Pure magic

Mike Kent

A recent TES article struck a chord with me. It was written by a teacher who was also a magician, and he extolled the virtues of bringing magic into the classroom ("Could it be magic?", 4 April).

At the age of 6, I fell under the spell of magic. A friend of my father was a professional magician, and I helped out at the performances he gave at children's parties. Such was my enthusiasm, it wasn't long before my father was making me a Punch and Judy booth and a set of puppets. My mother dressed the puppets and the booth, while I spent many happy Saturday mornings browsing the conjuring department of Hamleys toy shop in London, buying tricks whenever funds allowed. Soon I too was entertaining at children's parties.

When I became a teacher, my skills were put to good use. There was always the promise of some magic at the end of the week if the children worked hard. On Tuesdays I ran a club for aspiring magicians, and on school trips I entertained groups of children on a rota basis before they drifted off to sleep. The astonishment on their faces as I performed such tricks as the linking rings, the levitating card and the handkerchief that mysteriously changed colour was always a joy.

My love of magic is probably the reason that I've always loved teaching science. So many simple experiments can seem magical; magnets, simple electricity, the colour spectrum and the behaviour of sound and light are all enormous fun to introduce to young children.

My assemblies often contained a scientific element. In one, devoted to discussion of the word "impossible", I asked four members of staff to sit on a long wooden bench. Then I asked Andrea, the smallest child I could find, to lift one end of the bench and raise the teachers up in the air. Andrea's efforts caused much amusement, but she couldn't move the bench at all.

"Is it possible for Andrea to do this?" I asked the children. "Of course not!" they cried. "It's impossible!"

But then I placed a car jack under one end of the bench, told Andrea to pump the handle and up the teachers went, to huge applause from my young audience. It was an effective lesson on forces and why things that seem impossible might just be possible after all.

When I was a new teacher, however, my penchant for magic shows did lead to an awkward moment. My headteacher had been studying Piaget, and one morning he asked if he could try a mathematical experiment in "counting on" with one of my pupils. I chose Andrew. The headteacher put five wooden blocks in Andrew's hand. "How many blocks have you got?" he asked. "Five," Andrew said. The headteacher then put four blocks in Andrew's other hand and asked how many there were now, expecting Andrew to count on from five. But Andrew, who was expecting a clever magic trick, carefully counted every block again, checking several times in great disappointment.

"Well," Andrew said, once the headteacher had gone. "He'll never make a magician. He can't even make a few wooden blocks disappear."

Mike Kent is a retired primary school headteacher. Email: mikejkent@aol.com

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