In September 2019 (pre-COVID), one of our first activities of the year was an outdoor cubing-fest using our 600 Rubik’s cubes. Surprisingly, given that the Rubik’s cube is designed for individual solving, and is definitely a one-set-of-hands-at-a-time type of experience, it was a tremendous bonding and community-building event. The students loved the opportunity to dive in and solve as many as possible, and we watched those who understood how to solve it helping those who had not ever played with one. While we had set aside a 20-minute period planned for this activity, our 100 students were so enthusiastic and engaged that they solved all 600 cubes in 10 minutes, in yet another example of gifted children falling deeply and thoroughly into a topic they are engaged in.
The paradigm shift of cubing-as-solo-toy to cubing-as-community-builder continued when we built a 600-cube mosaic later in the year. After a great deal of pre-planning, each homeroom got a box of cubes and a template for their piece of the overall design. Some of our older students volunteered to go to the classrooms of our littlest students to help them, so every homeroom was able to complete its piece of the design. Then we gathered as a whole school to put the cubes into the giant frame we had built for the project, and assembled the entire piece. Every teacher and every student in the school put at least one cube into the mosaic, making it something the whole school could be proud of as a group effort with a spectacular result.
The response to this whole-school project was so positive that we decided to make cubing a part of daily life in the school: we bought 100 cubes and built a square frame that would allow us to display them as a mosaic on a wall in the main hallway of the building. Students and faculty alike submitted designs on a template we distributed, and we got so many submissions from across all divisions of the school that we were able to do a new mosaic every day! (On average, four or five students working together can complete a 100-cube mosaic in about 20 minutes.) One reason for the wide appeal is that the designs were so varied: they included celebrations of holidays (Earth Day, Easter, Passover, etc.), video game characters, landscapes, animals, space, and more. Students who submitted designs were proud to see their work displayed in the school, and having one’s design featured on the board became a point of pride in the school community.
Even COVID-19 did not get in the way of the mosaic displays, though it did throw substantial logistical hurdles in the way. When our students were sent home in March 2020, we pivoted to a full day of instruction online; Traci Brody, a Mathematics teacher at Grayson, took custody of the mosaic frame and all the cubes, creating daily designs from the stockpile of student-submitted templates. Every day, the All-School Google Classroom featured a picture of a new mosaic, all of which were created by that one teacher tapping into what was obviously a very deep well of patient and tenacious cube-solving. Students and faculty alike shared their opinions and comments under the photos, demonstrating again that the plastic cubes have a unique power to capture the imagination of people of all ages interested in all kinds of topics.
This school year, we have been operating a hybrid model of instruction serving both students who choose to continue learning at home and those whose families choose to send them to school in person. While this arrangement creates a number of technological hoops we must jump through, it also allows us a full day of classes together regardless of where students are physically. Of necessity, safety measures have changed the way the cubes are handled: instead of huddling over the frame together, the students working on the mosaics take one or two to their desks, where they create the necessary designs. Once those are complete, the students return the cubes to the frame and may take others back to their desks to solve. When the mosaic is complete, the cubes are sprayed with disinfectant and then hung in the hallway, and a photograph is posted in the newsletter and in the Community Google Classrooms for each division, ensuring that remote students can enjoy the results, as well. While it definitely takes longer than it did in person, the spirit of creativity and perseverance that is so prevalent in our students has allowed this effort to continue as part of the daily life of the school.
These little cubes of color have inspired school spirit and pride when we win contests, and they have reflected holidays, hobbies, quirky ideas, and passions of our students and faculty, alike. And our affection for all things Rubik continues: we have purchased many Rubik’s games, as well, and students excitedly flock to them (the current obsession is Rubik’s Cage). During this period, as you might imagine, creating a shared sense of school community has been both a challenge and a high priority for our school as an institution, and the effects of these 2 ¼” toys far exceed their humble size.
Our school’s focus on a sense of wonder and feeding students’ curiosity is a perfect match for the famous cubes, which may explain why cubing has had such a positive impact on our community and serves as another way to knit us more closely together, even in these complicated times. After all, as Erno Rubik himself once said,
“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”