First Days, Observations and Sleight of Hand

text next to magician's hat: First Day Observations and sleight of hand

It is the start of the school year. It could be that the honeymoon period has just ended. Many students are struggling to switch from summer to school mode. This struggle is obvious based on their attention and energy. This is a nice, quick demonstration that is fun and is sure to get them talking about observations and conclusions.



Procedure time: 
15 minutes

For years I have dabbled on and off with sleight of hand magic tricks. I have always been amazed at the care, attention and use of psychology that a person can masterfully use to get someone to believe an observation that is true when it is completely false. I struggle as a science teacher to get kids to believe in a true statement that many times students have convinced themselves is completely false. Is there some way I could use quick little magic tricks in the classroom to get students attention, teach science and have them objectively question their observations? My number one goal is to teach science and not to entertain. However, we do demonstrations often for the memorable "wow" factor and then try to examine it during an educational moment. In recent years, I have had great success with the "demonstration" shown in video 1.

Video 1: Introduction to the Magic Trick, ChemEd X Vimeo Channel, August 2023


magic red cloth used for trick

Students come in and I tell them we are having a "quiz". The panic sets in. Then they hear the dreaded, "Take out a half sheet of paper!". Students are instructed to write down what they observe. I take a red piece of cloth, make it disappear from one hand and then it reappears in another hand. The "quizzes" are collected. Some of the quizzes are randomly read out loud. I make sure not to call out any names. The results are astounding. There are rarely any two that are even close to being the same. Patterns soon emerge. People do not mention which hands, right or left, are used at different stages. The cloth is given different names. Some of these names are everything from "scarf" to "hanky". Most people fail to mention the color of the cloth. I always have a handful of students that skip over the observations and just try to explain how the trick is done.

We always end with a rich discussion. Everyone observed the same demonstration. No one is lying. Yet no two observations are the same. Could this be held up in a court of law? Probably not. It then becomes our job to work on how we can agree to make and record observations in a consistent and uniform manor. This then becomes a great spring board into a measurement unit. I have found throughout the years that this is a demonstration that provides a high level of student engagement. It also has a nice component of educational value. Would you like to know how it is done? Log into your ChemEd X account to access the Supporting Information!


Practice using the Supporting Information (log in to access)