Lessons from the Cube

“A good puzzle, it's a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It's very clear, and the problem depends just on you.” -Ernő Rubik 


Anthony Brooks has it.  "It" is difficult to assess and quantify and goes by many different names. A word that seems to have recenlty gained significant support from the most highly regarded educational researchers is "grit". Stanford professor, Angela Duckworth, a leading voice on the identification and fostering of academic competencies other than fixed intelligence, defines grit as "the perseverance and passion for long-term goals."

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Anthony first picked up a Rubik's Cube six years ago, when he was a fourteen-year-old looking to stay busy on a long bus ride. Today, Anthony holds the world record for solving the Rubik's Cube- less than seven seconds!

Since its mass-market introduction forty years ago, the "Cube" has befuddled and frustrated most of those that try to solve it.  Most of us have held a Cube in our hands, and surely not many of us solve it on our first attempt.  How long was it before you put it down and proclaimed defeat, never to pick it up again?  Or perhaps, not unlike people such as Anthony, you looked at the problem from different points of view, consulted an expert for insight, or did basic research on the internet for solutions.  In reality, we can all solve the Cube by following (and eventually memorizing if you want to solve it quickly) a set of algorithms.  For the "speedcubers" of the world, like Anthony, being able to solve the Cube quickly- and in some cases blindfolded- requires deliberate practice, focus, and an authentic interest in doing it.


The Rubik's Cube was the central focus of a recent science class activity at our school.  Two seventh grade students in Dr. Steneken's class were going to race each other; the winner being the first to solve a scrambled cube.  However, this competition was unusual in that one of the participants was not actually human, but a student-designed Lego robot.  I recall the winner solved the cube in less than thirty seconds- very impressive.  In my mind, it didn't matter if the winner was the student using his own hands, or the student who used a robot that he built. It was clear that both students had engaged in hours of preparation and practice to solve the problem.  I am sure they both encountered frustrations, obstacles and failure along the way.  Despite the difficulty, they persevered- and I assure you that for each of them this is only the beginning.  Through this process they have demonstrated to me, and to themselves, that they possess the grit that is required to achieve true academic success; that they know what it will take to solve all forms of puzzles and problems.

As a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Education myself, I am very familiar with the work of GSE graduate and professor, Angela Duckworth.  Having been an administrator in the middle school environment for the better part of a decade, I fully support her position that the ability to learn is not fixed, but that this can change with effort.  Having this "growth" mindset, allows for success in all endeavors- whether we are solving a forty year-old puzzle, building robots, or growing as learners and leaders.  Duckworth summarizes the importance of grit in this TED talk:

I believe that it is the role of  parents, teachers, administrators- to foster in our children the grittiness that Professor Duckworth references. We owe them this.  The best way to teach is to encourage and model.  So go find that cube, and give it another shot- you can do it, but you might fail (a lot) before you succeed.

Related Resources:

Solving The Cube

The Cube's 40th Anniversary Celebration in Times Square

New York Times Profile on the Resurgence of the Rubik's Cube

Liberty Science Center's Rubik's Cube Exhibit

Professor Duckworth's Study on Grit

An Interview with Professor Duckworth (Educational Leadership, 2013)



Doug Layman is entering his fourth year as principal of Sparta Middle School.  He was born and raised outside of Philadelphia, and he vividly remembers his days at Valley Forge Middle School.  Mr. Layman resides in Sparta and enjoys taking advantage of the many outdoor pursuits and activities that make Sparta a great place to work and live.  

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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