Sunday, May 23, 2010


Some of my readers may remember my project working with kids doing paper sloyd, and another in which we folded paper cranes as part of our introduction to sister school, Shinrin Takumi Juku. The image above is origami by Robert J. Lang, an origami master whose life illustrates the intersection between craft and science. Having begun his creative career as a laser physicist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he has used his origami to design space telescopes and the folding patterns for airbags in cars, as well as to inspire.

It is truly unfortunate that most Americans are oblivious to the relationship between crafts and the advancement of science. No man, woman or child can learn to carve wood into something both useful and beautiful without becoming observant of wood qualities and grain. The fundamentals of scientific observation are what one learns through craftsmanship. As we allow our children to be entertained and disengaged from both hands-on learning and personal creativity, we cripple their potential in science and limit their understanding. And so, why aren't we doing something about it? Crafts should be the most important part of our children's education... even before reading, our children's hands should be learning to fold paper.

Many other scientists, mathematicians and educators have recognized the relationship between origami, mathematics and design and witnessed its potential to engage students. Professor of Mathematics, Tom Hull says,
"Kids are so afraid of math. The world is so afraid of math. But with origami, they're not thinking, 'I'm doing this scary math thing.' They're just folding paper. It's a neat way to break the barriers down." -- and do math.
I wrote Robert J. Lang about this blog post and he replied, "I couldn't agree more with the theme of your blog: for many people, hands-on manipulation is what makes the connection to true learning."

An editorial on scholarship in today's paper by Paul Greenburg told that the University of Arkansas has a 38 percent graduation rate among students who attend for up to 6 years. Some of the blame for that sorry state may be laid to rest on the poorly-prepared-to-attend students the university attracts. Piaget, in his theory of cognitive development recognized the time between ages 6-12 as "the concrete operational stage," and some theorists believe that computer gaming has actually delayed arrival of this stage as settings are pre-imagined and gamers work within sets of predetermined conditions set by game designers rather than by physical reality. This means that even at the time of entrance to college, many students have barely emerged into comfortable relationship with the abstract. More real hands-on learning can fix that.

Using origami and other folding paper techniques like paper sloyd, can be useful in making the transition from the concrete to abstract and the transition from high school to college, which these days is far too abstract for its own good.

Today in the woodshop, I worked on drawer sides for the small walnut chests of drawers. I resawed the maple stock into two halves then planed the stock to 3/8", jointed one edge, ripped it to width and then used the sled and stop block to cut parts to accurate lengths as shown below.


  1. That is outstanding. I can only imagine the hours it would take me to get something to look half as good as that. That is art.

  2. Anonymous8:50 AM

    Too bad more teachers don't sneak origami into the curriculum and have students understand math without the fear and suffering. Sadly, there's no connection to the standardized tests when students are having fun.