Figure One

Science. Communication. Community.

Boys Like Folding and Other Discoveries

For eight hours last month, I mingled with stars of the origami world — exploring a quirky subculture that’s immune to the vogue for inquiry-based learning — and became a 5-second celebrity myself.

by Rebecca Widiss


I like to call this one “Bacon Star”

Every year, my friend Danica and I celebrate Quinze Douze day. Like it sounds, it’s a day to do something you can do but never have. This year, we hit the National Origami Convention in New York City.

Grabbing our official conference bags and name tags (each adorned with a tiny hand-folded sailboat), we entered an enormous hall filled with 400+ folders awaiting their turn to enroll in classes with wide-ranging titles such as: Decagonal Bowl, Two-Piece Monkey, Tomato Box, and Cute Baby Shoes.

The instructor for our first class burst into the room five minutes late and whumped an enormous stack of origami sheets on the counter for our inaugural project, the Bascetta Star.  After a hasty introduction, Sang had each of us file past him, picking up pre-divided packets of 30 squares. No getting picky about colors.

For the next two hours, Sang demonstrated each Bascetta Star fold at the front of the room then wandered the aisles, inspecting our progress, trouble-shooting stars gone awry, and haranguing us to “Count!” Bascetta Stars begin with 30 identically folded modules. Three modules interlink to make a star point. Each point then interlinks with five neighboring points. As in biological development, small missteps early on can lead to missing “limbs” later on.


Boys at Work: Gentle math-loving boys were everywhere. They’d finish their folds first and then help the adults. One 9 year-old boy actually taught a class!

Learning in this way put a rare premium on watching carefully and asking neighbors for help. It also forced me to think. While waiting for help to arrive, I often found myself visualizing the symmetries involved, creating a mental image, which I could then “follow.” It was hard and fun and different from anything I can remember from school.

Throughout the day’s classes, the drill was always the same: eyes up front, listen hard, and do your best. I’ve since read that many origami instructors consider oral “show and tell” teaching to be almost a moral imperative. I get it.

– – –

What about the five seconds of fame? Danica and I wound up in news stories in France, India, Japan, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia!



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This entry was posted on July 11, 2013 by in Art and tagged .
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