Mass. teacher uses Rubik's Cube to teach math
Mar. 30, 2014
LAKEVILLE, Mass. (AP) — Whenever possible, Nate Eleuterio likes to make his math classes at Freetown-Lakeville Middle School fun.
The teacher promised to give extra credit to the student who could correctly list the most digits in Pi, the never-ending number that represents the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. He planned the challenge for March 14, since the beginning of that date is 3.14 ... same as Pi.
To teach his students how to follow a series of steps to solve an equation, also known as an algorithm, Eleuterio has taught his students how to master a Rubik's Cube. He came up with the concept for incorporating Rubik's Cubes into his curriculum when he took a class called Math Explorations. His instructor used origami and 3-D puzzles to teach various math concepts.
"There's only so much you can do (with math)," said Eleuterio. "Some concepts are boring. Anytime you can throw in something the kids like it's always a plus."
Eleuterio's students have really gotten hooked on the Rubik's Cube, which soared to popularity in the U.S. in the early 1980's. After they complete an assignment, students can select from a wide-range of cubes in Eleuterio's classroom to practice with. The standard 3x3 cube has nine pieces on each of its six sides. A smaller 2x2 cube has four pieces per side. There are larger, 12-sided cubes and those with a hollowed out middle.
"When they start getting into perimeter, area, volume, I do a lot of demonstrations," said Eleuterio. "It promotes algorithms, which involves using certain sequences to solve something. It helps with problem solving, perseverance. It's challenging. When they go into geometry it appeals to them more."
Eleuterio said he has gotten funny "complaints" from parents about the incessant "clicking" noise made from turning the pieces while the children practice with their cubes at home. The hard work has paid off as his students have gotten quite adept at solving the 3-D puzzles.
Seventh-grader Mike Cody currently owns the record for the 3x3 cube, solving it in 37.4 seconds. He can finish a 2x2 cube in about 10 seconds. He said he is proud to be able to solve a puzzle that only one percent of Americans can complete.
"When I started it took me 10 minutes to do," said Mike. "I practice a lot and have gotten faster. There's a conventional way to do it, then there's shortcuts and tricks."
In his four years teaching, Eleuterio estimates that he has taught 75 students how to solve the Rubik's Cube. He takes a group of students to regional You Can Do the Rubik's Cube tournaments where the Freetown-Lakeville contingent routinely takes home the top prize. And yes, the pupils have surpassed their teacher. Eleuterio said just about all his students can solve the puzzle faster than he can.
Seventh-grader Austin Medeiros said solving the cube has turned into a friendly rivalry among his classmates. Everyone wants to be fastest and there is a sense of accomplishment when you become more skilled at it, he said.
"Even if you get a new time, you can keep getting better at it," said Austin.
As a result of the Rubik's Cube frenzy, Eleuterio decided to start a district-wide tournament. Students from Apponequet Regional High School, Freetown-Lakeville Middle School, George R. Austin Intermediate School and Freetown and Assawompset Elementary Schools will participate in the inaugural Rubik's Cube Challenge.
Teams of four will compete to see who can solve 15 cubes the fastest. There will also be solo challenges with the 3x3 and 2x2 cubes. The event is sponsored by the Freetown-Lakeville PTO and prizes and trophies will be awarded to the top three in each event. The tournament will take place on May 31 in the Middle School Gymnasium from 9 a.m. to noon.
Eleuterio said there has already been a strong response and he anticipates making the tournament an annual event. Anytime you can have students volunteer to come to school on a Saturday, apply what they've learned in math class and have fun doing it, Eleuterio said he considers that to be a success.