Ally says that their assignment was to bring in something that represents them and to tell the class about it. Ally considered bringing a can of dirt or a bag of nothing. Shay goes first and talks about her horse. Jessica shows the class a picture of Shay, and Oliver brings a light bulb. As he bounces, he excitedly explains that his dad is a lamp salesman and when he grows up, he wants to sell hangers—everyone needs hangers. Mr. Daniels tells Oliver he's clever, which Ally thinks Oliver probably hasn't heard before. Oliver falls into his chair and cheers for himself.
Again, Ally's ideas for what to bring show that she doesn't think well of herself at all—and keep in mind that this is mostly because Ally doesn't hear from her teachers that she's smart or valuable. When Mr. Daniels praises Oliver and Ally thinks this is a new thing for Oliver, it suggests that she and Oliver may have more in common than Ally realizes.
Albert gets up, covered in bruises and wearing a shirt with "Flint" on it, as he does every day. He pulls out a jar of clear liquid, which he says is a mixture of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, and drinks it. Shay whispers meanly with Jessica, and Ally explains that Shay has gotten sneakier about being mean since Mr. Daniels took away her recess for making fun of Oliver. Albert explains that he drank water—the exact water was around when there were dinosaurs. He then shocks the class by saying it came from his kitchen. He says that as a scientist and a historian, it's important to understand that humans are insignificant in the grand scheme of the world. Kids groan, but Mr. Daniels makes them stop.
Shay's desire to continue to bully others is a clue that her popularity doesn't come from actually being liked and popular; it comes from making others fear her. When Ally notes that Mr. Daniels is taking a hard line against her bullying, it shows how a teacher can both be trying to do the right thing and still fail at doing it effectively. However, it's telling that Mr. Daniels calls kids out on their rude behavior publically, as it shows that he values kindness.
Keisha goes next and takes out a homemade cupcake. Shay whispers that the cupcake isn't decorated, and cupcakes aren't that cool, but Mr. Daniels tells her to be constructive. Smiling, Keisha cuts her cupcake in half to reveal the word "yum" on the inside. Suki, who seldom speaks, asks how Keisha did it, and Keisha explains that she stands dough letters up in the cupcake batter. Oliver asks if she licks the spoon and begins to talk about how his mom doesn't want him to have too much sugar, but he stops when Mr. Daniels says Oliver's name and pulls on his own ear.
Notice that, aside from Shay's snide comments, the kids who respond to Keisha are ones who were previously silent or undervalued. This suggests that even if Mr. Daniels's attempts to curb Shay's meanness aren't entirely effective, the tenor of the class is starting to change to become more open, accepting, and kind.
Keisha says she's going to call her baking business "Hidden Messages," and Mr. Daniels says the possibilities are infinite. At this, Albert raises his hand and explains why the possibilities aren't actually infinite, as Keisha would eventually run out of letter combinations. Mr. Daniels says that Albert is right from a mathematical standpoint, but it's impossible to measure how hard Keisha will work or her creativity. Albert insists that the measurable parts are the most important, and Mr. Daniels happily says they'll need to agree to disagree.
By not shutting Albert down immediately, Mr. Daniels is able to show Albert that his opinion (and the brains it takes to get to his opinion) are valid and valuable. Through making room for these differing opinions, Mr. Daniels can tell his students that he values how different they all are and how differently they think about the problems before them.
Suki goes next and passes out a paper bag to each of her classmates. They contain two Japanese foods that she says might be spicy. Max, Keisha, and Jessica run to the sink for water after eating the wasabi pea, while Albert says with a pained look that it's good. Oliver eats his with no reaction and starts to talk about his parents saying he has no taste buds but stops when Mr. Daniels pulls on his earlobe. Ally wonders how hard it is to learn a second language as Suki explains that she used to share these foods with her grandfather in Japan. She says her grandfather carved her wooden blocks and explains that the crackers are made of shrimp and fish bones. When Shay imperiously says that her family prefers lobster, Albert says that lobster used to be served only to peasants and slaves.
Though it's unclear whether or not Albert realizes that he's actually standing up for Suki (or if he just wants to share what he knows), pointing out that lobster used to be a meal reserved for the poor illustrates how the environment that Mr. Daniels is creating makes it acceptable and encouraged to stand up for others like this. By allowing Albert to make this statement, Mr. Daniels can again show Albert that he values his opinions, while also allow his students to do some of the work of policing each other's tone and intent.
Ally is next. She initially pretends she forgot to bring something and says she can't even talk about a pet, since Mom is allergic. Mr. Daniels encourages her to share anything. Finally, Ally pulls a 1943 steel penny out of her pocket. She explains that Dad gave both her and Travis steel pennies when he was deployed, and says the pennies are steel because the government needed copper to make ammunition during World War Two. Mr. Daniels praises Ally for sharing. Ally thinks about how Dad always told her that the steel pennies should be reminders of her uniqueness and that things will go back to normal. She notices Mr. Daniels giving Oliver a thumbs-up and thinks their secret signal is cool. Ally thinks that Mr. Daniels is excited that his students are different.
The signal that Mr. Daniels has with Oliver could suggest that Oliver has a formal intervention plan for a behavior issue. This indicates that it's possible for students like Oliver and Ally, who require different modes of instruction to effectively learn, to be successful in school—if they (or their parents) can ask for help.