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The Science of Magic is a series of easy to do magic tricks made available for the purpose of teaching students about how to apply the scientific method in, what I hope will be, a fun and informative way.
Magicians are always asked, “how did you do that?” and, as it happens, we have a perfectly good tool available to help us answer that question. And, of course, any other questions we have about the world around us.
The concept is simple: perform a magic trick for your students, and then challenge them to figure out how it was done. In the process they will learn about and/or apply the scientific method.
They will observe the magic trick and then form hypotheses about how they believe it works. It’s not enough for them to think they know the solution; they’ll have to design experiments to test the validity of their hypotheses then present their results, positive or negative, to their peers. Since magic tricks can be complex, a single experiment will rarely be enough to completely reveal the secret. The students will have to refine their knowledge and repeat the steps while building on their own work, and that of their peers, to continue narrowing in on the correct answer. Along the way they may even discover or invent new techniques or even create whole new magic tricks based on the knowledge base that they have been building.
When I first started thinking about this series I was imagining classes divided up into groups, each group working on their own hypotheses and experiments. The teacher would be available to repeat the effect if requested, possibly under differing experimental conditions, or to provide materials so the students could try things out for themselves. I imagined students designing experiments, analyzing data, and presenting their findings to the class as a sort of peer review system. As this series expands, there will be tricks which have many elements in common; I imagined that the work of one group on one trick could help another group, working on a completely different trick. This series is created with this process in mind.
An equally valid approach, however, might be to simply say, “let’s talk about the scientific method,” and then perform a trick. Afterwards, you ask your students, “so how do you think it was done? How would you go about finding out?” This then leads into a class discussion or brainstorming session about how the trick works, and how we are able to know and discover new things generally.
How exactly you use these tricks is entirely up to you. I’m simply making them available in the hope that they might be useful.