For Teachers & Therapists

Use of Magic in an Educational Setting

  • Magic tricks offer a creative means for stimulating the senses in special education students (Frith and Walker, 1983).
  • Magic tricks provide a strategy for building teamwork and self-esteem in children with Emotional Behavior Disorders (S.A. Broome, 1989).
  • Magic tricks enhance the learning experience and encourage creative problem-solving skills, observational techniques, and critical thinking (McCormack, 1985).
  • Magic tricks in an educational setting can help students with learning differences attain higher self-esteem and self-confidence (Ezell, 2003).
  • Magic tricks can help students develop important 21st century skills, i.e. creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and socialization (Spencer, 2012).

Empowering students to feel good about themselves and their accomplishments can increase their motivation to try harder, take more risks, continue to build their self-confidence, and achieve self-efficacy.  Students who feel good about themselves find it easier to feel good about the things around them – at home and at school.  Children need to be taught to recognize their abilities to accomplish more than what they might realize.  The more they believe in these abilities, the more apt they are to be motivated to attempt new things and become successful in those endeavors. Bunker (1991) found that “children acquire self-confidence and self-esteem as a result of successful experiences.” And Cast and Burke (2002) stated that these qualities could be used as a resource when children hit stressful moments in their lives, including stressful academic moments.

All of the above referenced research confirms that children can benefit – academically and functionally – by learning and performing magic tricks as a means to strengthen the overall learning process, develop a healthy self-esteem, provide a foundation for self-determination, and achieve self-efficacy.

In a broad 1999 study on the impact of the arts on learning conducted by the Arts Education Partnership and the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities, seven teams of researchers examined a variety of arts education programs using diverse methodologies.   Although the Champions of Change researchers conducted their investigations and presented their results independently, a profound consensus exists among their findings.  These findings can be applied to the potential impact of using magic tricks in the classroom and are as follows:

  • Learning magic can help “level the playing field” for students from disadvantaged circumstances or those with learning differences.
  • Learning magic engages multiple skills and abilities while nurturing the development of cognitive, social, and personal competencies.
  • Using magic can reach students who are not otherwise engaged in school and excite them about the learning process.
  • Successfully learning and performing a magic trick can provide an opportunity for students to teach or mentor other students in the classroom.
  • Experiencing success with a magic trick can become a bridge to learning and lead to success in other areas.
  • Learning and performing magic can engage the “whole person” – the student is invested in ways that are more meaningful than simply “knowing the answer,” or reciting facts from memory.  Unlike traditional learning experiences that look for right or wrong answers, being engaged in the learning and performance of a magic trick allows for multiple outcomes.

Robert Marzano writes that many studies support the idea that learning is most effective when it is social and collaborative (Marzano, 2007).  By integrating magic tricks into the educational process, students can engage in purposeful conversation.  And they depend on each other’s thinking to enrich their understanding and construct meaning.

This cooperative learning process is a valuable experience for children. Learning is deepest when students have the capacity to represent what they have learned to others.  Helping one another stirs creativity and builds positive relationships.  It also increases a student’s feeling of control over his environment and improves self-esteem. The performance of the trick is a brilliant way to provide a platform for demonstrating what has been learned.

Teaching magic tricks in the context of an educational setting or activity can allow students to experience successes as well as change the way they believe others perceive them and help them with social acceptance. It can aid in the pursuit of self-actualization. Research has proven that self-esteem indexes improve dramatically when students learn a skill that others have not acquired. Frith and Walker (1983) found that magic has a special appeal because it gives students a chance to do something that cannot be equaled by their peers.

In addition, integrating simple magic tricks into classroom instruction can have a positive impact on self-esteem, behavior, and social cognition with even the most challenging students (D. Levin, 2007).

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