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Returning to learning

We ask students to do it every day, but when was the last time you ventured out of your comfort zone to learn something new? After commenting to a colleague that she could never solve a Rubik’s Cube, Teacher magazine editor Jo Earp took on the challenge of learning how to crack the puzzle in one week. Here, she reflects on the experience.

On Thursday, 30 March 2017 at 9.21pm AEDT I successfully solved a Rubik’s Cube for the first time. As an educator, it’s interesting to reflect on how you feel when you challenge yourself to learn a new skill; the highs and lows that boost and hamper your progress, the help and support you received. And if this is how we feel as adults (with more experience, tools and strategies under our belts), what’s it like for school-aged students?

The challenge

After telling a colleague I could never learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube he pointed out I was demonstrating a ‘fixed’ rather than ‘growth’ mindset and pledged to teach me in less than a week. This is how:

  • Breaking the task into small chunks (think rows and faces), taught in 20 to 30 minute blocks on three consecutive days;

  • On day one I’d practice at lunch with my teacher, then for five minutes every hour (with regular teacher check-ins), and at home on my own;

  • On days two and three I’d practice at lunch with my teacher and at home; and,

  • On day four I’d demonstrate my new skill in front of colleagues.

What did I learn?

The moment I completed the final turn to solve the cube was my personal high in this learning task. The low point was about 90 minutes earlier when I thought it was never going to happen. One of the things that kept me going was a reminder from my teacher earlier that day that it’s natural to have plateaus and dips when you’re learning something new. Encouragement and constructive feedback also made a big difference. Here are some more reflections:

  • I didn’t always understand what was happening. For some of the steps I just recognised a pattern and repeated an algorithm I’d memorised. Having a deeper understanding in the future would take my learning to a new level.

  • I had the freedom to put my own spin on the way I solved the stages and may have found it harder had I been made to stick to my teacher’s exact approach.

  • It was very easy to forget an instruction or explanation. As an adult, I had the confidence to stop and ask for a recap. Some students keep quiet and if they do say something they don’t always get a positive response from their teacher.

  • On day one, my teacher made regular check-ins so I could ask questions and check my understanding. What if students don’t understand the task you’ve set them for independent work? Will they have the confidence to ask for more information or support?

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Teacher magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian Council for Educational Research. To read the full article and to read more articles like this visit www.teachermagazine.com.au.