When Alan McCormack began his career in education several decades ago as a seventh-grade science teacher in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., he tried everything he could to enhance students' interest in the concepts of science.
"I first thought I could be successful automatically just by following techniques used by my college science professors -- lecturing and writing concepts on the blackboard - but that wasn't very engaging for seventh graders," laughs Alan, who serves as professor of Science Education at San Diego State University in San Diego, CA, and as president of the National Science Teachers Association, the largest organization in the world committed to excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning.
Alan then tried to reach his students by learning to play the banjo and writing science songs that he performed in class - which still didn't work.
"Eventually, I learned that approaching science as a largely hands-on, doing sort of enterprise worked much better," says Alan. "Kids became involved as they solved problems, manipulated materials, and created ideas for themselves. I also became enchanted with using discrepant events as 'hooks' to begin classroom laboratory investigations."
Then he discovered magic. "I found that theatrical magic could provide the ultimate 'hook' in grabbing kids' attention since, in many cases, magic is accomplished through clever uses of scientific principles." Alan proceeded to embark on years of training to learn, hone and employ his sleight-of-hand skills in the classroom.
So when the Harry Potter books arrived on the scene, they were tailor-made for Alan to incorporate into his magic presentations which he had already begun performing locally and around the country at schools, education conferences and other gatherings while serving as professor at San Diego State.
"I truly believe in incorporating storylines into science teaching -- they enhance both the
science content and promote student interest," says Alan, "so Harry Potter episodes are
perfect! They chronicle magical events that I can simulate and use as hooks to immerse
students in hands-on science explorations."
For example, when Hermione and Harry learn to levitate a feather in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Alan uses this as an opportunity to simulate the action in the classroom byemploying magical means to levitate a feather, and that becomes a hook leading to instructing students on the principles of aerodynamic lift -- a scientific form of 'levitation.'
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Alan - You do such an amazing job integrating the love of science with the Harry Potter theme. It comes naturally for you... and it's great that you're sharing not only the idea but your presentation style. Huge thanks!