Rubik to the Rescue: The Rubik’s Cube Engages Students in East Harlem

Rubik's cube without stickers

Quote of the Week: Children must be taught HOW TO THINK, not what to think. – Margaret Mead.

Dear “Blogosphere” Friend,

I was planning to post an entirely different article from what you are reading. But as fate would have it, I got this article from our partner in the U.S.A., Holly Riehl as I woke up this morning. While reading, I couldn’t resist that urge to just use this ‘Testimonial’ this week. The urge was so strong that I jumped out of bed, ran to my lappy and started typing.

All credits go to Sabrina Truong who graciously agreed to share this with us here in Nigeria:

I confess. I peeled the stickers off my Rubik’s cube when I was a child. Needless to say, I never successfully matched all six faces of a Rubik’s cube in my life . . . until one memorable day when I attended the Creativity and Education Innovation Fair at the 92Y in New York City.
A sixth-year teacher at an East Harlem high school, I was at the fair because I was urgently seeking inspiration to combat my algebra students’ overwhelming resistance to math. I was intrigued by a colorful booklet at a booth that boldly proclaimed, “You Can Do the Cube.” The presenter somewhat cryptically declared, “The key step is making a white cross.”
Making a white cross sounds profound but really is quite simple. One can solve the Rubik’s Cube by following sets of algorithms, or rules. It took me about two hours as I deciphered the symbols and illustrations in the booklet and painstakingly executed each algorithm. Difficult at first, but I eventually bestowed trust in the algorithms. Finally — sweet, sweet success! Solving the Rubik’s Cube was demystified.

Algorithms Made Fun

Wanting to share that feeling of euphoria, I presented my principal with the idea of using the Rubik’s Cube to create an interdisciplinary curriculum. He encouraged me to introduce the cube in my Algebra class. Accordingly, I applied to to borrow 36 cubes for educational use.
Before introducing the cube, I unobtrusively built anticipation among the students. I first conversed with them about our commonality: unable to independently solve the Rubik’s Cube. Later, I announced that I successfully solved the cube by following proven procedures. Finally, when I indicated that I could borrow cubes for the class, my students clamored to learn.
The opening of the lesson was a customary Do Now, solving problems using the Order of Operations (a.k.a. PEMDAS). I connected the Order of Operations to solving the Rubik’s Cube by explaining that both involve algorithms, which are integral to math, computer science, and other real-world applications.
The students were divided into groups of threes and fours. Each student received full-colored directions. After demonstrating the steps concurrently with my cube and on the SMART Board, I simply facilitated. Engagement was absolute — students taught each other, appreciated that algorithms have real-world applications, and simply had fun learning.
Something more amazing happened thereafter . . .

Let the Games Begin

A trio of cube-riveted students decided to share the Rubik’s Cube with the rest of the school by starting a club and school-wide competition.( Please read more

(Mosaic of Albert Einstein)


To me, this article has demonstrated how teachers can make students think and make them perceive certain things from a completely different perspective. Have you ever introduced your students to a tool or method that blossomed beyond all expectation? Please tell us about it.

I look forward to you sharing your experience with the Rubik’s Cube.



Article: Sabrina Truong (A Writer, Educator & Lawyer)
Photos: Google