Vismo Brainfood

In response to the COVID 19 pandemic, the VisMO team has launched the VisMO Brainfood Challenge to provide students and their families with engaging hands-on activities as they practice social distancing. A daily origami challenge has been posting on the VisMO website daily over the course of 15 days from March 30th to April 17th. Each challenge was designed with an exploratory task and reflection task for the participants to complete. Resources such as instructional videos and diagrams were also posted for members and visitors of the website to view and utilize. Participants from various school districts in California signed up to become members of the site and some have posted their completed models on our website. The VisMO team hopes that the Brainfood Challenge can provide students with an opportunity to develop their visuospatial skills and keep their brains growing with tangible learning tasks as they shift to distance learning. 

Last month, members of the curriculum design team had the opportunity to speak with Nobuko Okabe.  Nobuko Okabe is a talented Origamist who has had her designs published in theFOLD by OrigamiUSA and has had models displayed in New York and at Origami conventions.  Nobuko is also the creator of a wonderfully versatile and dynamic unit aptly named the “Super Nobu Unit”. Coined by esteemed origami artist and designer Tomoko Fuse who inspired Nobuko to publish a book entirely dedicated to the unit and corresponding models she has designed, titled “Modular Origami with Super Nobu Unit”.  


When speaking to Ms. Okabe about the development of the Super Nobu  Unit, she shared that she developed the unit around 10 years ago but the first insight came almost a bit random. She realized after many years of practice that when a paper is folded twice a pocket is formed.  From there she created her unit by folding opposite corners of a square paper once and then once again, with a crease running perpendicular to each initial fold. Thus creating four pockets and two flaps on either end for insertion.  Nobuko describes the unit as “simple and primitive”, though her models show otherwise. See some of her modular designs below.  


Ms. Okabe is also an experienced origami educator. She held a weekly origami club session, where students participated in creating fun and simple origami models to more complex modular origami as students continued to attend club meetings.  Over the years she continued to hold weekly meetings and taught students from 3rd grade through high school. She gave us insight on what models and/or origami skills students would enjoy and be challenged by according to age and grade level. The VisMO team is very excited to incorporate the Super Nobu unit to the VisMO curriculum geared towards 4th graders.  

Stay tuned for news on our next pilot lesson.  To learn more about Nobuko Okabe and her fun designs click on the images below and get folding! 

super nobu.jpg

In December the research team ran two pilot lessons at Carson Elementary during an after school program and conducted an informal focus group after each lesson to gain feedback from the students to refine the activities.  The sessions were comprised of 22-24 fourth graders who engaged in origami folding and spatial visualization tasks. During the first session, the students both enjoyed and felt challenged by learning how to fold a magazine box and problem solving putting together a Sonobe cube without a diagram.  At the second session, the students participated in a short visuospatial skills formative assessment. Students explained the reasons for their responses, which gave valuable insights into their prior knowledge of mathematical and spatial terms and demonstrated the need for students to engage in discussions involving the use of spatial language.  After the assessment, the students explored creating an equilateral triangle from a square, transformed the triangle into a 3-D “Tubis Unit”, and participated in embodied learning activities to scaffold their understanding of reflectional symmetry.  


Special thanks to Carson Elementary School and the YMCA after school program for collaborating with the VisMO team on this pilot. 

The University of San Diego’s Project VisMO was recently awarded a grant of $1,009,801 from the National Science Foundation, EHR Core Research (ECR). The project, “Fostering Elementary School Students' Visuospatial Skills and Mathematical Competencies through an Origami-based Program," or Project VisMO, starts August 15, 2019 and will conclude July 31, 2022.

VisMo is under the direction of Dr. Yaoran Li, Dr. Perla Myers, and Dr. Vitaliy Popov, in collaboration with Dr. David Geary, Curators' Professor of the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Project VisMO is a three-year project that investigates the causal link between children’s visuospatial skills development and their longitudinal gains in mathematical competencies.

Visuospatial and mathematical competencies are important in most STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields and both are underdeveloped in under-served learners in the United States. This project refines an engaging intervention through an iterative design-based research process to help identify the learning and teaching components that can optimally foster children's visuospatial skills.

Project VisMO has a special focus on English Language Learners (ELLs). The project aims to help ELL students make meaning of spatial concepts through hands-on activities with the use of explicit spatial vocabulary, visual displays (e.g., sketches, diagrams), and gestures. One of the attractive features of the VisMO curriculum is that it is less dependent on English proficiency than typical mathematics interventions.

Dr. Li, managing researcher at the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education and principal investigator for the project, shared, “I am very excited to start the project and work with an amazing interdisciplinary team of researchers, educators and origami artists. California has the highest proportion (21 percent) of ELLs of any state in the U.S, and they are performing much lower than their non-ELL peers. However, the research on how to foster their mathematical and visuospatial competencies is limited and many misconceptions exist. I believe that the VisMO project has the potential to uniquely contribute to our understanding of ELL students’ spatial and mathematical learning and effective teaching strategies.”

More information about the Jacobs Institute for Innovation in Education can be found on their website:



Vismo Masterclass

As our community continues to practice social distancing, the VisMO Team launched the first VisMO Masterclass Virtual Steam Camp this month. The team recruited fourth-grade students from all over California. The VisMO team is overwhelmed with a large number of applications and the enthusiasm of children, parents, and teachers.  To prepare for the program, materials kits were printed and packed with care by team members using gloves, a mask, and a disinfected surface.  Students received their packets mailing directly to their homes and were ready to start camp on May 4th. 

© 2020 by Project VisMO


phone: (619) 260 - 4804

location: San Diego, CA

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