“And in examining their actions and their lives, it will be seen that they received nothing from Fortune but opportunity…and that without that opportunity the strength of their sprit would have been extinguished, and that without strength the opportunity would have come in vain” – The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli
I often find myself re-reading The Prince. Reading this quote, I stopped to think about my favorite class. A class where I felt challenged but not overwhelmed. A class where it all just worked for me. That class for me was Algebra I in 8th grade.
In class, we got our first tests back and the teacher began to go on and on about how horrible the grades were. My fellow students faces were dismayed (as we were in an advanced math class where parents cry when their children bring home papers with Cs, Ds and Fs). I on the other hand was surprised to find out that I had done well. (I was not in ACE program for gifted students like most of my classmates nor was I invited to join the Academic Challenge team, in short I was not supposed to be the smart kid in the room.) My teacher decided that we would repeat all of the material until the students started to get it.
After class, she gave me a few options, I could repeat the work with the class, I could just work ahead of the class and ask her questions while I waited for the bus (there were 30 minutes between when the first bus dismissal and the second dismissal I was on) or I could combine what we were doing in science and in math and build experiments (she had a book that outlined some ideas). I decided to just read ahead. (I was terrified, math, science and experiments all at the same time I was sure that I would fail.)
Well by the time the students had re-covered the material, I had covered all of the topics for that half of the year and started building experiments. I did experiments and asked questions. During that term I was a scientist and a mathematician. I worked at my desk during class in the beginning, then a re-purposed a small table in the class for my experiments. I lived for the 30 minutes between first bus dismissal and second bus dismissal, I lived for the freedom to ask questions without boundaries. Questions that would never pass in the normal class, “If you only need as many equations as you have unknowns and you have 20 equations and 20 unknowns how do you solve it?” When the only method you can perform is scale and cancellation with pencil and paper when you get to 10, 20 or even 50 equations it seemed impossible. She cared enough to answer me even though that that doesn’t fall under the purview of algebra I. She introduced me to computer programming, more like TI-81 programming but there were no computers in classrooms back then. “If you use a temperature probe to measure a temperature how do you know it is the right temperature?”. She began to explain standards to me.
That opportunity changed my life. I am not sure what would have changed if math, science and experiments were never married in that 8th grade classroom. I probably wouldn’t have competed on a national computer programming team in high school. I definitely wouldn’t have had the stones to ask to be put on Academic Challenge instead of being invited.
So, within these walls is a reference to any room where learning occurs. And one of the many places etched in my mind are the four walls of that eighth grade classroom.