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Just a reminder: Our Greater Boston Humanist Second Sunday meeting tomorrow will take place despite the inconvenient weather! Details below; hope to see you all there!
“Investigating the Magic Hooey Stick”
A Talk with John Bannister-Marx
Phillips Brooks House, Harvard Yard
A child’s world is magical, legitimately so. Teaching science, on the other hand, can be daunting. John Bannister-Marx, who teaches at The Governor’s Academy in Byfield comprehends both arenas and we have asked him how he does it. He has given a presentation to science teachers associations everywhere typically dubbed “going ape over teaching about evolution and the nature of science.”
He writes, “I usually present an all hands-on activity, with the intention of teachers being able to readily adapt to their own classrooms. To start small, I might focus on one entertaining and useful ‘nature of Science’ activity that I call ‘Investigating the Magic Hooey Stick’. This is a common folklore toy where the presenter claims to have psychic or supernatural powers and can make a propeller spin. The trick involves being able to make the propeller stop and change direction on a verbal command. It is a ‘slight-of-hand’ all the way, but people get a kick out of it.”
He goes on to say, ‘I emphasize the value of critical thinking in science and of course daily life, and break it down into 3 component parts: ‘skepticism, empiricism, and logic.’ I then talk about how science which rarely tries to present itself as better than religious ways of knowing, yet does claim to be different, plays by a distinctly different set of rules that must be agreed to. The activity begins with me opening up a box of ‘hooey sticks’ from the ‘Psychic Centers of America’ and in it is a letter from its president; few people catch how odd this is explaining how to discover your psychic powers (including the repetition of my magic mantra). The letter is filled with a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo and references to supposed periodical literature attesting to the veracity of the claims of psychic phenomena. Readers’ eyebrows are raised when they read oddly suspicious names of authors, and a signature line for the president, whose name is ‘Don B. Stoopit.’ I pass out samples for participants to play around with, and they each get to keep one. I start the school year with this and every kid has a big smile. Most adults get a similar kick out of it.”
More about John Banister-Marx: Went to school at Colorado College ('81) B.A., Anthropology,Stanford University ('84) M.A. Science Education. Taught in public high schools in southern California and Arizona before accepting a fellowship at Tufts University's Wright Center for Innovative Science Education. Spent several years developing and disseminating educational materials that focused on evolution and the nature of science. While there he also worked with WGBH and was a core adviser, developer and lead teacher trainer for their Evolution Project. He has been a long-time advocate for quality science education, especially those materials focusing on evolution.