I sit here in Omaha, Nebraska at the College of St. Mary as I write this and marvel at the passion and skill of those around me. Ranging in age from 6 -30, participants in the St. Mary’s Scramble are competing against themselves and each other in a puzzle competition where they solve the a wide variety of Rubix Cubes. My experience with cubes is long and storied. Basically, in my younger days, I had cubes that, in order for me to solve, required popping them apart and manually arranging the pieces to “solve” it. I may have solved it once or twice accidentally or with the help of a step by step book that my father had bought because he wasn’t satisfied with breaking them open to solve them.
About six months ago I found out that the cube has made a comeback with kids. Truly, I had no idea. My son came home from school one day talking about them and he’s never looked back. Today he is the proud owner of about 20 different cubes which brings the constant click of plastic as he solves and resolves cube after cube. He talks of algorithms, times and his “mains” (referring to the cubes that he prefers). He can solve a 3×3 cube in less than a minute regardless of how messed up it is and his understanding of how they work is broad and complex.
So here I sit at my first (his second) cubing competition. We drove 6 hours to get her and he couldn’t be happier. But what I’m noticing is equally amazing to me. The cubing community is like so many others. People coming together around something that they enjoy, are excited about, and want to connect with others on. Cubes are being traded, discussed and examined. One guy that we met has a few models for a 3D printed cube that Max and I will try out once we get home. Overall, it’s neat to see people come together and learn from each other in this kind of a venue. They’re connecting with each other, celebrating successes, and providing tips on how to get better. It’s really very cool.
I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s this what I do as an educator? I attend conferences, PD events and connect with others online and in person on a daily basis. But to watch my 12 year old do it is somehow different for me. It’s exciting to watch him in this venue and see his sense of independence and self-confidence in his conversations and interactions. He’s learning with every conversation.
I’m sure this won’t be my last competition and maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn to solve one of these without disassembling it. I guess we’ll see. What this has reminded me is that everyone has their “thing”, their tribe, their group where they can connect. Those groups influence and help to mold us. They teach us what’s possible and expose us to new ideas. As I look back on the day, it was worth the trip.