Corona del Mar Today: Former Harbor View teacher creates Rubik's Cube curriculum

When Amber Baur taught at Harbor View Elementary School, Rubik's Cubes were a daily part of classroom activities.

"Children like their fingers and hands moving," she said. "So I said, 'You are more than welcome to keep your hands moving during lessons, as long as it's with a Rubik's Cube.' My whole class was doing it."

And if you're going to play with the brightly colored cube puzzle, why not solve it — and if you're going to solve it, why not learn math and algebra skills at the same time?

Baur, who left Harbor View two years ago after budget cuts led to teacher layoffs, has written a 354-page curriculum called "How to Solve the Rubik's Cube" that was officially launched in March.

Seven Towns Ltd., worldwide licensor of the Rubik's Cube, contracted with Baur to create the curriculum, which includes eight to 10 lessons with names like "Meeting the Cube" and "The Middle Layer."

Earlier this year, the California After School Resource Center approved the curriculum — one of just 68 math resources in the center's library. The curriculum also has been featured at the Los Angeles Unified School District's GATE conference and the California Assn. for the Gifted conference.

Baur said she grew up with Rubik's Cubes, which arrived in the United States in her birth year, and that she always appreciated the math concepts behind the solutions.

At Harbor View, she began to use Rubik's Cubes with members of the Math Team.

"I just wanted the Math Team to be working their brains all the time," she said. "Rubik's Cubes were good for problem solving, taking things step by step."

She soon bought a few Rubik's Cubes solution kits that included cubes for her regular classroom students along with a guide to solving the puzzle. By the end of the year, most of her students could solve the cube.

Baur, who is president of the Orange County Math Council, began to talk about adding a Rubik's Cube competition to that group's annual Math Field Day, and she began discussing other cube educational possibilities with a Seven Towns representative.

"Amber was always an excellent resource for questions I had regarding teaching," company representative Susan Seider wrote in an email. "We often discussed that the Solution Guide was an excellent resource but required significant work on the part of a teacher to be able to develop lessons plans to actually solve the cube as opposed to utilizing our free lessons that used the cube as a manipulative."

Seider said she presented the idea of a Rubik's Cube curriculum to Seven Towns management, and when they approved it, Baur was her first choice to write it.

"We both probably underestimated the complexity of the undertaking but are thrilled with the result," she said.

Baur spent about six months working on lesson plans, then writing a chapter at a time. The final curriculum comes with PowerPoint presentations, options for all levels including gifted students as well as vocabulary lessons and trivia.

"It's a series of algorithms," she said. "They're are different ways to solve it. I've known students who can create their own methods. But anyone can learn. It just takes patience."

The You Can Do the Rubik's Cube classroom kit with cubes and a solution guide — which Baur used years ago in her classroom — has been available since 2009 and is being used by more than 3,000 schools across the country, Seider said.

The new curriculum has just been launched but already appears to be a hit with educators, she said.

"We conducted a survey and received very positive feedback," she said, adding that one instructor called it a great classroom motivator.


Big Corona may go to metered parking

Parking at Big Corona State Beach could be changed from a staffed gate with daily fees of $15 to an hourly system that uses numbered spaces with pay stations, city officials said.

"It would be more automated," said Councilman Ed Selich at a recent board meeting of the Corona del Mar Business Improvement District. "I presume that you could go in and use the lot by the hour, or pay for a full day, in increments."

No changes are planned for this summer, said Tara Finnigan, a Newport Beach city spokeswoman.

"These are early days," she wrote in an email.

Staff is planning an operational audit and study of city lots, which has not yet begun, she said.


Book not closed on holiday hours

The Newport Beach Board of Library Trustees decided to wait a few months before deciding whether to keep at least one library branch open the week at Christmastime this year.

All Newport Beach libraries, along with City Hall, the OASIS Senior Center and other city facilities, began closing between Christmas and New Year's Day in 2009 in a budget-cutting move. But a few complaints from residents this year resulted in the trustees taking a closer look at the closures.

At Monday's board meeting at the Central Library, Melissa Kelly, the library's support services coordinator, said that operating the Central Library during the holiday break would cost $38,440 in staff time, as well as costs for utilities. A smaller branch like Mariners, she said, would cost about $10,000 in staff time. She also said that December is traditionally a slow time at all city library branches.

"We know that it's not a time that people spend a lot of time at libraries," she said, adding that family story time attendance was so slow in December that the library stopped offering the program.

Another consideration, City Manager Dave Kiff said, was offering a family-friendly workplace to employees.

"To me, it's nice to be able to have the workplace closed and be able to enjoy our families," Kiff said. "This is a way we don't have to worry about what's going on."

Kiff and Library Services Director Cynthia Cowell said they had few complaints about the closures from residents, but two residents attended the group's March meeting and one resident attended Monday's meeting to complain.

"Your role is not to reduce the budget but use it wisely," Jim Mosher said.

In the end, Cowell said it was probably too early for the trustees to make a decision because the City Council had not yet voted on whether to close city facilities this holiday season. She also said the timing of the completion of Civic Center work, which includes construction at the library, could affect library closure decisions.

Twitter: @coronadelmartdy

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