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Boiling Point
by Mike Hickman



For this month’s lesson observation, Graeme had chosen, he thought, the perfect demonstration of the scientific principles involved in boiling. For starters, there was the choice of container. He had sourced a variety of his most robust pans from home. The ones most suited to being seen by the children. The ones he had washed recently, without the layers of burnt pasta spot-welded to their bases. The ones that hadn’t been used the whole time he’d been in this job because four or five hours of marking and prep a night tended to encourage a shirt-button bursting reliance on takeaways.

Heat sources he had aplenty, having borrowed a stove from Maurice, the caretaker, along with a microwave from the staffroom that was only ever used for Thelma’s occasional Pot Noodles. The kettle was a cheap model from Tesco, purchased for the occasion. For some reason, Graeme hadn’t got round to buying a kettle for home. The Americans, he told the class, tended not to have electric kettles; tended to call the stove-top variety “tea kettles”, which gave the game away as to why they weren’t so taken with them. “They’re just not so into tea as we are,” he told the class, waiting for someone to contradict him, and wondering if he’d be marked down for making such a sweeping generalisation. But Mr Unwin, the headmaster, sitting there in the corner with his clipboard, didn’t so much as look up. Or wonder what his reason was for not having the time to make tea.

Graeme heard Mr Unwin’s stopwatch click as, wringing with sweat from the chalk and talk, he launched himself into the next section of the lesson. The “get the kids to do something” bit of the lesson. It was always important to get the kids to do something. So Graeme was going to get them to boil water, after spending his Sunday evening carrying out the risk assessment and making sure to check with Susan, the science coordinator, that this was even close to being acceptable in a classroom situation

He was going to get each one of his science teams to use different heat sources, different containers, different volumes of water, to investigate (ah, now there was a word Mr Unwin would like) how long it took for the water to come to a boil. After making predictions first, of course, like proper scientists being taught by a proper teacher. And, yes, he’d raided Peter’s drama dressing up box for a few lab coats to go with the goggles that the kids were wearing. Mr Unwin had the risk assessment, too, and he had scrutinised it at some length even before sitting down.

It would be the perfect demonstration of the principles involved.

One litre of water would take a good eight to ten minutes to boil on the stove, or so said Dr Google. An electric kettle would take four to five minutes. And all of this the children could discover for themselves. With the help of the army of parents Graeme had called in because of the assessed risk. They would learn by discovery. Now, how good was that from a raddled, frazzled, sleep-deprived teacher wearing a shirt that had been rescued from the bottom of the linen bin and subjected to a not-so-light Febrezing five minutes before leaving the house this morning? All in order to look even slightly presentable in front of his headteacher for the umpteenth observation of the year.

Not good, as it turned out.

Not good at all.

Outstanding, Mr Unwin said. A properly practical science lesson with the children finding out subject content for themselves.

Well done, Mr Unwin said, as the steam began to clear, and as Graeme threw open the classroom patio doors so the children could file out to play. Let off their own steam.

As they could.

You must be pleased, Mr Unwin said, as Graeme loosened his tie as much as the school’s dress code would permit and began to regret that, whilst he had sprayed the Febreze to disguise the stale linen bin reek, he had neglected to remember the deodorant that morning.

Oh, he was pleased, Graeme told him, before they moved on to the date for next month’s lesson observation. And the next. All the way through to the end of the summer term and the hint of summer holiday freedom before the colon-churning prospect of another academic year to come.

He had proved a few things about boiling points, Graeme told him.

But, it seemed, not quite enough.



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