Creativity, Curriculum, and the Cube: Our Rubik's Cube Project

As the lead library media coordinator for my district, I not only work to support the efforts of our thirty-two school librarians, but I also advocate for our profession as the liaison to the county office. I generally work from a satellite office, but also make school visits and work with librarians as needed. Occasionally, there is a retirement during the middle of the year. To prevent staff moves during the year, the district often doesn't replace those positions until the summer. After the winter break, the principal called me and asked if I could come in to help reorganize the library at North Davidson High School. For the next couple of weeks I, with the help of the support staff, cleaned and freshened up the space. Teachers and students would breeze through to see the changes and I had the opportunity to answer questions, make book recommendations, and share resources.

One morning, I was sitting with a staff member, and we were looking into the Rubik's Cube lending program. We were perusing the website and browsing the mosaics. Our conversation attracted the attention of an Advanced Placement (AP) teacher passing through. The mosaic templates piqued her interest, and lucky for us one conversation led to another and we were able to collaborate.

Receiving the Kit

After brainstorming some ideas, we ordered a kit and it arrived about a week later. We didn't really have a hard and fast plan and the lending period was six weeks, so we waited until the kit arrived to see what was included. Inside the box were one hundred Rubik's Cubes along with a set of solution guides. Our excitement waned when the AP teacher learned there weren't ready-made lessons tying the cubes to the curriculum. Not wanting to waste this opportunity to model effective collaboration, I promised to do some research and get back to her.

Tying to Curriculum

Sure, building a mosaic with Rubik's Cubes is neat, but how is it relevant? We needed to make sure we were tying this activity to the curriculum, in this case, Nelson Mandela.

Rubik's Cubes are puzzles that need to be solved, so I was hoping to pair this activity with research questions to introduce some digital resources that hadn't really been used at this location. The lesson that resulted was a cross-curricular "breakout" experience, an introduction to new digital resources, and a stretch of students' critical thinking skills.

Building the Breakout

By now we've all either heard about or participated in escape rooms or the breakout box craze. Even though I have participated a few times in various breakout experiences during professional development, I had yet to try it out myself. Our department had purchased a few Breakout EDU kits but I was perfectly happy to let others lead the way on this venture. Although the boxes are a fun and engaging learning tool, for this project I opted to go for a digital version to keep things a little more subdued for my first attempt. But, this lesson idea could be converted to using actual locks pretty easily.

There were some helpful tutorials that helped me. For example, see Tom Mullaney's template and tutorial on YouTube:

It was a little bit of a learning curve, but once I got the hang of it the whole process took maybe an hour.

A Special Visitor

To begin, I told students I was a curator at the North Carolina Museum of History. I told them that I needed their help with a special project. I had the materials for a special display commemorating Nelson Mandela's one-hundredth birthday, but I had forgotten the combination to the vault! I needed their help to crack the code before the museum director got there. Students were instantly engaged!

On the wall I wrote the link for students to access the puzzle, which included instructions to find the answers using World Book Online (

World Book Online

Only a handful of these students had used World Book Online (WBO) before, so the first task was the crack the code for the username and password. Once in WBO, they had to research Mandela to answer the questions to unlock the "vault". Students in groups of two or three worked collaboratively to read, research, and solve the puzzles. Every student used a Chromebook to assist in the process.

Opening the Vault

Once the first group finished the digital breakout, we were able to unlock the "vault" (a cardboard box) and retrieve the materials. Each group (after breaking out) received a bag of seven to eight Rubik's Cubes with solutions. Each solution has a corresponding number for a row and column. Once all the cubes were solved, students were able to assemble the big picture.


  • The surprise factor made for a highly engaging and memorable learning experience.
  • The actual prep time for this activity was about one hour using a template from Google Sites.
  • I had to use my personal Gmail account to create the digital breakout, but students were able to access it without problems.
  • We originally allotted forty-five minutes for this lesson, but in reality, it took close to two class periods.
  • Not all the students were adept enough to solve the Rubik's Cubes. For some, this was their first time ever touching one. On the other hand, there were some who were real pros.
  • I did have to go back and clarify that students weren't allowed to Google the answers. But all were able to successfully navigate WBO intuitively. All students achieved some measure of success.
  • This is not a lesson to do more than once a year. It wasn't complicated, but I don't think you would have the "wow" factor if you did it multiple times.
  • The Rubik's Cube lending program is free, but you would need to clear paying return postage with your administration.
  • Some templates for mosaics are provided. There are directions on how to create your own, but this is time consuming.

Materials needed

Digital breakout template:

Set of Rubik's Cubes:

At least two color copies of the solutions:

Computers with Internet access

An online resource for accessing information to help solve the puzzle

About the Author

Sedley Abercrombie is the lead library media coordinator for Davidson County Schools, NC. She has worked as a school librarian in the elementary, middle and high school levels. She earned her batchelor's from the University of New Orleans and her master's in library science from East Carolina University.
Although she entered the profession mid-career, Abercrombie has always had an affinity for books and libraries. Her destiny may have been sealed as a fourth grader having created spine labels and a card catalog for her small personal library of paperbacks. She is currently serving as president for the North Carolina School Library Media Association. Abercrombie regularly presents on her work at various educational and school library conferences.

MLA Citation Abercrombie, Sedley. "Creativity, Curriculum, and the Cube: Our Rubik's Cube Project." School Library Connection, September 2018,

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Entry ID: 2148475

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