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A Comparative Study of Korean Abacus Users’ Perceptions and Explanations of Use: Including a Perspective on Stigler’s Mental Abacus

Kim, Soomi

The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of using a “mental abacus” by adults whose mathematics education in Korea included extensive use of the actual abacus as both a teaching and computational aid. One hundred and sixty-nine Korean adults between the ages of 25 to 65 who had abacus training and its uses for a minimum of one year participated in the study. The study had two phases: a quantitative phase and a qualitative phase. The quantitative phase focused on the participants’ perceptions of their training and use of the abacus as well as an assessment of their basic arithmetic competencies. This served as a context for a more in-depth analysis of their perceptions of, and thinking about, the use of the abacus in arithmetic operations obtained in the qualitative phase. All participants were asked and then answered a total of 6 questions regarding basic background information about their abacus training as well as their current use of the abacus for arithmetic computations in order to examine the extent of Korean abacus uses. The questionnaires included an assessment of participants’ arithmetic computation skills. Among them, 59 adults were selected and interviewed to explore the extent of the “mental abacus” influence on their qualitative thoughts and tasks. From this research, it was expected that the study would provide information concerning the power of Stigler’s mental abacus in mathematics and how it relates to Korean adults’ daily life. Apparently, although computation tools such as calculators and computers are widely available and convenient to use, the abacus is still used as one of the arithmetic tools by Korean adults. Considering the fact that the Korean national standard mathematics education curriculum has not included abacus training, although some commercial educational institutions included it, the rate of learning the abacus and the period and frequency of its use tell us that abacus skill could affect the basic mathematics competency of Koreans. The data show that Korean adults who have been educated in abacus use provide self-reported evidence that they have the competency of mental computation and the ability to develop a mental abacus image depending on their period of frequency of abacus use. Further evidence indicates that most Korean abacus users who participated in the study report self-confident and accurate perceptions of their ability and arithmetic accuracy in doing basic arithmetic computations. Moreover, they are more confident and accurate in addition test problems than subtraction, multiplication, and division from the assessment results. It is concluded that mental abacus image occurrence may be associated with mental computation among some Korean adults who had learned to use the abacus in the past. Many of the Korean adult participants in this study who trained on the abacus can automatically conjure the mental abacus image and employ the skill during mental computation. The ease with which the abacus mental representation is activated during mental calculation is related to how frequently or intensively the adults practiced or exercised its use. Among further findings, about the positive aspects of “mental abacus” use, most of the Korean adults in the study expressed opinions that there were positive influences of having learned the abacus, not only increased mathematics competency but also an additional “reward” in greater competency in other academic subjects and activities. This study reveals that intensive training with an abacus and the continuous use of an abacus can promote mental visualization and manipulation of the abacus during arithmetic computations, and result in a sense of positive effects from “mental abacus” use among those who have had sufficient opportunities to use the abacus.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Vogeli, Bruce R.
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 28, 2015
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