Fifth-grader Mark is a troubled kid who feels lonely in a new school and abandoned by his parents. The new school is too easy for him because he has attended fancy prep schools. He gets science teacher Mr. Maxwell's attention by giving away the ending to a science demonstration about the Hindenburg.
In chapter 6, Mark does not seem interested in school at all. He has already learned everything they are teaching, and shows up the science teacher by telling the class what will happen in the chemistry demonstration.
Mr. Maxwell believes that Mark is a slacker. He “wanted to put on a good show” to keep the kids motivated (p. 36). Since he thinks Mark is a “spoiled rich kid” he wants him to sit up and take notice. Mr. Maxwell has noticed that Mark seems sad. In chapter 6, he has not made any friends even though he has been at the school for two weeks.
Mr. Maxwell sees Mark as a challenge, because he thinks it is Mark’s fault he has not made friends. He thinks Mark is “keeping himself cut off on purpose” (p. 36). Mr. Maxwell dramatically puts on a lab coat and begins describing the Hindenburg, impressed that Mark does not have his head down (even though he is looking out the window). Mark is still the only kid who is not watching.
Trying to get him involved, Mr. Maxwell pushes Mark to engage in the demonstration. Mark gives away the ending, and Mr. Maxwell is furious.
It was so clear Mark had done it on purpose. He had given away all the secrets and ruined the big finish of the Friday show. (p. 42)
Mr. Maxwell begins to interrogate Mark, asking him if he remembers anything else about the Hindenburg explosion, but Mark shuts down.
Interestingly enough, this incident is one of the building blocks in Maxwell and Mark’s relationship. When Mr. Maxwell pushes, Mark pushes back. But Mr. Maxwell does engage him.