When I was in Ghana, a math program came to our school. The program was called UCMAS (Universal Concept of Mental Arithmetic System). It was a program specialized in teaching students how to use an abacus. The classes were not mandatory, but they were held at a testing center and not the school. This was an opportunity to learn something new. It taught me interesting method of adding and subtracting numbers without a calculator.
I started as a beginner in the 5th< grade, attending the Saturday classes at a center. My teacher gave us the black and red beaded abacus to begin with. The most basic rule was the tops were the fives, fifty’s, five- hundreds, five- thousands and so on; the bottoms were the ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands. It was like basic math when they asked for the tenths value on 180. The answer is 80.
When we started learning addition and subtraction, the questions in the work books listed a problem 2,3,4,-6 in a column, without the plus signs between. Only negative numbers had a sign. I look at the numbers and move the beads up and down and behold, the answer is 3. At first, I was tempted to use my fingers when adding five to six, one- digit numbers at once. However, I got the hang of it and developed the quick reflexes to move the beads efficiently. As the Saturday class program progressed to the end of the year, I was able to add and subtract +10 numbers at once without counting fingers or using calculator.
I continued the program through the 6
When I went to school, my friends and classmates questioned my attendance at the program. Honestly, the program was interesting. I actually found a new way to add and subtract higher digit numbers without a calculator or writing it out. It was out of some ignorance or lack of commitment that might have caused some to give up. I was fully committed and did the in between practices during the regular school weeks. Commitment is sometimes hard to maintain, but the drive keeps you firm in the activity.
The last Saturday at the end November 2009 was the end of the 1st< term classes. It would also be my last since I was moving back to the United States. My abacus teacher introduced us to mental math. It was picturing the abacus in your mind without using it. I was baffled because I couldn’t imagine thinking of the red beads, the bars, everything was simply in my head. She gave the class some few three digit numbers problems to try, and I got some correct. This was the interesting new method; I couldn’t believe that an average guy like me would use my head for a change. Mental math is so cool! It was really beneficial when I was in Ghana. In middle school, calculators were prohibited. I know how easy it is to write and align 123 + 451 and get 574 on a piece of paper. However, it can be easier by picturing the abacus and doing it mentally.
Learning mental math helped me when I returned to the United States during middle school. I had never heard of algebra in my life in the 7th< and 8th< grade. Algebra was all about solving equations and finding x and y. If I was ever multiplying or dividing huge numbers, a calculator would be my backup. I never had a chance to learn multiplication and division on the abacus since I left Ghana. However, the experience was unusual and great! I also learned that commitment was required if I wanted to learn and develop skills in a new activity. Also, it doesn’t hurt writing that writing “I can add and subtract big numbers in my head” on a job application is an unusual talent that will be sure to impress!