Honestly, I could have made this topic all about math lessons and students. But, since I was a little girl, I’ve noticed how people associate counting fingers to being dull in math. That’s why I’m not going to make this about teachers and students alone. I want everybody to understand that there’s nothing wrong about calculating with fingers. Even as a teacher, I’m not stopping my students from counting with their hands. I know for a fact that different people have different levels of learning. Besides, the most important thing is getting the answer right.

Importance of Visuals

It is stated in various sources that there are 12 ways of learning. One of which is focusing on visual tools to teach students. Other examples include verbal and auditory learning. Studies suggest that the human brain can interpret what the person sees 60,000 times faster than reading words. Now, fingers can definitely serve as visual tools. Some people even use their hands like abacus.

Learning math is hard enough. Why not make it easier by letting the young ones count using their fingers? Funnily enough, our fingers are the most accessible visual tools we can count on.

Why the Hate?

People who dislike counting with fingers consider the act to be unhealthy for the brain. They even believe that a kid’s brain development gets weaker if the finger technique is continued. They also consider the technique to be unhelpful in making the child understand math. To them, counting fingers is just giving answers with no regard to the mathematical concept behind. In fact, some schools all over the world prohibit counting fingers during math class.

Studies Supporting the Technique

Despite the negative implications of finger counting, several studies actually support this technique. One study claimed that representations and strategies using fingers help students to learn and understand math. In my case at least, whenever I attempt to solve something in my head, I visualize my fingers. I could even feel my fingers slightly moving while I’m calculating in my mind.

Another study stated that first graders who are good in finger counting have better skills with numbers when they reach second grade. More studies emerged to prove that well-trained children regarding finger representation can end up with achievements related to math in the future.

Advanced Calculations Using Fingers

Many people consider finger counting ridiculous and childish. Counting 1 to 10 through each finger seems to be the easiest thing in the world. Wait until they get to see these unusual and more advanced techniques:

Finger Partitions

Many people resort to counting their finger partitions to calculate. On one hand, there are already 15 partitions. For sums up to 30, finger partition counting is faster than the basic one.

Chisenbop Counting

Now, let’s turn up the heat! Interestingly, Koreans have this finger counting technique called Chisenbop Counting. This is useful for calculations up to the sum of 99. Here’s how to do it:

  • Place your hands on a table as if you’re playing a piano.
  • On the right hand, the fingers represent units. The thumb represents 5.
  • On the left hand, the fingers represent tens. The thumb represents 50.

Are you starting to get confused? Well, take a look at this diagram below for reference:

10 Billion Counting

Yes, you’ve read that right – 10 billion in just two hands. Even I can’t understand this technique! Facts stated that this is an ancient finger counting method from the Chinese. I’m sure Chinese forefathers didn’t invent this technique just for fun. It must have worked.

Multiplication by 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10

I have to admit, I encountered this technique when I was a kid. This is a fun way to learn multiplication – I swear! Here’s how it goes:

  • Raise your hands in front of your face with palms facing towards you.
  • The fingers represent numbers 6 to 10 starting from the bottom or pinky finger. Same goes with the other hand.
  • To multiply, let two fingertips touch each other. For example, if you want to solve 6 x 6, connect your two pinky fingers.
  • To calculate, the two fingers touching and the fingers below them should be counted by tens. Since there are no fingers below your pinkies, you only have 2 x 10 which is 20.
  • For fingers above the two, multiply them based on their actual quantity. Since you have four fingers on each side, it means 4 x 4 which is 16.
  • Now, add 20 and 16. You have 36, right? Try it with other equations. I assure you that you will always get the right answer with this technique.

Finger Abacus

Like the 10 billion finger counting technique, the finger abacus is also an ancient calculating method in Asia, specifically in India. It was a very useful tool to calculate complex equations without an abacus, especially for blind people. In fact, the method was too complex that it could take years to master it. Some of the complicated equations the finger abacus could solve were multiplication of numbers up to 10 digits, and getting the square root of up to six-digit numbers.

Even to this day, the Universal Concept Mental Arithmetic System (UCMAS) still teaches the finger abacus to some schools. Its program started all the way from 1993. It already invaded 57 countries including the United States and the United Kingdom, and taught millions of kids. Actually, even top universities like Harvard, the University of Chicago, Stanford, the University of California San Diego, the University of Manchester, and the University of Khartoum did some researches about the finger abacus. All universities agreed that the method is still useful for students from 4 to 13 years old.

The Express Tribune

Final Thoughts

If you were confused when I mentioned some advanced calculations using fingers, then that’s the reaction I was hoping for. Finger counting is definitely not something we should underestimate. Using fingers as visual tools is not different to using images to understand things. If some people still find using fingers as a dull move to calculate something, then maybe they should also prohibit pictures in articles, books and other learning materials. We must never hinder a child’s preferred learning process just because the society says so.