I am sure that many of you remember the 80s, when the Rubik’s Cube first gained popularity. For some, it was a source of frustration, evidence of your spatial intelligence, a friendly competition amongst friends, or simply a toy. For my Advanced Pre-Algebra students, the Rubik’s Cube is a long-term challenge. Of course, a few of the desired academic goals are to bolster spatial awareness skills and to introduce symbolic and algorithmic language outside of the familiar relational operators such as greater than and less than. Yet, the larger, and perhaps more important outcome is the development of a “healthy relationship with confusion,” as Dr. Mike reminds us. For many of the students in my Advanced Pre-Algebra classes, the Rubik’s Cube represents a return to intense study rather than the reliance on math talent and the happenstance absorption which may have characterized their previous years of learning arithmetic.
The kids enjoy the concrete and tangible success of solving a white cross, then the first layer, then two layers, and eventually the entire Cube; yet they also use the Cube for relaxation and escape, much in the same way that some of us enjoy Sudoku or crossword puzzles.
At first, I wanted to codify the Rubik’s Cube as a part of the Pre-Algebra curriculum, because I wanted to hold students accountable for pushing themselves, and hold myself accountable for increasing the rigor for which Brentwood is known. I have since learned to trust in the ambition of our students—many of them choose to take on the challenge and persist through the entanglements the Cube presents. I am proud of all of my students’ progress! While some, such as Sophia H. and Will L., have solved the Cube and are now working on decreasing the time it takes to solve it, others like Eve L., are proud of working towards the second layer. She photographs each success before she re-scrambles the Cube and tries again. I asked Georgia M. about her feelings towards the Rubik’s Cube and she replied, “I like it. I like looking at the formula and figuring out the rest on my own.” Others have said, “I feel like I get close, but every time I get close to a solve, I mess up and have to try again.” Additionally, one student added, “It’s really confusing, but I want to be able to do it so I keep trying.”
Problem solving is an important math skill, and an even more important life skill; I hope that the Cube expands the analogy of problem solving into Middle School and teenage life. While situations may be frustrating, they are not impossible—there are a myriad of ways to start proactively finding the solution!