Learning the Abacus with Ms. Celia

Celia (Xinyu) Wei wears her lanyard with pride: on one side is her BSV Volunteer Name Badge and on the other side is her Cal Student ID card. Celia is a graduate student in the Learning Sciences and Human Development program at UC Berkeley’s School of Education, specializing in elementary math education.

As an International student from China, Celia knew that the best way to understand the U.S. education system would be to immerse herself in a local public school.  In China, class sizes are upwards of 50 students so Berkeley Unified is very different!  Three years running, Celia has volunteered with Cragmont 3rd grade teacher Eleanor Tiglao, and this is her first year with Cragmont’s 4th grade teacher Susan Killebrew. Celia considers both teachers her mentors, friends, and co-collaborators.

As an emergent researcher, Celia is interested in helping students better understand math concepts by using “culturally-grounded math tools.” In this case, her math tool of choice is the abacus. The abacus is a simple manual device used for mathematical counting. Made of a rectangular frame and movable beads, the abacus was used historically all over the world and remains an everyday math tool for school children in both Japan and China.

When Celia pitched the idea of abacus lessons to Cragmont students to her Host Teachers, both agreed it would be an ideal empowerment opportunity for their girls who often know the answers to math questions but are hesitant to raise their hands. And so “Learning the Abacus with Ms. Celia” was born! Every Thursday and Friday during lunch. Celia teaches the abacus to 12 Cragmont girls, grades 3rd through 5th.

“Students love it!” Celia remarks, “I’m glad they’re willing to see numbers differently and try to solve arithmetic problems in a nonroutine approach.  As a math education graduate student, I’m happy to see I can contribute to local students’ everyday learning.”

Celia strongly encourages other undergraduate and graduate students to make an impact by volunteering in local schools.  As someone who had teachers who looked after her and recognized her potential, Celia has a strong desire to leave a similar mark on the girls she works with.  For Celia, volunteering is so enjoyable that “it feels like my weekend”!

To view Celia’s work in action, check out this video!

To get the student perspective, check out this video!

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