Math in Real Life


At the Tanteidan Origami Convention in Tokyo last year, Math Department Head Joshua Seamon had the rare opportunity to take a lesson from Satoshi Kamiya, a world-renowned master. For two hours, Satoshi taught Josh how to fold a bewilderingly complex dragon head, though neither man spoke the other’s language. They communicated using only hand-drawn sketches and Satoshi’s focused instruction. For Josh, an origami devotee who uses the art in his classes to demonstrate mathematical principles, the process underscored one of his beliefs about teaching. “We know that the best learning environment we can create is one where we act as facilitators, setting up our students for success and getting out of the way,” he explains. “Satoshi’s classroom drove that home. You don’t need to say much—
or anything at all—as long as you choose what you do say and how you do direct your class in the most helpful ways possible.”

Williston’s professional development program funded Josh’s trip to Japan, and Josh says the experience continues to inform his classroom work. “I use origami at the end of my Multivariable Calculus class to continue our exploration of surfaces and volumes,” he explains. “My students walk away from my class with a much better handle on working with paper in three dimensions, thanks to my time with Satoshi.”

Josh came to Williston in 2013 from St. Johnsbury Academy, in Vermont. But he was already well-acquainted with the Pioneer Valley. Raised in Amherst, he was a member of the high school’s national champion Ultimate Frisbee team in 1998, and his passion for the sport, like origami, continues to guide his life. In addition to coaching at Williston, he serves on the board of directors for USA Ultimate, the sport’s governing body, and runs coaching development at Camp Ultimate Peace, a summer camp in Israel that brings Israeli and Palestinian teens together through the sport.

Using origami to teach math. Using Ultimate to promote inter-cultural understanding. Both reflect Josh’s teaching philosophy: “Show students cool things and get out of the way!” Williston’s professional development program helps Josh do just that. “I live the phrase, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know,’ which pushes me to stay challenged, put myself into uncomfortable situations, and to travel. Constantly learning about all of the awesome in this world is deeply inspiring.”

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