Have you ever tried to teach origami to a large group of first graders? It can be a challenge, to say the least.
Every year, when my 1st graders study Japan, I attempt an origami project. Every year, I do it differently. And every year I berate myself for doing it wrong. No matter how slowly I give instructions or how many times I demonstrate under a document camera, there are several students who end up frustrated while other students grow increasingly bored with the repetitive instructions and having to wait while I help others make a valley fold.
Last year was a little better when I let the students use iPads and sites that showed videos of origami folding so they could work at their own pace. But many of them immediately chose projects that were too difficult and gave up after finding themselves overwhelmed.
You’re probably shouting all kinds of helpful teacher advice at the computer right now, including, “Give up the origami project, you fool! It’s not like they need to know that as a real-world skill!”
That is very true. But perseverance can be a good skill (until it becomes stubbornness). And learning from mistakes is a good skill. Being aware of your own ability level and how far you should push yourself is a pretty good skill, too.
As I’ve been learning about the advantages of a growth mindset this year, I’ve been trying to share this with my students. It’s become part of our daily vocabulary in some of the grade levels, but I haven’t approached it that way with my younger students, yet. I decided to use the origami lesson to help me do that with my 1st graders. (Here is a great growth mindset chart that you might like to include in your classroom.)
Last week, I asked the 1st graders to think of an activity that was easy, medium, and hard for them. For each activity, they drew a picture to represent it. For example, if reading is easy for a student, she might draw a book. If math is hard, he might draw a multiplication sign.
Then we all made a simple origami rabbit. I asked them to think about how the activity compared to the ones on their “Levels of Difficulty” sheet. We talked about how it was easy for one student because he has a lot of experience with origami, and that it was perfectly fine that it was hard for another student because this was her very first time doing origami. We stapled their projects to their sheets.
This week, I read Your Fantastic Elastic Brain to them (which they loved – perfect level for them!). We related it to the origami experience and discussed how important it is to stretch your brain, and not just stick to the things that are easy for us.
Then I gave them some origami sites, and they worked in partners to do whatever project they chose. I reminded them that if they should choose a project based on their experience.
“If you’ve done lots of origami before, should you pick an easy one?”
“If you’ve never done it before last week, should you pick a hard one?”
I told them that I was not going to help them, that they would need to figure it out on their own, unless they needed help with a word.
I let them go, and held my breath.
“This one is too hard,” one of the students said after a few minutes.
“Let’s keep trying,” his partner said. “I think we can do this.” They unfolded and re-folded several times. After 10 minutes, they did it. They were so proud!
A student working by himself nearly did cartwheels around the room once he figured out his project.
Similar stories played out all around the room. There were some sighs of frustration, but no giving up and no tears. I was able to walk from table to table, giving encouragement, praising perseverance instead of frantically trying to get everyone to the same place.
At the end of class, the students couldn’t believe time had passed so quickly. There was a unanimous vote to continue working on origami next class.
In a way, I felt like I’d just completed my own origami project. It only took me about 5 years to finally get it right.
Origami Elephant created by Sipho Mabona, picture from My Modern Met