16 Salutes: Cracking the Rubik’s Cube

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You may have had a Rubik's Cube when you were younger.

But have you ever solved it? And we don't mean by cheating and moving the stickers around.

The Rubik's Cube is the inspiration for this week's 16 Salutes.

We're saluting a teacher and his students in Luzerne County who are out to show people that the Cube is much more than a toy.

Jimm Zabiegalski likes to keep his math and science students at Fairview Elementary School in Mountain Top engaged with interactive activities.

But this school year, Mr. Zabiegalski - or Mr. Z for short - started incorporating a new tool: the Rubik's Cube.

"It seemed impossible before so it makes me feel good that I can do something like this," said fourth grader Faith Brandt.

To solve the Rubik's Cube, one must match all nine colored pieces on each of the six sides.

It can be an infuriating device, especially if you don't know the math behind it.

"They knew up, they knew down, they knew left and right," Zabiegalski explained. "But now we put new words on it. Inverse, counterclockwise, clockwise. Algorithm. And in order to solve it they had to try it."

Mr. Zabiegalski, who couldn't solve the cube before this school year, taught the students algorithms.

That is, patterns of movements that will put each piece in its correct position.

Fourth grader Hillary Blazick says the hardest part about solving the Rubik's Cube is, "Remembering all the algorithms and to not mess them up."

So they learn them, and memorize them.

Mr. Zabiegalski now has more than twenty students who can solve the Cube.

He says he never thought he'd have this many students who can crack it.

"Absolutely not," said Zabiegalski. "I sat at home and I tried to picture this in the classroom and how many people would want to do it and I thought two or three."

Once students began solving it, things got pretty competitive with time trials!

On the day of our visit, the winner solved the Rubik's Cube in one minute and 22 seconds.

The class record so far? Just over a minute.

Fourth grader Nick Curry says he loves solving the Cube. "It felt so good because I've always just spun it and never knew what to do. Once you've finally done it you go, 'Ha! I beat you!'"

Mr. Zabiegalski said the best part about the Rubik's Cube is how it becomes a symbol for other challenges in life that may seem impossible to figure out.

"They'll run into very complicated problems, looks very complex, not unlike this cube," said Zabiegalski. "What do we do about natural resources? How do we use them effectively? How to we operate our business with less money or more safely?"

And so Newswatch 16 salutes Mr. Zabiegalski and his Rubik's Cube cracking fourth graders, who show us many of life's problems are merely puzzles waiting to be solved.

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