By Crystal Wang, The Bishop's School, and Danica Chen, Del Norte High School
When most people think of mathematics, “origami” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. However, the All Girls STEM Society, or AGSS, sought to combine these two oft-separated concepts into their educational and entertaining Mathematical Origami Workshop, held at the La Jolla Riford Library on August 27, 2016.
This may be the AGSS’s first event in their new La Jolla-based location, but they are far from inexperienced. Since its formation in 2015, the organization, run entirely by high-school students, has hosted over fifteen events nationwide. These include an aerospace workshop based around paper rockets and a programming workshop with a turtle theme, all of which have been well-attended and well-received. This event was no exception, with 35 girls from 31 different schools attending.
One such girl is Lorelai, a bright young woman who is very passionate about STEM. When I began to ask her what her favorite subject was, she exclaimed “Math, always math!” before I had even finished my question. She went on to say inform me that she was one of the most talented mathematicians in her class, and especially enjoyed long division.
However, despite their proficiency, girls like Lorelai often do not end up pursuing a math major, frequently due to social conditioning and a lack of self-confidence. Indeed, only 25% of professions in STEM--that is, the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics--are occupied by women. Therefore, the goal of the All Girls STEM Society is to create a supportive and engaging environment that encourages young girls to become interested in STEM. And judging by the success of their Mathematical Origami Workshop, they seem to be doing a fine job.
The workshop started off with a presentation by Director of Curriculum Kevin Chen on the history of origami, origami’s practical uses, and some basic properties of polygons. Throughout the presentation, founder Veronica Tang asked the girls trivia questions related to the information they were learning. At first, most of the participants were too shy to raise their hands, but by the time the third question rolled around, over half the room had their hands up. Some of their enthusiasm was likely due to the fact that prizes were given to anyone who answered correctly, but the majority of the girls seemed like they were just excited about the math.
After the presentation, the students were able to gain some firsthand knowledge about polygons by making tessellations out of notecards. This quick activity was followed by another presentation, this time on 3D solids like pyramids, rectangular prisms, and more complicated figures like Platonic and Archimedean solids.
Directly afterwards, the girls had the opportunity to make their own Platonic solids--in this case, cubes--out of origami paper. The paper provided was covered in various patterns and colorful drawings, making the results aesthetically pleasing as well as mathematically accurate. Many of the participants made sure that they folded and fitted the sheets in a way that allowed their favorite designs to be showcased.
A few of the girls there were first-time origami artists, but many had a little experience making simple designs. Even so, they all learned something new.
“I’ve done origami before,” said Eleanor, one of the forty or so participants at this event, told me with a proud grin, “but this is the first time I’ve actually succeeded at it.”
After the origami, the girls went into a side room for a ten-minute snack break, eating and conversing about the workshop. Many tried out some practical uses for their cubes, including a ball for playing catch and a water bottle holder. A few went back into the main room to ask for extra origami paper to share with their friends at school. Even though they had fun, all seemed content to return to work at the end of the break.
The final activity that day was kinetic origami--origami that can move. Participants followed along carefully as Chen showed them how to make an origami frog, exclaiming delightedly when they discovered that their creations could fly through the air. After finishing, several of the girls had enough time left to make a second frog. Many decided to engage in competitions with their neighbors to see whose frog could jump the highest or the farthest.
When the event ended, students left with smiles, a deeper understanding of geometry, three new paper creations, and, in many cases, hastily-scrawled email addresses of the friends they had made during the last two and a half hours.
It is through workshops like this one that the All Girl’s Stem Society strives to foster a love of STEM in young girls, and to perhaps inspire them to work in STEM fields after college. Some of the students at the workshop already have STEM-related plans for the future--many of them are prospective doctors and math teachers. Others are more interested in sports, literature, or history. However, the most common response the participants gave when asked, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” was a simple “I don’t know yet.”
These girls still have plenty of time to decide on a future occupation, but hopefully, organizations like AGSS continue to encourage those with a love for math to pursue that interest long into the future, no matter what career they choose.