Students participate in soroban contest
CAMP KINSER, Okinawa, Japan -- The clatter of sliding beads, and the whisper of pencils scribbling filled the room as the calculating look on the faces of the young competitors set the stage for an intense and mentally challenging contest.
More than 150 Department of Defense Education Activity elementary school students from Okinawa competed against each other April 29 during the 14th annual soroban contest at the Surfside Club on Camp Kinser.
A soroban is composed of an odd number of rods, each with beads on them. Children use the beads to complete mathematical equations.
“It’s kind of like an analog calculator that helps students calculate numbers at a mentally fast pace,” said Hiro Masashiro, the intercultural coordinator for the DODEA Okinawa district superintendent’s office at Kadena Air Base. “For American kids who never used something like this, it helps them learn Japanese culture and math skills in the process.”
Most students in Japan use the soroban from first grade through high school, and the majority of Japanese students become proficient with it before progressing to higher mathematical concepts, according to Masashiro.
During the event, the students tested their mathematical prowess in both oral and written mathematical problems.
The first category was an oral segment, where an instructor read a sequence of numbers to the students who then added or subtracted the instructor’s oratory using their sorobans.
The second portion centered on the students’ cognitive abilities, in which they had five minutes to solve 30 written mathematical equations.
Students who completed all of the equations correctly were awarded a certificate. Five students in the third grade and below category earned a perfect score, while 17 students earned a perfect score in the fourth grade and above category.
“The American students get an idea of how the Japanese learn to calculate, which is very different from how Western children learn,” said Michael R. Schoebinger, the educational technologist for the DODEA Okinawa District. “They learn that the mental calculation component of it is something different from what is typically used in American schools, which gives American students a chance to get exposure to a very different academic approach to math.”
In addition to the oral and written examinations, the students participated in a “flash” round. A projector screen displayed a numerical sequence in rapid succession. As the numbers flashed by, students calculated their answers using their memory or the soroban.
“The soroban helped me learn the math without a calculator,” said Jack Symes, a third-grader who participated in the contest. “The questions were hard, but it was fun doing the problems and it helps me learn about a different culture.”
All students who took part in the contest were awarded a participation medal, and trophies were awarded for first and second-place winners in the oral and flash categories.
“Without the support of Marine commanders and volunteer parents, this would not have been possible,” said Schoebinger. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity for our students to get together and immerse themselves in the host nation’s culture.”