Whether you use Saxon or Singapore, Math Mammoth or Math U See–no matter what homeschool math curriculum you use–the AL Abacus can help your kids understand addition and subtraction better and help them develop deeper number sense. (If you didn’t read my previous post about why I love the AL Abacus so much, you might want to click over there first to get an idea of what the abacus does before you dive into this post.)
I began writing a long, complicated post about how to teach with the abacus in your homeschool, when I realized that what I really wanted was to just sit down with you and show you. So, I’ve made four short videos that demonstrate how to use the AL Abacus to teach:
- beginning addition
- mental math with two-digit numbers
- how to add three-digit numbers with regrouping
- how to subtract three-digit numbers with regrouping
I’ve also outlined five steps to using the AL Abacus with any addition or subtraction lesson, plus how to transition your child from using the abacus to solving problems on paper or mentally. After all, the goal of using the abacus is to understand math so well that you don’t need the abacus. This post will show you how!
Videos: How to Teach Addition and Subtraction with the AL Abacus
The great thing about the abacus is that you truly can use it with any math curriculum to help your child solidify the basics of number sense, addition, and subtraction. For each of the videos below, I’ve taken a problem from a different curriculum (in this case, Singapore Primary Mathematics 2A ) and “translated” it onto the abacus.
Video: How to teach simple addition on the AL Abacus
Many curriculum present simple addition as piles of disorganized objects to count. Using the abacus helps your child to see the numbers as groups, not just objects to count one-by-one.
Video: How to teach mental math on the AL Abacus
The abacus is terrific for teaching kids to use their understanding of place value to solve mental math problems.
Video: How to teach multi-digit addition on the AL Abacus
The abacus makes regrouping and trading easy when teaching multi-digit addition or subtraction.
Video: How to teach multi-digit subtraction on the AL Abacus
5 Steps to Using the AL Abacus with Your Curriculum
Now that you have a general idea of how to teach with the abacus to teach, here are five steps to help you use the AL abacus with your curriculum.
1. Decide which side of the abacus to use.
The abacus has two sides. Use the blank side (with the AL circle in the top right corner) for mental math up to 100. Use the side labeled 1000, 100, 10, 1 if you are working with larger numbers, or if you are doing any regrouping or trading (as in two-digit vertical addition or subtraction).
2. Familiarize your child with the abacus.
Before tackling a new concept, give your child some time to understand how the abacus works. Enter some numbers on the abacus and have your child say what number the beads show. Then, tell your child a number and have her enter the correct number of beads. (See my previous post for pictures of numbers entered on the abacus.) For example, if you wanted to teach your child how to do multi-digit addition, you would have her enter some three- and four-digit numbers on the labeled side of the abacus.
3. Translate the concept you are teaching to the abacus.
This is where your curriculum’s student book or teacher’s manual comes in handy. Take a look at the pictures they use to illustrate the concept, and translate those to the abacus, as I did in the videos above. Take it slowly, work through several examples, and make sure every step makes sense to your child. Ask plenty of questions to check for understanding, especially when it comes to regrouping and trading.
4. Allow your child to use the abacus as he begins using the new concept to solve problems.
Keep the abacus handy and let your child use it while completing the first few assignments with the new concept. This will help solidify his understanding and really make the new concept stick.
5. Encourage your child to transition to solving math problems without the abacus.
As a friend joked this week while talking about her daughter’s math progress, “The abacus is helping her understand what she’s doing. But I don’t want her to have to keep one in her purse when she’s an adult to make change!” She’s absolutely right! The goal of using the abacus (or any manipulative) is to eventually no longer need it. Manipulatives are a tool to help kids understand what they are doing so they can make the leap to solving problems on paper or mentally.
To prevent the abacus from being a crutch, gradually reduce how much your child uses the abacus as she masters the new concept. For example, here’s how you might wean your child from the abacus when learning multi-digit addition:
- At first, use the abacus for every problem, carefully trading beads to regroup.
- After your child understands the concept of regrouping thoroughly, encourage her to only enter the first addend on the abacus, and then imagine adding the beads for the second addend. For example, if your child is adding 265 + 379, she might enter 265 on the wires but only visualize sliding up the beads for the 379.
- Once she can solve problems reliably this way, put the abacus away. Pull it out only if your child gets confused or stuck, but otherwise encourage her to solve the problems on paper.
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What other questions do you have about using the AL Abacus with your homeschool math curriclum? Also, if you have any trouble with the videos, please let me know. I’m still new at some of the technical parts of this!