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University of Iowa News Release


July 26, 2007

Magic Will Help Korean Math, Science Educators Teach More Creatively

Alan McCormack isn't a typical science educator. Using episodes from the Harry Potter books as science lessons, this science education professor emeritus and part-time magician from San Diego State University will use the characters Moaning Myrtle and Fawkes the Phoenix to help open doorways to the understanding of thermal convention currents.

McCormack is one of 26 educators who will present during workshops organized by the UI College of Education for 41 science and math educators and administrators for 4th through 9th grades who teach in special schools for gifted students. The educators, who largely are from rural schools in South Korea, are participating in the workshop, which will expose them to cutting-edge research and new methods of teaching advanced by UI faculty. The educators are visiting the UI from Sunday, July 29, through Friday, August 10.

Now in their 20th year, the programs for Korean teachers are supported by the UI College of Education Science Education Program in the Department of Learning and Teaching and involve the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. The Grant Wood Area Education Agency and staff and materials from Camp Invention will also be featured.

The workshops will help the educators to infuse more creativity and critical thinking into the science curriculum in Korea, according to UI science education professor emeritus Robert Yager, who has organized the program for many years.

"We're trying to encourage them to try different things," Yager said. "We don't want it to be a typical workshop where there's a bunch of experts just giving lectures. Everything on our program is interactive and meant to engage and inspire inquiry. We're trying to get people to think, not people to pay attention and remember. Memorization doesn't measure learning at all."

The focus will be on ideas the 41 teachers might try in their own classrooms. Each day will end in a "home room" where impressions, questions and ideas for use will be discussed. A follow-up short course is planned for Nov. 9 and 10 in Korea. Hae-Ae Seo, a professor at the Science Gifted Education Center at Gyeongsang National University, organized the program and obtained financial support. She will head the short course in November. The teachers will all share ideas they have tried individually and in concert with other teacher colleagues. Seo also spent a year at the University of Iowa as a visiting scholar.

The educators have been divided into three separate groups, with about 13 to 14 teachers in each group. Yager said that this year, the groups are divided into 4th through 9th grade mathematics teachers, 4th through 6th upper elementary math teachers and 7th through 9th grade secondary science teachers.

McCormack will incorporate theatrical magic techniques into science teaching to motivate and stimulate the imaginations of educators. "The teachers are from a country where strict adherence to traditional methods of teaching is often the norm," Yager said. McCormack's magic sessions will be from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 2 and 3, in Room 301 Van Allen Hall on the UI campus.

"Unlike many magicians, he uses fire and butane torches to not just wow the crowds but to show observation and to show misconceptions," Yager said. "Most magicians want to keep their secrets. He lets the secrets out to make different scientific concepts more transparent. It's entertaining, but more important, it's educational."

Yager added that additional goals of the program are to "help students see science as useful in daily life and to see the connections with real-life scenarios, to help teachers and students engage in public discourse about science and math as well as to increase economic productivity through the use of science and technology."

The use of magic helps to break down barriers to traditional thinking and inspires different ways of thinking about math and science, Yager said, instilling a sense of wonder about learning, not just rote memorization.

McCormack will also use "unicorn fur" as an entrée into static electricity concepts, and Professor Snape's Potions will provide opportunities to illustrate some principles of chemistry.

During their visit, the Korean educators are attending classes on such topics as "Creativity at the Heart of Teaching Gifted Students," "Using Magic for Motivation, Creativity and Concept Development" and "Developing Visual/Spatial Thinking and Inventiveness in Science." They will also tour the Iowa Children's Museum in Coralville and visit the Moline College for Kids.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For a complete schedule of events or to arrange for an interview with one of the participants through a translator, contact Mary Ann Mullinnix, mornings only, at 319-335-1896 or The magic sessions will provide strong photo opportunities, and reporters and photographers are welcome to attend.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Program: Robert Yager, UI science education professor emeritus, 319-335-1189,

MEDIA CONTACT: Lois J. Gray, 319-384-0077,