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How can origami shape your brain?

Families across Aotearoa are discovering the beauty of mathematics in a crafting extravaganza

Boy showing his origami star

Cantabrians, Aucklanders and Dunedinites are combining maths and art to create patterns from everyday materials like paper and yarn, as part of a nationwide series of events run by Maths Craft New Zealand.

Maths Craft aims to brings maths to the masses, through setting up hands-on craft stations in public spaces. As people move from station to station, they can try a different craft each time: from origami (paper folding) to crocheting, through to tiling.

There are also public talks by international guest speakers at every event. Their stories have explored the best way to tie your shoelaces, the asymmetry of a sari, and how to turn geometry into art.

Learning crocheting

Jeanette McLeod at the University of Canterbury cofounded Maths Craft with Julia Collins (Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute) in 2016, and now co-manages the events with her colleague Phil Wilson.

Jeanette says that the project’s purpose is to give people of all ages the chance to experience maths as being hands-on, fun and creative.

Girl showing her work in progress

“We want to show how maths is all the time and everywhere, not just as calculations in school," she explains. "We also want to give people a taste of mathematical thinking and how it can be used to see a much bigger picture.”

Deaf girl exploring tiling with her fatherJeanette, Phil and their team of volunteers have so far held Maths Craft events in Christchurch and Auckland, with well over  5000 people attending in total. Their next event is in Dunedin in February 2018.

Cécile, who took her children Nicolas and Eloïse to the MathsCraft Festival at Auckland Museum, says that the activities have broadened how she views maths.

"It'd be so great if all schools did this kind of thing, perhaps as a lunchtime club if they couldn’t fit it in during class time.

“I hated maths at school and this is a great way to show its artistic side."

Her son Nicolas adds, "I really like this and I think it would be cool to do this at school too."

“I like the French knitting because it’s different,” says Eloïse.

Eloise and Nicholas at the French knitting stand

Adults were just as enthused as the kids. Rashim Sethi spent most of her time crocheting with yarn while her children tried other crafts.

"I’ve just learnt how to do the crocheting here – I’ve never tried it before! I'm really enjoying it so I'll probably do this at home too. I liked doing maths at school and at college, but I haven’t done hands-on maths like this before."


“It's really great to see and do maths in such a practical way,” agrees another parent, Mark Toner.

“I liked making the circle with the thread,” says Mark’s daughter Tessa, 8. “It took me about five minutes and it was really easy to make”.

His son Luca, 10, says that his favourite moment was making a Menger Sponge (a cube with a pattern that repeats itself and gets smaller for every repetition) out of folded paper.

“I liked making the cube most because I spent the longest time on it and got to finish it.”

Luca with sister TessaMaking Menger sponges

Find out more about the next Maths Craft event

Have a go at creating the crafts at home 

Photo credit (cover image, tiling image): Maths Craft

About the project

Maths Craft logoMaths Craft is run by Jeanette McLeod, Phil Wilson and Sarah Mark at the University of Canterbury, and Nicolette Rattenbury at the University of Auckland, with support from Te Pūnaha Matatini and the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.


Unlocking Curious Minds

Unlocking Curious Minds supports projects that excite and engage New Zealanders who have fewer opportunities to experience and connect with science and technology.

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