Math = Love: The Origami Letter Project

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Origami Letter Project

This week, my math classes are celebrating Universal Letter Writing Week.  Universal Letter Writing Week takes place during the second week of January.  I had originally wanted to make this a student council project.  My student council officers, though, were less than thrilled with the idea of setting up a letter-writing station in the cafeteria during lunch.  I still wanted to do it, though, so I'm kinda forcing my own students to participate.

They've been begging me to do origami ever since they returned from Christmas Break to find new decorations hanging from the ceiling.

Math Origami
My sister actually made these origami cubes and colliding cubes and whatever you call the one in the picture above in math class in junior high.  Over Christmas Break, she was cleaning her bedroom and found them.  We decided they would be the perfect thing to hang in my classroom.  Now, all of my students want to make them.  The only problem is, I don't know how.  And, I still have many more units to teach this semester.  I think this may be a perfect project for my students after they take the EOI in April. 

So, with origami on the brain, and Universal Letter Writing Week in mind, I decided to have my students write letters on colored sheets of paper. On Tuesday, I had them choose a teacher to write to.  Today, I had them choose a school employee who was not a teacher.  This profession is often a thankless one.  I know how much it means to me when I receive kind words or a compliment from a student.  Knowing that one's work is noticed and appreciated is energizing.  I truly treasure the letters that students have written me.  

After writing our letters, we folded them into a basic origami envelope.    

This is Tuesday's batch of letters from my students to various teachers.  Aren't they just so beautiful? 
Aren't they just so bright and cheery looking?  I can't help but smile when I see this picture.  Some of my students were disappointed that they didn't turn out looking like a typical envelope.  But, I just loved seeing the stacks of colorful, uniform letters that were just waiting to be opened and read.  I loved delivering them and seeing the surprise on the faces of the recipients.   

I'll be honest.  This did eat up much more class time than I expected.  We have 50 minute periods, and the first letter we wrote took about 15 minutes of class time to write and fold.  On the second day, the students were already familiar with the process, but, it still took 10 minutes of class.

Losing class time did make me uneasy.  My students are years behind in mathematics, and time is a precious commodity.  When I look at all of the standards that I have yet to even introduce, I start to enter panic mode.  Believe me, that is not a good place.  Worrying doesn't do my students or me any good.

Looking back, I am proud of this project.  I am proud of the fact that I did something that benefited both my students and my coworkers.  My students got the opportunity to say thank you to someone who has made a difference in their lives.  Those I work with got to read those two words that they do not hear often enough.

A mentor of mine encouraged me to look for opportunities to be a catalyst of change in my school district.  This project was a step in that direction.  A step towards making the school I work for a better place for teachers and students.  I'll never know the magnitude of the impact that these letters will have on their recipients or their senders.  But, I can hope that they encourage my coworkers to give these students their all every single day.  Because whether we hear the words "thank you" or not, we are making a difference.  The time I have with my students is too precious to waste.  It is time to support them, inspire them, encourage them, prepare them for the future, remind them that they are cared for, and teach them some math, too.

This is definitely a project that I want to become a yearly tradition in my classroom.  (And, even if my students weren't learning any math during the process of writing these letters, it was still educational.  We discussed where to put the comma in the salutation of a letter and how to spell various words.  I even fit in some geometry vocab while explaining the steps to folding the origami envelope.  It got my students writing and thinking, and I believe those are both things my students don't spend enough time doing right now.)      


  1. Having taught high school math in Oklahoma for 25 years, I am impressed by your excitement and willingness to enter a bad situation with hopes of changing the future. Sometimes, those "lost" days are worth more than the days you struggle to make a concept take on life. I love reading your blog to see what you are doing and see if I can adapt anything to my classes. Keep trying and don't get discouraged!

  2. Hi Sarah! I am going through all of your wonderful posts and you are such an inspiration! Thank you :) I am about to student teach this semester, and just reading your posts have been so insightful. I hope you get a chance to do modular origami with your students at the end of April. (From the picture I am assuming that origami piece is a sonobe stellated octahedron) If so, I think you'll have a blast with your students folding sonobe units (they are simple origami parallelograms that fit together like little puzzle pieces) I've had the opportunity to work with middle school students at an after school math club and we've explored constructing cubes and different polyhedra using sonobe units. It has been challenging having students construct different types of polyhedra since we don't tell them how to; part of what our club promotes is having students explore on their own or with each other. (The hint is three units (parallelograms) can be put together to make 1 vertex).But many students have successfully constructed the cubes without any direct instructions (the sonobe units were prefolded for them). Thanks again and keep posting! :)

  3. Hi Sarah-

    I just found your blog tonight via Pinterest and I've enjoyed reading about the different lessons that you've done in your Algebra 1 class. I'm in my 8th year teaching middle school math in New York with one section of Algebra for my advanced 8th graders. Every year, I have my students write a "Goodbye Letter" to me on the last day of school. It's amazing to read the letters and see their gratitude. I'm sure you and your colleagues felt amazing reading the letters as well.


  4. You can find the how to for those sonobe hedrons on youtube! Kids love them. One of my students last year who detested math, googled how-
    And made several to hang upincluding one four feet in diameter! Not easy to hang. :-)