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Origami To Coding

Originally known as "orikata" in Japanese (translation: folded shapes), origami was initially a craft preformed by Japanese nobles or monks for religious purposes. Though, as time went by, it became popularly used for ceremonial celebrations like weddings, where paper butterflies are folded to adorn sake bottles. As paper became more affordable, this craft started becoming a tool for education because the process of folding paper involves the use of mathematics.

A major contributor to spreading origami to the world is Akira Yoshizawa (born in 1911), often known as the "grandmaster of origami." With a passion from a young age, Yoshizawa used his knowledge of origami to help the people around him, such as new employees at his job, with the geometry concepts he learned from folding paper. Eventually, he was successful in publishing his book Atarashi Origami Geijutsu (New Origami Art) in 1954, popularizing the craft globally.


In current times, origami is expanding in techniques and even into different fields of study. The development of computer science is shaping our society fueling new ideas, means of communication, new occupations, and even influencing today's art. People are constantly thinking of new ways how to utilize technology to their advantage through means such as coding. One specific college that combines the education of coding and the art of origami together is Hamilton College.


With the pandemic paying a global toll, many schools were forced to shut down and resort to online learning. Hamilton College was no exception when they shifted to virtual learning in March. Three professors teaching coding, sociology, and theater came up with a solution to keep their classes engaging and allow students to continue using their creativity. Visiting Assistant Professor David Perkins who teaches Creative Coding and Origami explained:

“The students are all learning programming languages for the first time, and origami has a language of its own with all its specific folds. So making origami warms my students’ minds up to the task of learning new vocabulary for coding.”

Translating working with paper to coding, the teachers' clever thinking led students to make interesting designs while also allowing them to rest their eyes from screens. Backing origami as a great method for exercising the brain, students gave positive feedback. One student, Madeleine Howe, who just completed the class said:

“The way professor Perkins linked origami to our programming made a lot of sense. He talked about the precision required in both practices — there's basically no room for error in either...With programming, all of your code has to be written correctly in order for the whole system to run the way you planned … I know in our last project there were a few times when I couldn't run my code and ended up finding I was just missing a semicolon.”

Two Hamilton College students show off origami they created during online classes in their "Creative Coding and Origami" course.

Theater professor Mark Cryer made an observation that, because students knew that the school changed to pass-fail grading, the students took more creative risks with their designs. This way of experimentation helped students think outside of the box to generate more unique works.

Another benefit of origami teaching a sense of patience and precision, which is what Perkins describes as “two hallmarks of good coders.” Along with these skills, teamwork can be cultivated in the process as well. Connecting of folding paper to coding, Perkins evaluates:

“Many origami models are modular, meaning that one creates multiple copies of a simple form and then joins these forms to make something complex...When I teach a modular model, I give students time to assemble the complex shape from their simple ones, fostering cooperation of the kind found in programming teams who must work together on simple units and then assemble them into a functioning app.”

This different way of teaching encouraged more students to take computer science courses, exploring outside of their boxes. With a new post every week, Perkins linked a YouTube video to challenge his students along with a picture of himself and the finished model. Then, students would complete the exercise and share their own pictures of themselves with their own models.

Though virtual teaching was an adjustment, educators still found great ways, like utilizing origami, to get students to learn with creativity and thinking.


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