has been an argument for and against teaching children place value concepts early. It is argued that teaching the concept early should be discouraged as it will only confuse them. It is recommended that the concept should only be introduced when children have started learning formal algorithm (column addition/subtraction). The teaching of formal algorithm usually occurs in the UK Year 4 primary school years. This equates to introducing the concept when children are 8 to 9 years old instead of 5 years as stated within the UK maths curriculum. There has been no such survey conducted previously. It will be greatly appreciated if you could share your views as an educator. Thank you. Nisih Freeman

13-week intervention programme

You can participate in a 13-week intervention programme targeted at improving place value understanding and arithmetic abilities in years 3 and 4 children at the primary school levels. Participation will be free for schools. Please email Nisih Freeman at for further information.

Keeping an active mind with abacus for elderly

This is a community project which will examine whether the soroban can be a possible dementia prevention tool in keeping elderly mind active. The project will run for 10 weeks, starting 30 April 2018. Adults over the age of 60 are welcome to attend sessions which will be FREE of charge. This project will also allow participants to socialise. The project is sponsored by the Nottinghamshire County Council.

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Some academic research papers

Newspaper and other articles

Use of abacus in helping dementia

Cognitive and developmental

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