Yes, you can use origami to teach coding!

Folding paper and writing programs require some of the same skills

It may not be the biggest question facing higher ed but: How does origami (the art of folding pretty into some pretty remarkable shapes) keep students engaged in a coding class when it suddenly moves online.

Well, it’s all in the title of visiting professor David Perkins’ class at Hamilton College in New York: “Creative Coding and Origami.”

OK, here’s a more thoughtful answer from the professor himself:

“Origami is something students do with their hands while programming, they do with their eyes and brain and have to stare at a screen” Perkins says. “Origami takes their eyes off the screen to give them a break but it also has several features you want in a good programmer, like patience and care.”

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In fact, when you make a mistake early in writing a program, it’s much easier to fix than when you mess something up early in the process of folding paper into a crane or tiger. So, origami, arguably, requires even more focus, Perkins adds.

[VIDEO: One of the digital music animations students in Hamilton College’s “Creative Coding and Origami” class created for their final project.]

The coding and origami course was an intro to coding, a subject in which none of the students were planning to major.

Because coders often work in teams, writing only portions of a program, Perkins divided students into groups. Each was assigned to create an origami that would be part of a larger piece.

“When you write programs professionally, you’re almost never going to be one who writes the whole thing,” Perkins says. “You’re going to do your part and to give it to some else.”

After the students were sent home in March and began work on their final project—programming a piece of digital music animation—Perkins continued to begin class by sharing a selfie with a new origami.

[VIDEO: Another student’s “Creative Coding and Origami” final project.]

And the students sent selfies back—even though the origami had no bearing on whether they passed—as they learned about chord progressions and rhythm to create original, one-minute pieces of digital music.

Perkins shared several YouTube videos of other digital artists to guide his students in developing their final pieces.

“Most of the students say they had no music background, that they had never composed any music in their lives,” Perkins says. “In the final projects, I couldn’t tell that a lot of them had never composed before.”

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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