- This is Poly
Zach Udin ‘24 was like Indiana Jones searching through the British Museum for a cuneiform tablet that held the answer to a question on an Ira Feldman History of Math exam.
Did you know? Cuneiform was a writing form [alpha and numeric] from Mesopotamia – what is now modern day Iraq – from 8000-2000 BC.
Three weeks ago, Feldman gave students a test in which question 5 required them to decipher cuneiform writing to figure out three numbers written using these cuneiform symbols. Feldman told the students this question was based on an archeological find, Tablet 128.56800 in the British Museum.
When Udin came to Feldman a week later with a photo of himself at the British Museum in front of cuneiform tablets, Feldman was skeptical. After 52 years as a teacher, he thought this was a great prank, but Udin told him no, he had actually been in London that past weekend and asked his dad if they could go to the British Museum.
Feldman said he was “stunned” and asked Udin, “Seriously, when were you there? Is this a joke? Really? This is the coolest prank ever!”
Zach replied, “No prank. I was in London on Friday, so I asked my father to take me to the British Museum to see it.”
Andrew Udin P’24, ‘27, Zach’s dad, confirmed the story. “He was so excited to search the British Museum for cuneiform tablets and once we found a few, he was a man on a mission to search for different varieties,” Mr. Udin said. “He became increasingly interested in learning more and taught me a few things for sure. It was one of the highlights of our trip.”
Zach explained further, “I had planned to go to London with my dad to watch the Jets football game. However, this was a multi-day trip so we needed to think of activities to do from Friday until Sunday. A day before I left, I remembered that Mr. Feldman talked about a tablet only found in the British Museum! I was so excited about the prospect of going to the museum to search for the tablet so I told my dad and we went to the museum.”
“As teachers, we all tell our students that exams should be learning experiences… Zach’s journey to the British Museum, his quest to see firsthand the basis for my exam question, to view the actual cuneiform tablet, and to decode it himself was truly the highlight of my day.”
“We could have looked for a map to reference,” Zach said, “but instead, we went on our own quest to find the tablet. We spent around an hour looking for it and we almost gave up. Almost every floor had some sort of Rosetta Stone tablet, which at first glance looks just like the cuneiform tablet we were looking for, so we were constantly hopeful and then let down when we realized it wasn’t the right one. After a while of searching, we finally found what we were looking for!”
“This whole adventure I took with my dad was definitely worth it and it was great to see something I was learning in class with my own eyes.”
“From taking Mr. Feldman’s History of Math class and getting to know him better, I knew that as soon as I showed him the tablet I found, he would be thrilled, which made me even more determined to find this ancient relic. I guess in a way it was similar to an Indiana Jones quest because we were searching for an ancient tablet, just like in the movie. When I finally showed Mr. Feldman what I had found, I was extremely excited to see his reaction. At first he thought I was tricking him, but I showed him all of the pictures I took and finally he realized that I was serious. This whole adventure I took with my dad was definitely worth it and it was great to see something I was learning in class with my own eyes.”
Feldman shared his delight in Zach’s curiosity and love of learning. “As teachers,” Feldman said, “we all tell our students that exams should be learning experiences. Yet as we know, most students don’t view exams in such a favorable light. Zach’s journey to the British Museum, his quest to see firsthand the basis for my exam question, to view the actual cuneiform tablet, and to decode it himself was truly the highlight of my day. Any teacher would understand that as a kind of ‘Cloud 9’ experience. In a small yet meaningful way it was like taking part in Zach’s very own Indiana Jones movie.”