A little bit of history - Scissors!
In this issue of the Primary Magazine we are continuing our short series of articles on inventions. We are looking at one of the most used pieces of equipment in the classroom…
Along with Post-it Notes and Blu-Tack, scissors are another invention that we cannot do without, especially in the classroom!
A few facts you may or may not know about scissors…
they are hand-operated instruments used for cutting different thin materials such as paper and cloth
they have a pair of metal blades that pivot so that the sharpened edges slide against each other when they are closed
there are different types of scissors, some of which have specialised uses for example those that cut hair
scissors are commonly thought to become shears when they are longer than six to eight inches (about 15 to 20 cm)
these days scissors are specifically designed with plastic or rubber handles for a power or a precision grip
in lower-quality scissors the cutting edges are not very sharp. It is the shearing action between the two blades that enables you to cut with them
in high-quality scissors the blades can be extremely sharp and are tension sprung. These scissors tend to be used for things that need precision cutting
children's scissors usually have blade tips which are blunted or 'rounded' for safety
there are specially designed foot or mouth operated scissors for people who do not have the use of their hands
most scissors are made for use with the right hand, but these days there are left-handed scissors for use with the left hand.
When were scissors invented?
It is thought that scissors were invented around 1500 BC. The earliest scissors found are said to be from Mesopotamia and date back 3 000 to 4 000 years. In those days they were made from bronze blades connected by a flexible strip of curved bronze which allowed them to be squeezed together.
It is believed that modern cross-bladed scissors were invented by the Romans in around 100AD. These were made from bronze or iron and pivoted at a point between the tips of the blades and the handles.
As the Romans travelled around Europe so did the scissors! Consequently their usage spread to other countries. Initially they were mostly used by tailors and barbers. After the Roman period, scissors of a better quality and design were made and sold. These were used in countries such as China, Japan and Korea. As the art of calligraphy spread, concave blades were developed to cut paper. These were widely used around the world.
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, spring scissors were made by heating a bar of iron or steel, then flattening and shaping its ends into blades. The centre of the bar was then heated and bent to form a spring. It was then cooled and reheated, a process which helped to make it flexible.
William Whiteley & Sons (Sheffield) Ltd is officially recognised as the first manufacturer of scissors. They began trading in 1760. Apparently, Robert Hinchliffe, from London, a self-proclaimed ‘fine scissor manufacturer’ produced the first pair of modern-day scissors made of steel.
During the 19th Century, scissors were handmade with elaborately decorated handles. They were made by hammering steel to form the blades. The rings in the handles were made by punching a hole in the steel and enlarging it with the pointed end of an anvil.
Today scissors are pieces of equipment that are used nearly everywhere and by nearly everyone!
Over the centuries various superstitions about scissors arose. Here are a few of them from uncommonscissors.com:
you will 'cut off' fortune if you use scissors on New Year's Day
scissors should be put away during thunderstorms to decrease the likelihood that the house will be struck by lightning
placing a pair of scissors under the pillow of a woman in labour will ‘cut her pain in half’
breaking both blades of a pair of scissors is a sign of an impending disaster
giving a pair of scissors as a gift will cause problems in a friendship by cutting the relationship in half
a pair of scissors nailed above a door in the ‘open’ position, to resemble a cross, protects a household from witchcraft and evil influences
dropping a pair of scissors warns that a lover is unfaithful
Now for some mathematics...
Please remember: scissors are not a toy and should be used carefully under appropriate supervision
'My scissor collection'
Scissors come in varying sizes. You could ask the children to look on the internet to find the different sizes that there are and make a list of those they find. They are sometimes given in Imperial measurements, so this would be a good opportunity to practice converting from in inches to centimetres. Some come in sizes of mixed units, this would be an opportunity to rehearse equivalent units of measure. Others have fractions in their measurements so you could use these for some revision of fractions.
They could also draw lines of the different lengths and order and compare them.
The children could collect different sized scissors from around the classroom and measure their lengths and widths at various points. They could then draw these measurements as accurate lines to the nearest centimetre or millimetre.
They could scale up these measurements and, on large pieces of paper, measure and draw enormous pairs of scissors. This would be a good way to rehearse ratio.
The children could look for and print out pictures of scissors and use these for sorting activities using Venn and Carroll diagrams. You could ask the children to make up their own criteria which may involve, for example, colour and length. A quick search on Google images will produce lots of examples.
Scissors are asymmetrical sometimes due to the sizes and shapes of the handles but mainly due to the crossing of the blades. They can however be used to create symmetrical patterns. Give the children a piece of string and ask them to place it vertically on their table. They could then collect an even number of scissors that look the same and arrange them on either side of the string to make a symmetrical pattern. You could give them a second piece of string to make a horizontal mirror line. They then alter their pattern so that it is symmetrical in all four quadrants. They could draw their patterns and use these for mathematical discussions.
You could ask them to use two pairs of scissors and investigate ways to position these so that together they form a symmetrical shape (using scissors of the same colour):
They could then draw around their new shape and cut it out. They make a background on a piece of A4 paper with a mathematical theme, for example, 2D shape, lines meeting at different angles and stick their scissor shape onto it:
Ask the children to place a pair of scissors on the table so that the handles are facing away from them. They could then practice rotating the scissors from the end of the blades. They could do this in 90º and then 45º turns in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions. They could then explore other points of rotation, for example one of the handles, the central pivot or a point away from the scissor as in the picture below:
They could then draw around a pair of scissors and cut the image out several times. They could make a pattern to show these rotations using their drawings.
You may have heard of the game ‘Rock, paper, scissors’ which is a hand game usually played by two people. The players simultaneously form one of three shapes with an outstretched hand. The ‘rock’ beats scissors, the ‘scissors’ beat paper and the ‘paper’ beats rock. If both players show the same shape the game is tie. Ask the children to work out how many possible combinations of shapes can be shown. They could then work out the probability of each shape winning and the probability of a tie. They could represent their probabilities on a probability scale and as a fraction or percentage. They could then try this out, maybe 20 times, and see if their probabilities were correct.
Rock paper scissors
You could ask them to work with a partner and make up an alternative game of ‘Rock, paper, scissors’ by throwing small 3D shapes. Give pairs a variety of shapes to choose from – after revising their names and properties in terms of number of faces, edges and vertices, the shape of their faces and whether the shapes are prisms or not. They choose the same three shapes each, hide them in a small bag and then pick one to throw on the table. They should make up their own rules, for example cube beats pyramid, pyramid beats cuboid and cuboid beats cube.
If appropriate you might wish to show the children this clip from The Big Bang Theory, where one of the characters says that players will tie 75% to 80% of the time due to the limited number of outcomes. You could use this statement to explore percentages, for example, if playing 30 games how many will be a tie? They could explore whether this statement is correct for the games they played above.
You could ask the children to play the version suggested on the clip. Do the extra items make a difference to the percentage of ties?
You could ask the children to play the game against the computer on the New York Times website. They could work out the percentage to show the number of times they beat the computer or vice versa.
We hope that this article has inspired you to make a more mathematical use of your classroom scissors!
If there is any area of history that you would like us to make mathematical links to, please let us know.
If you've enjoyed this article, don't forget you can find all previous A little bit of history features in our archive, sorted into categories: Ancient Number Systems, History of our measurements, Famous mathematicians, and Topical history.
Page header by stevendepolo, some rights reserved
Scissors by Yandle, some rights reserved
'My scissor collection' by Bekathwia, some rights reserved
Rock paper scissors, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons