StarTeaching Feature Writer

Michael Kett, a physical therapist for more than 25 years, is an educator, motivator, and author. His two published books, Applied Magic and Houdini in the Classroom, explore two unique magic applications.Be sure to check out Michael's website, Houdini in the Classroom

http://www.teacher-magic.com

Past Articles from Michael:

The Untold Secret to Creating a Fun Learning Environment
Peanut Butter and Jelly vs. Magic
Using Magic to Develop Public Speaking Skills and Creative Thinking

The Untold Secret to Creating a Fun Learning Environment

By Michael Kett

Most teachers, including parents who home school their children, are always looking for new techniques to make learning more exciting for both them and their students. If you think back to the teachers you had in school, you probably remember the teachers that made learning fun. What if I told you that there is an easy, fun, and unique magic application that can improve writing skills, verbal communication, and motor abilities, as well as create memory hooks for key curriculum topics? Well, there is…

I know what you are thinking: "But I’m a teacher, not a magician". Being a teacher is what will make this teaching tool successful for you. The magic effects taught in the book, Houdini in the Classroom, are NOT difficult, although they will require minimal practice. The real magic happens when you blend your teaching experience with magic and you see first hand the powerful learning effect this has on your students. Why Harry Houdini? Harry Houdini is still the most famous magician of all time, even though he died in 1926. He captivated his audience’s attention and was a terrific showman and self- promoter. These “Houdini-like” attributes combined with basic magic effects can be applied to the classroom to create a fun and exciting learning environment, regardless of the curriculum and grade level.

I remember my son having a school assignment to write out the directions to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was a technique to develop descriptive and clear writing abilities. It is a common teaching tool, but what if the teacher taught a simple but amazing magic trick to the class and then had the students write the directions to the trick?

Not only would it be more fun than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but it could be combined with developing the motor skills to perform the trick. Plus, what about having the students write a story to accompany the trick? And then tell the story while performing the trick to develop public
speaking skills? What a fun and multifaceted learning activity! The same idea can be used as a behavior modification technique. What child doesn’t love magic? Especially, when they know the secret and can fool their family and friends? Why not offer to teach the class a cool magic trick at the end of the week, if certain goals are accomplished during the week?

I guarantee that any teacher that performs magic as part of the teaching process will have the students sitting on the edge of their seats to see and hear what the teacher does next. Magic is the ultimate attention getter!

Easy magic tricks can be integrated into any lesson plan regardless of subject or grade. You can pick up any beginner magic book at the library but you it will take trial and error to know what tricks are appropriate and how to blend them into your lesson plans. Or you can allow me to help you. I’ve done all the work for you in my book, Houdini In The Classroom. You can become the Houdini In The Classroom at your school!


Peanut Butter and Jelly vs. Magic

By Michael Kett

I remember when my son was in second or third grade that he had to write the directions to making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The goal was for him to write clearly and specifically enough that his parents could follow the directions. It is a good exercise to develop writing skills.

But what if you could develop a child’s writing skills while also improving his/her motor skills and verbal communication, not to mention self-confidence? How?

Substitute the peanut butter and jelly sandwich with an age-appropriate magic trick. The teacher can perform and teach the trick to the class and then have the students write the directions to the trick and take it home to have their parents try and perform the trick based on the clarity of the written instructions. This way the child is developing motor skills by performing the trick and using verbal communication to present the trick.

The key is using appropriate magic tricks based on the child’s age and motor ability. You can look through any beginner magic book for a suitable trick or use one of the tricks that follow:

SUPER STRENGTH (for ages 6-8 years old)
What the students see: A student rubs his hands together to create a “static charge.” He then places his right hand palm down on top of his head. Another student is invited to try to lift the performer’s hand off his head but is unable to do so.
Props/Special Preparation:  None.
Routine: There really is no secret to this effect. The performer has a significant strength advantage in this position. No matter how hard the other student tries, he is unable to lift the performer’s hand off his head. 
Additional Tips: Make sure the instructions are to lift the performer’s hand straight up at the wrist. This effect is more amazing if you have a smaller student place his hand on his head and have a larger and stronger student attempt to lift the hand off the smaller student’s head.

 

STRING THROUGH NECK (8-10 years old)
What The Students See: The performer places a loop of string at the back of his neck. With a quick pull, the string penetrates his neck.
Props/Special Preparation: A piece of string or yarn 24 inches long and tied into a loop.
Routine: — Place the loop around both thumbs.
— Put the loop around the back of your neck holding the loop in front of your neck by each thumb.
— As you talk, secretly slide your right index finger into the loop around the opposite thumb. Keep hold of the string in your right index finger.
— Release the right thumb from the loop as you quickly separate your hands. You will end up with the string around your left thumb and right index finger. The loop will go around your neck, but it will happen so quickly that it will look as if it penetrates your neck.
Additional Tips: Start practicing this effect in slow motion before you attempt it at full speed. Practice this in front of a mirror until it looks perfect. A cough or gagging sound will add to the effect as you pull the string through your neck.

For other ideas how to use magic to improve motor skills, self-esteem, and create memory hooks for key curriculum topics, visit www.houdiniintheclassroom.com

 

Using Magic to Develop Public Speaking Skills 
and Creative Thinking

By Michael Kett

It is common knowledge that adults fear public speaking more than dying. Speaking in front of a crowd can definitely be intimidating. The use of magic can help to lessen the fear of public speaking.

Presenting a magic effect is often less frightening than presenting a speech. Performing a magic effect to only one other person or a small group is a great introduction to public speaking. Once a student is comfortable performing in front of his class, why not have him perform his magic in front of a group that would be very receptive to magic (kindergarten, first or second grade)?

Pairing up students and having one student teach the other a new magic effect is another technique to improve communication skills, especially if the teacher has previously instructed the students to use a detailed step-by-step approach in teaching the magic effect.

Myths regarding creative thinking need to be discussed with students. Students need to be told that creative thinking is not a function of intelligence. Research shows that only a small percentage of highly creative children have high IQ scores. Creative thinking is also not limited only to artists, musicians and writers. Creative thinking is necessary in all careers and occupations.

Magic can be used to develop creative thinking in a number of ways. The teacher can perform a magic effect and have the students individually or in small groups try to explain how the effect was accomplished. The students can draw diagrams to support their hypothesis. Of course, there should be no right or wrong answers.

The story that accompanies a magic effect can also develop creative thinking. Have the students write a story, individually or as a group. The story can be imaginary, convey a desired trait or habit, or be curriculum-based.

For other ideas how to use magic to improve motor skills, self-esteem, and create memory hooks for key curriculum topics, visit www.houdiniintheclassroom.com


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