Seeing Differently, Teaching Differently

April 6, 2017

I don’t understand  why certain of my projects with kids get more attention than others. My original post about Sight Word Pockets Book for Kindergarteners  from 2011 still gets viewed every day. My teaching season doesn’t go by without requests for this project. By now I have taught literally thousands of young students how to make origami pockets, but it’s never easy. I’m always looking for a better way to explain this folding method.

A titled square is still a square

A tilted square is still a square

I’ve come into this teaching season thinking differently about folding paper.

For so many years I have been telling students what to do. This year I have prioritized trying to draw their attention towards what to see.

They all recognize a square, but when I tilt it, students say its a diamond, a rhombus, or a kite. Last week I suggested to students that this shape was still a square, then I was relieved when a  classroom teacher chimed in and emphasized that tilt or no tilt, the shape was still a square. The main thing, though, is that this simple rotation and the conversation riveted students’ attention to the shape.

Folding a square point to point, from the top down

Folding a square point to point, from the top down

I’ve been asking students what happens to the square if I fold it corner to corner. They all seem to be able to predict that folding a square point-to-point can make a triangle. This makes them happy. They seem to like triangles. Then I tell them that with just one fold more I can make many more triangles. What magic can this be? I have their full attention. They are watching to see if this can possibly be true.

Folding just one layer of paper, I fold the tip of the triangle down to the base. The children are delighted. We count the triangles. Are there four triangles? Are there five?

The next step is the tricky step but now students are attached to the shapes that the folds make and have a heightened awareness of triangles. When I talk about tucking the edge of one of the triangles under the flap, they see what I mean. Here, look at this video. It absolutely blows me aware that this five-year-old just learned this folding sequence about a half-hour before I filmed her doing it. Notice how sure her hands are as they move through the steps.

This change in my teaching, prioritizing seeing & predicting over telling & doing feels really good.  It’s happening because I’ve begun to be able to answer a question I’ve been carrying around in my mind for years: I’ve really looked hard at origami , trying to figure out what about it compels some people say that origami is somehow like math.

Now I’m coming to understand that it isn’t origami that I needed to see differently, it’s been my understanding of math that I needed to adjust before I could make the connection. Now that I am seeing math less as addition and subtraction, and more as relationships and transformations, the boundary between origami and math vaporizes.

More and more I am trying  to be  attuned to childrens’ seemingly intuitive connection to ideas that are aligned to a broader understanding math, and I am able to tap into this with great results. I help them see what is already familiar to them, and what happens next is that they better understanding what’s going on, and can figure out what to do next. Yes, even five-year-olds can do this.

 

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