Teaching science through magic

© 2017-Huron Plainsman

HURON – Canadian educator Mike Karpishka is no magician.
But he uses magic in his children’s shows to teach them that much of it is based on science.
“A lot of magicians don’t like me for that, but about 90 percent of magic is actually based on science,” he said Friday before entertaining kids in his “Science of Magic” show at the South Dakota State Fair.
Karpishka is from Ottawa, Canada, where during the school year he is principal of a small private Christian school he owns. Each summer, he hits the road to perform his shows. This was his first appearance at the State Fair in Huron.
A children’s entertainer for about 25 years, he once worked for an organization called Mad Science, writing a lot of the curriculum for the franchise operation. Fifteen years ago, he decided to go out on his own.
In his shows, he engages the kids with hands-on experiments. He calls for volunteers from his young audience and he interacts with them as he asks them to explain the “why” of what they’re seeing him do.
“So my whole goal is to take science and make it fun for the children,” Karpishka said.
“I reveal a little bit of the history or the science behind how magicians do what they do,” he said. “The whole goal is to get kids excited about science and maybe spark that interest in their minds.”
He finds it ironic that he is a school principal today.
“I was never that good in school, so it’s amazing that I’m a principal of a school now and that I’m passionate about education,” Karpishka said.
“I think the reason is that teachers never knew how to reach out to me, and how to reach me, so that’s exactly what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m trying to focus on myself and the audience and what would entertain me and what would engage me if I was 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 years old.”
At each performance, Karpishka delivers one of four different shows that he has written for young minds. He also has a show called “Dr. Bones Education,” in which he uses a full-size horse skeleton to teach anatomy in a fun and entertaining way.
“My shows are pretty much more on the lighter side,” he said. “I use a lot of comedy. My belief is the mind is like a parachute, it only works when it’s open.”
Karpishka also meets with teachers at their conferences to teach them how to teach science in their classrooms.
“Because a lot of them are scared, and it’s really not that hard, it’s just a matter of using simple science experiments and having the confidence to present it in front of the kids,” he said.
He said teachers are often afraid they’ll look foolish if they can’t answer student questions.
“And that’s the beauty of science, that using a hypothesis it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, you’re going to learn something,” he said.
“And that’s what I try to instill in the kids, it’s OK to be wrong in science because you’ve learned how not to do it,” he said.
He points to the example of Thomas Edison.
Had the inventor given up after the first two or three tries of discovering the light bulb, “where would we be today, still in the dark ages,” Karpishka said. “But he kept going, over 10,000 experiments, two years, and finally we got the light bulb.”
He tells the kids that some things like penicillin were created by accident.
In one demonstration, he uses nitrocellulose, basically a smokeless gun powder, that is used by a lot of magicians to create flames of fire flying through the air.
“The kids are amazed, but it’s not magic at all, it’s just science, and that was invented by accident,” he said. “A lot of things that we have today were created by accident.”
Karpishka said kids should not be afraid of failure.
“Failing is good as long as you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and just continue and go again,” he said.

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