During the 2014 – 2015 school year, JASH brought soroban, the Japanese abacus, instruction to two middle schools on Oahu: Kawananakoa Middle School and Niu Valley Middle School. 32 students participated in the afterschool program at Niu Valley MS, while 15 students participated in the afterschool classes offered at Kawananakoa MS.
The key to teaching soroban is to have a good teacher and motivated students. JASH contracted with a local well-known soroban teacher, Mr. Hideaki Oshima of the Araki-Hiroya Soroban School. His students have won major competition prizes in Japan and have received admissions and scholarships to universities including MIT and Princeton. Mr. Oshima also supports our Japan Day for high school students, which provides opportunities for high school students to have hands-on experiences with Japanese culture. His soroban classes at Japan Day always receive positive feedback.
At the conclusion of the yearlong pilot program, students filled out a survey. Here are some of their comments about their experiences with the soroban:
- “I have been able to focus more because of soroban.”
- “I’ve been able to catch mistakes more often when working with decimals.”
- “It (Soroban) helps visualize the actual subtracting/addition better.”
- In response to the question, ‘Do you now view math as fun?’ one student responded, “I think it depends on how the math is taught, so the soroban classes made math more fun.” In addition, that particular student went on to say, “It was cool to learn more about my culture.”
One parent wrote, “I truly believe his (Mr. Oshima’s) soroban classes are really helping Brandi build up her math skills. I’ve seen Brandi become more confident in handling her math studies.” The Principal at Niu Valley MS, which is an International Baccalaureate World School, Sean Tajima wrote in support of the program, “This opportunity connected their (students) cultural knowledge to their skills in mathematics.”
On May 8, 2015, Representative Mark Hashem attended the after school soroban class at Niu Valley MS (a school in his district) and observed the students and Mr. Oshima’s teaching practices. Representative Hashem was impressed by what he saw – the students were able to calculate long math problems quickly and accurately. He asked Mr. Oshima at what age should students begin to learn soroban. Mr. Oshima said that at age seven, or first grade, is the best time to begin learning soroban. With that information, Representative Hashem then contacted the principal at one of the elementary schools in his district, Aina Haina School to see if there is interest in bringing soroban to the 1st grade classes there for a pilot program during the school year 2016-2017. JASH is hoping to partner with Representative Mark Hashem’s office to provide soroban in the elementary schools in the future.