Martin Gardner's 'Science Magic,' fun tricks you can try at home

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You should look at Ron Edge’s String and Sticky Tape Experiments from the AAPT Press.

Maybe also these (on which I am an author):

though they are intended for larger groups of kids. But there are some very nice design problems.


Okaaay, but is there a f’rexample for pondering the 450page-ish Ron Edge 1978ish String and Sticky Tape Experiments? The Martin Gardner at hand is 97 pages (and dates to The Roaring 2011s.) Or this thing’s from 2006 for comparison (though n.b. it seems to throw Firefox for an endless loop) (Physics from the Junk Drawer) Hooboy, the crush of toys. (Links tend to contain a redundant codon.)

So of IAT stuff from your link, I should be looking at Content of course and picking a study group size ($26 a student group, for example; or less for another group or $1800 for the whole tree (for a year?)) Or for the booklets/pdf by themselves, at Print & Digital Resources and ringing/emailing for a quote there? A peripheral neurology bit.

This isn’t science, it’s entertainment. It’s cool to do tricks with kids, but where is the hypothesis you’re testing? Where is the data collection? It does feel sciency, but as anti-science folks get stronger and louder, feeling sciency isn’t enough. When Ted Cruz indicts your science teacher for teaching evolution, the little matchstick man in the bottle won’t save her.

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But, really. Science is just any sufficiently advanced form of magic.

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I’ve a little Dutch book (translated from the French) at home, which is fairly similar, but from the 19th century. I am currently preparing it for Project Gutenberg via Distributed Proofreaders (

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The collection of experiments in Edge’s book cover the basic material of introductory physics with nothing more than materials you can get from the grocery store. It is old, but the physics it covers at the intro level is even older so it doesn’t suffer much. Last edition 1987, not 1978. Some interesting bits:

Climbing monkey experiment with a string, an index card and two straws. String is over a support and each end passes through a straw. By pulling down on strings, the card climbs up.

Classic PSSC momentum conservation experiment with a ruler, some books and a marble. Equally classic ballistic pendulum with marbles, string, paper, paper clips, and cups (need 2 - can you guess why?).

Brachistochrone problem with marbles and straws (quickest path may not be shortest path).

Stroboscope with paper, a pencil and a thumb tack.

Using the Bernoulli effect to levitate a dime with lung power.

And that’s not getting into the electricity and magnetism experiments.

The materials I wrote and linked to cover an entire 3 year middle school level science curriculum. They are mostly independent, though some (like Digging In) involve more how to behave as a scientist and design experiments than and detailed content. You can do them without a large group. I used them to tutor a single kid who had gotten thrown out for behavior problems. But they are designed for larger groups where different groups can do different experiments, creating a need for collaboration. You could get by with one book. Pick one that floats your boat or don’t pick any.

Science Magic may have been reprinted in 2011 but since Gardner died in 2010, he was unlikely to have been involved. In point of fact, it is a reprint of a book first published in 1997.

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[Stuffs pillow behind shoulders, puts on 4 pairs of impossibly unhip glasses, sits behind table with twee water glasses] So you’re saying your work has -not- been revised by ghosts? [Scribbles, fake writing]

Thanks for the details. [Sees improved straw-model student and teacher bringing their own takes into exercises. Loses the pillow.] That feels better!

So you’re saying your work has -not- been revised by ghosts?

Um, no.

There were three large research groups at three institutions - Georgia Tech, University of Michigan, and Northwestern - working on similar problems. Our goal was to use research results from cognitive science as design guidelines for the development of science curriculum materials, and then use those materials as a venue for investigating the development of scientific reasoning skills. It was a research project, not a book writing club.

Consequently, there were a large number of primary authors, and I was one. I wrote somewhat over half of the Georgia Tech materials.

The National Science Foundation then provided funding to merge the three sets of materials into a series covering all of middle school science. I was a Co-PI on that project.

You can sneer all you want, but there’s no “straw” about it. There are actual rigorous research results from actual classrooms and actual comparison classrooms. You can see some here:

Thanks again; the straw part was all my model (in which thatch tweens are hooked on posthumous self-edits,and feel allergic to anything evenly spaced) and you fixed it twice (or maybe six times and some distinction over 13ish primary education grades, plus an iteration/combinatoric spiral) anyhow.

Handy illo. on page 8. All for venerating Yew. p and x both seem spared out. Good to see for a summer stylesheet stretcher. [Queues that in FoxIt, those example quizzes also filed under nightmare oxidizer, continues to use VR glove to drag aleph over student icon as if that were relevant, reminds self to try those IAT and AAPT shopping outings among AMS and MAA (mathematical etc. etc. .org) ones.]

The title ain’t great either.

“Science Magic” screams “this is cool, but you don’t have to understand it.”

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