Confidence from the Cube
Submitted by Amy Evans, elementary teacher from Tempe, AZ
Tony* was a tough kid. He’d spent much of his third grade year in the principal’s office. Fourth grade didn’t seem to be any better. Maybe he was bored. Maybe he was mad. Who knows, really.
When Tony was in fifth grade, he got into a verbal altercation with another student. This other student happened to be the fastest Rubik’s Cube solver in our school, a school that had three competitive Rubik’s Cube teams. “You couldn’t even solve the cube if you tried,” were some of the taunting words intended to put Tony down that were overheard. Tony went home, and on his own, he learned how to solve the Rubik’s Cube. Shortly after, our Rubik’s Cube coaches learned about this, and invited Tony to Rubik’s Cube Club. He took an interest in being a part of the Rubik’s Cube team that year, and when it came time to post times, sure enough, Tony had a competitive time. On his own, Tony had not only learned how to solve, but he had also become the fastest solver in the school.
As a part of the Rubik’s Cube team, Tony became a leader. He was helping novice solvers. He was supporting his classmates. He also began greeting teachers and doing his school work. He was really fast at solving the Rubik’s Cube, and he was humble. Probably one of the most encouraging changes we saw in Tony, was that he was smiling and holding his head up.
Maybe something else happened that year in Tony’s life. Maybe there’s more to the story than what we saw at school. But it’s hard not to wonder if that little 3x3 cube, that has been around for decades, changed things quite a bit for this young boy.
Tony’s confidence boost was not an isolated incident. Many other students at our school have shown positive changes and growth during the semesters they were working with and persevering through Rubik’s Cube challenges. Something about the experience of struggling, feeling frustrated, having to work through those emotions, and, should they stick with it, persevere in solving, has caused students at our school to stand a little taller. They’re now willing to take different risks, academically.
The cube has also offered some of our students who aren’t interested in athletics, the opportunity to experience working with a team, by choice, as we take the cube a step further, from the classroom to competition. Many of these students haven’t ever had to “try out” or post a time (although we try to find a place on the team for every student who in interested in competing).
One year, I had a student named Paul*, who wanted to be a part of the team, but wasn’t interested in competing, partially due to some things going on in his personal life. I explained to him, as I do to each team, every year, that our team extends beyond the eight solvers around the competition table. Our team includes our classmates, our teachers, our families, and everyone else that has helped to get us to wherever it is we’re going. Paul came to every single practice, helped sort cubes, mix cubes, cheered, and unbeknownst to me, began keeping a spreadsheet of the team’s practice times. When it came time for the tournament, the students voted that Paul be one of the two soloists to represent our school. (At this particular tournament, only two students from each school could compete in the solo competition.) Now, whether or not Paul would accept that, it didn’t matter. Imagine the emotion he felt when his teammates unanimous vote was to have Paul compete. He accepted, and although it took him over 5 minutes to solve, using the Solution Guide, it was one of the most beautiful moments for our team.
When you’re thinking about what to do with your students this year, or you’re contemplating if another year with the cube is worth the time, please think about your Tonys and Pauls.
Our Tony went on to place first at the state Rubik’s Cube Tournament that year. I can still picture his sweet, excited smile, standing next to his final time on the timer. The Rubik’s Cube offers the opportunity to feel a sense of confidence and a TRUE pride in accomplishment, that is lacking in our world of immediate gratification. The Rubik’s Cube is a challenge our students deserve.
*student names changed to protect privacy