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Tips for Students: Origami – From Ninja Stars to Outer Space

Gifted Resources

The following article expands on highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents. 

Authored by: Evan Zodl

Summary

In this hands-on Expert Series presentation, students will explore the ancient Japanese art of paper folding, commonly known as origami. Conceptually, origami is very simple. A single sheet of paper can be transformed into almost any shape, purely by folding.

While origami is commonly perceived as an old pastime, it has evolved far beyond paper cranes and ninja stars and has many unexpected real-world applications. In recent years, the intersection of origami, science, and mathematics has led to countless technological advancements from human health to space exploration.

Students will be introduced to fundamental origami folds and bases before exploring more advanced design techniques. Such techniques can be used to design almost any shape imaginable– from abstract organic sculptures to tessellations to realistic insects.

Students will be guided through a hands-on activity where they will apply the concepts they have learned to fold a traditional origami butterfly. They will be challenged to think creatively beyond the presentation to create unique shapes of their own.

Tips

  1. Try it Yourself! All you need is a flat surface and a square sheet of paper.
  2. Precision is Key. It is important to fold origami models accurately because each crease impacts the rest of the folding sequence. If creases are made inaccurately early on, it can be difficult to recover later. Sharpening creases with your thumb nail or a folding tool is also recommended to improve accuracy.
  3. Be Patient. It takes time to master any skill– and origami is no different. Start with the basics and work your way up to more complex designs as you become more comfortable. Some folding sequences can be tedious and repetitive, so take your time and focus on each step for the best results.
  4. Practice Makes Perfect. Don’t be discouraged if you struggle with a folding sequence or are unsatisfied with your rendition of an origami design. You may need to fold a design more than once before you are happy with the results. Trying out different types, sizes, and thicknesses of paper can be helpful as well.
  5. Get Involved. There are dozens of origami groups and organizations around the world. Many groups regularly host virtual/in-person meetings and conventions. Attending these events is a great way to meet like-minded people and learn from one another.
  6. Have Fun! Be creative, express yourself, and enjoy the process.

Things students can do to explore this topic further

Learn to Fold

  • Video tutorials are an excellent way to get started with origami. They can help beginners visualize folding sequences and learn at their own pace. Check out my origami tutorials here!
  • Origami diagrams are another great resource for beginners. They break down folding sequences into step-by-step sequential illustrations. The arrows, symbols, and lines used in origami diagrams are fairly universal, so take some time to understand what they mean. Diagrams can be found online and in origami books.
  • Crease patterns are often more challenging to interpret than diagrams. They serve as blueprints for folded origami designs and are commonly used as a design tool. I recommend unfolding a simple origami model and analyzing the resulting crease pattern to visualize how certain arrangements of creases correspond to folded forms.

Get Involved

  • Join an origami group. There are dozens of origami groups and organizations around the world. Many groups host recurring virtual/in-person meetings and conventions. Attending these events is a great way to meet like-minded people and learn from one another. Check out the OrigamiUSA website to find an origami group near you.
  • Attend an origami convention. Origami conventions are great opportunities to meet folders from all over the world, learn new origami designs, and get inspired. They generally feature classes for folders of all experience levels.

Dig Deeper

Resources

EZ Origami – Here you will find my YouTube channel with over 100 step-by-step instructional origami tutorials for beginners and advanced folders. If you are new to origami, video tutorials are a great place to start learning. They can help you visualize folding sequences from start to finish at your own pace.

TED-Ed: The Unexpected Math of Origami – Here you will find a TED-Ed lesson that I authored about the relationship between mathematics and origami. It also covers the design process and some real-world applications. The video lesson was beautifully animated by Charlotte Arene and helps visualize many topics covered in this Expert Series presentation.

JWST & Origami – Here you can learn more about the James Webb Space Telescope and its connection with origami. If you are up for a challenge, the website also features a crease pattern for an artistic version of the James Webb Space Telescope primary mirror.

Origami Design Secrets – This is the ultimate guide for designing your own origami models. Authored by Robert J. Lang, the book explores various design techniques which are commonly used by origami designers around the world.

Origami Groups and Societies – Here you will find a list of origami groups and societies around the world, maintained by OrigamiUSA (the largest origami organization in the United States). If you are interested in getting involved with your local origami community, this is a great place to find origami groups with conventions or meetings in your area.

Diagrams – This website features a collection of free origami diagrams maintained by OrigamiUSA. It is a great place to practice folding from diagrams and learn something new!

Speaker Bio:
Evan is an origami artist from New Jersey. He has been folding paper for over 15 years, and in an effort to share his passion with the world, he began making instructional origami videos on YouTube in 2008. Since that time, he has taught origami to tens of millions of people around the globe and has developed a following of over 150,000 people. He has also spent many years designing original origami models inspired by fractals, spirals, and recursive patterns found in nature. Evan’s work can be found on his website, Instagram, and YouTube.

Permission Statement

This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.

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