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Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA

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Modular Origami

Upper School students in Joe Buteau’s Geometry class have been warming up their math muscles and learning how to problem-solve as a class with a modular origami challenge.

Modular origami combines multiple paper units, each folded from a single piece of paper, to create larger and more complicated forms. Joe’s students began by learning how to create the Sonobe units that would form the basis for each model they built. Each Sonobe unit is created by folding a square piece of colored paper multiple times until it forms a parallelogram with two triangular tabs at either end and two corresponding pockets within the center square. The Sonobe units can be connected together to form larger shapes. For example, a simple cube combines six Sonobe units, while an octahedron requires twelve Sonobe Units. Once students have the basic elements of the Sonobe unit down, they can start building structures with increasing complexity. 

Students worked in class to complete a cube and an octahedron. They presented their work by taking pictures of their finished products and compiling them into a single document to submit. As an additional challenge, Joe asked students to work together to attempt an Icosahedron, a polyhedron with twenty faces that requires 30 Sonobe units to build, or a shape of their own creation that uses 12 or more Sonobe units.

While the project introduced geometric concepts like pyramids, triangles, and vertices back into the student’s working mathematical vocabulary, it was also an effective way to have classmates get to know each other by collaborating on a mathematical challenge. “It’s a great ice breaker because students can talk and collaborate,” says Joe, “and because each step of the project has a due date, it helps get them back into the rhythm of completing daily assignments.”
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