in which I recommend classroom origami

My old classroom held relics from the students I taught each year. The day before winter break was one that I always took to talk about origami, show some clips from an awesome documentary, and teach the kids a few basic things. Recently on twitter some folding pictures happened which spawned me to fold which lead to classroom origami talk. I’ve shared this a bit before over at Global Math, but thought I would document a bit here.

PHiZZ 105 torus

Exhibit A

Every piece in this was done by a student of mine. Not all the kiddos signed their pieces, but many did. There are 5 of these in my old classroom–one for every year I taught at the school except for the first one due to a storm canceling school the day before winter break (I know, right?). I did, however, put it together. I’ve found few kids have the manual dexterity + patience needed to assemble a large one of these so I do that myself over the break. Here’s what it looked like before I started:

box of PHiZZ pieces

box of PHiZZ pieces

If this project looks huge (100+ pieces?!), never fear. Part of the beauty of the PHiZZ model is that there are various sizes you can make with the same module. Kiddos who get into origami often like to start with the 12-unit (cube!). You can also do 30-unit or 90-unit versions. And yes, you can go higher then those.

where to learn
I learned how to make the PHiZZ Units from this website back in college. Now we have the benefit of Tom Hull himself instructing how to make the unit in a youtube video.  I don’t show videos on how to fold in class since I like to go at the pace the class needs (and the pace a precalc class needs is much different than the pace of an algebra 1 class) and use the document camera. Now, the above torus is a variation on the typical balls people make.

Many of the books I have are well out of print and inherited from my grandmother who taught me how to fold when I was very young. I mostly do modular origami and I like pretty much anything by Tomoko Fuse. There are lots of rubbish websites, but OrigamiUSA has some free patterns and links to local origami organizations.

One of my favorite things about the PHiZZ model beyond the lovely creation at the end is that you can use paper from Staples Memo Cubes to make them. I actually don’t like PHiZZ models made with origami paper as most origami paper is either too slick, to thin, or both. Good washi paper would work, but it’s not worth the cost. I would typically purchase 2-3 of these cubes at the start of the school year and use them to teach some basic origami as well as using them for student reminders (they are bright).

other thoughts
As i was working on this last night30 pieces

I started wondering how do you teach this type of patience? In college I thought nothing of spending the 2-3 hours focus and make a 90 piece PHiZZ model. I find the process completely absorbing and satisfying in the way working a big math problem and coming up with an elegant solution is. How much of the origami side of my nature has influenced the math? How much more accepting am I that good things (beautiful things!) take patience, trial-and-error, puzzling over directions (sometimes in Japanese, which I do not read even a little bit), struggling and putting them down for a breather lest I rip them in half so I can come back later with fresh eyes.

More importantly, how much can teaching students origami help them build up those traits? Listening carefully. Immediate feedback. Attend to precision.

Start with the figures that only take a dozen folds. Do the ones that move or jump because those are so satisfying. Then do harder ones. Make origami a warm up one day a week. Smile with thanks at the kids leaning over to help their neighbors. Congratulate the ones that struggled last week but get this weeks’ figure. Encourage the ones growling in frustration to keep trying and slip them an extra sheet before they leave in case they want to try again later on their own without peer eyes on them.

Tonight I’ll be working on this module pattern. Happy folding :]


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