Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. ~Twyla Tharp

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Origami Pagoda Competition

I have been the most horrible blogger ever this year.  I've taken tons of pictures with the intent of sharing them with all of you but I just haven't gotten around to writing about them and here it is almost second semester.  I promise that I'll try my best to be better the second half of this school year.  It's only two weeks away and I am looking forward to changing classes and seeing some of my favorite faces in my classroom again.

I have to admit that first semester has been difficult.  I have had a hard time coming up with projects that were engaging for my students.  In my experience, most of the time, my students keep up with what I want them to do but for some reason this group has been rough.  I have found myself thinking and rethinking projects that would captivate and keep their interest and keep them working and excited about what they are doing.  It's not as easy as it might sound.  Being a middle school exploratory teacher can be so hard.  Students, especially 6th graders, have the mind-set that it's "happy-fun time" and don't take it seriously (until report cards come out) and don't realize that yes, our classes do count and yes, you are doing some serious learning in them and yes, YES, we are REAL teachers.  That being said, I do have some flexibility with what projects I do in order to impart the standards that NC says I need to teach my kiddos.  What I have found is that this group likes 3D projects.  They like to make things with their hands and fiddle with stuff and put things together and figure out how things work.  They got bored very quickly with basics like drawing techniques and color theory so I needed to rethink a lot of what I had planned to do this year and put in place some ideas to keep them interested, working and learning.

Over Christmas break, on one of the art teacher groups I belong to on Facebook someone shared that she had done an origami pagoda competition with her students prior to her break and that they really loved it.  I did a little bit of research and realized that the folds of the origami pagoda were very similar to the folds that we had just done with our explosion books so I thought I could build on that and I figured that maybe having a little competition would be a fun way to ease us back into the New Year.  

For whatever reason, this worked out to be one of the smartest things that I have ever done.  Have I mentioned that it is freezing cold in my little part of the world?   I know, I know, it's winter everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.  I know that there are places that are colder (but not Alaska apparently).  But it has been COLD here.   We aren't made for this mess here.  We run different fuel in our school buses.  The heat pump in my house simply can't keep up with temperatures much less than freezing.  It's horrible.  And to make matters worse, it hasn't even snowed. At any rate, we've had 2 hour delays 3 out of 4 days last week, which meant that our classes were cut down to about 30 minutes a piece.  That's not a lot of time to get out art supplies and start painting or drawing or whatever-ing but it is enough time to do some origami.

I told you it was cold!  This is crazy!
I started out the lesson just showing them a couple of you tube videos about how to do the pagoda pieces.  I let them pick their own groups of 2-3 people and gave them gallon sized bags to save their pieces in.  I gave them their challenge:  Create the tallest Japanese Pagoda that stands, unassisted for at least 30 seconds and let them go at it.  On day two, I pulled out my document camera and we made the pagoda pieces step by step together.  After making one or two of the pieces with me, I'd say 90% of the kids got it and were on their way.  There were still a few kids that didn't get a couple of the steps, especially the ones at the end where you have to do some "Book Folds" and make "Barn Doors" but after some one-on-one lessons I think they finally got it.  We talked A LOT about being neat and making sure that our folds were even because we wanted our structures to be level and strong.  
Folding pagoda pieces proved to be a bit of a frustration but we eventually got it.
Simple towers of 3 or 4 pieces stand easily.
We don't usually sit on the table but when we get excited, MizzSmiff lets the rules slide a little bit.

By day three, most of the groups had quite a few pieces folded and were starting to try to build their towers.  Just as I suspected (because I am kind of smart like that) they all simply went straight up and tried to build the tallest tower from the get go, obelisk style.  And just as I suspected, they'd get about 5 or 6 pieces stacked up and down they would fall down.  "How, oh how can you make your bases stronger?" I'd ask.  And this is where we started talking about structures.  And engineering.  And architecture.  We started trying to figure out how to make our pagodas more stable. We talked about how triangles are the strongest shape because the force is spread evenly through the three sides.  We talked about reinforcing the paper to make it stronger.  They can only use the 81/2" square paper given them for the challenge (no glue, no tape, nothing but the paper), but I told them that they could alter it if they wanted to.  Some of them tore or cut the paper to make braces (they have to make their materials prior to the challenge on Monday) and some of them used 2 sheets of paper folded together to make on pagoda piece.  We talked about trusses and buttresses (yeah, that got a couple of laughs but you know...middle school) and we looked at the way the little pagoda pieces were put together in different ways so that we could figure out how we could support a tall tower. 

That's  a pretty tall tower!
No hands!
By Friday, which was day 4, we had finally gotten it and were working together to come up with solutions and working on ideas to make the tallest towers.  The kiddos were excited and BEGGED me to let them work and problem solve just one more day, and so, on Monday we are going to have the FIRST ANNUAL ORIGAMI PAGODA COMPETITION.  I'll update to let you know how it goes.  I managed to wrangle some prizes for the groups to win: Slushie passes from the cafeteria, Out of Uniform Passes, Movie Theater sized candy from the dollar store and trips to the treasure box.  I think the rest of the semester is going to be kind of a let down.  

So far, I'm thinking this 7th grade design is a winner!

Adding supports to the sides.

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