Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Properties of Gases

Way, way back when I went to secondary school there was no such thing as NCEA. In the fifth form you sat School Certificate, and no amount of pandering to the egos of teachers and decorating your assignments with colourful borders made a jot of difference to your final examination outcome. It was all externally assessed by one exam for each subject. Modesty obviously precludes me from mentioning my five staggeringly brilliant pass rates for Maths, Geography, English, Biology and Chemistry, but I do have to admit that there was a sixth subject in which I did not score well or indeed pass at all - Physics. Despite this lopsided acquisition of scientific knowledge, I have stumbled on successfully through life and have always liked the science questions best in Trivial Pursuit and quiz competitions.

Going for a green slice of pie!
And so it is I know a little about states of matter and properties of gases. There are four main properties of gases, but today we will illuminate the one of which I often think about in relation to my occupation. The first of the gas laws states that a gas expands spontaneously to fill its container - the volume of gas is equal to that of the container in which it is held. This is equally true of time and teaching. Think of time as the container and teaching, and all its associated tasks, as the gas. Basically, teaching has the capacity to take up as much time as is available to it. And like gas it escapes easily into other containers, so time you think you are spending elsewhere, mentally or physically, often is infiltrated by school. You're lying in a bubble bath, but in your head you are reorganising class seating. You are on a pleasant walk, but you are mulling over your planning approach for writing rather than admiring the view. You're online, but checking out ideas for introducing place value concepts to five year olds and ordering special pencils from the USA to correct the crazy pencil grips children arrive at school with. You are browsing in a book shop but you are drawn to the children's books and cool dinosaur stickers. You meet friends for coffee, but as most friends have been acquired via various schools, the talk inevitably turns to something teaching related. 

Tangible token time - financed by you know who!
And this, all in all, is quite fine. But when the "What did you do in the holidays?" question arises, although I can say this ...

 ... and this ...
 ... and this ...

... and lots of this ...

... accompanied by lots of good friends and good food, there was also a lot of school. Quite apart from the days spent on site, a lot of time and headspace went into school related tasks - because school is like a sneaky gas, streaming into any space it can find the teeniest of nooks through which to enter. The only way to hold it completely at bay is to do something so totally absorbing, rewarding and distracting that it is defeated at every turn. And so it is that next holiday break I am making myself as unavailable, physically and mentally, as is possible within the contraints of my financial resources. And when I am asked about my holiday activities I will be able to say this ...

... though I can't help but think there could be some really cool stickers there, and those pencils are bound to be cheaper ...


  1. Wow! I mean did you really pass SC chemistry!

    1. Yes, I really liked memorising chemical names and balancing chemical equations .... I'm very good at rote leaning facts long enough to spit them out in exams!

  2. Shelley and I say The Grand Budapest Hotel today. Great stuff!

  3. Have you been to New York Rich?

  4. The Grand Hotel Budapest was really fun. Saw it in the Lighthouse, Petone with my beloved.

    Also agree about the school gaseous component, it fills everywhere, but it is also like gas in another way. If you try and compress it to the absolute minimum, it explodes with a frightening violence.

  5. Well written. I like the analogy but at first I was thinking that you were referring to the expanding gases that emanate from a classroom of trapped children.

  6. Or a staff room of trapped teachers?