McDermott: Magic in the classroom at Holton

Published 8:59 am Friday, March 21, 2014

Jean McDermott

I.J. Holton principal

Thanks to a partnership with the Austin Area Commission for the Arts, students at I.J. Holton Intermediate School will be treated to a two-day residency with illusionist Kevin Spencer and his program, Hocus Focus, on Monday and Tuesday. Spencer is an educator, researcher, writer, and world-renowned illusionist with dozens of accolades to his credit, including 2009 International Magician of the Year and six-time recipient of Performing Arts Entertainer of the Year. He believes strongly in the power of the arts to impact the quality of people’s lives. He is the founder of the “Healing of Magic” program and is widely considered the leading authority on the therapeutic use of magic tricks in physical and psychosocial rehabilitation.

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“Hocus Focus” is a student-centered, experiential-based educational approach that utilizes the art of magic (magic tricks) in the context of empowering an empathetic, professional educator/student relationship with the fundamental objective of student growth and development. The activities included align to National and Common Core State Standards of Learning from third- to 12th-grades. It is a systematic approach by which students learn to attend to task, concentrate, memorize, follow directions, develop motor skills, and accomplish specific goals by learning magic tricks. Mr. Spencer will be working with small groups of Holton students, both general education and special needs, to teach them how to perform some of his illusions. Students, in turn, will demonstrate and teach what they have learned to their peers.

One of the most important factors for achieving success for all students is to engage them in the creative process involving the three modalities of learning — visual, aural, and kinesthetic. The art of illusion has the ability to capture and hold the attention of people of all ages. Children are especially intrigued by the seeming impossibility of a magic trick. Incorporating simple magic tricks into the learning process is a powerful means of drawing on these multiple learning modalities allowing students to learn facts and concepts they can see, touch, manipulate, and talk about. Integrating simple magic tricks into classroom or home instruction can have a positive impact on executive functions, self-esteem, behavior, and social cognition with even the most challenging students.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a number of education researchers evaluated the effectiveness of using magic tricks with students of differing abilities. In 2010, the most comprehensive research on this topic was undertaken in classrooms and homeschool environments around the world with both general and special learners. Data suggest that this teaching technique can engage students and assist in the development of 21st century skills, i.e. creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, flexibility and innovation, and socialization (Spencer, 2012), all Habits of Minds which we strive to cultivate within students at I.J. Holton every day.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, The Spencers’ “Theatre of Illusion” will be presented at the Paramount Theatre. “Theatre of Illusion” is not your run-of-the-mill magic show, and the Spencers are not your typical magicians. Their show is a unique fusion of magic and illusion, humor and mystery, and persona and personality. The public performance and school residency are supported in part by the Arts Midwest Tour Grant and the Arts and Cultural Legacy Fund. Tickets are $15 advance and $20 at the door. Children 12 and younger get in free with an adult ticket purchase. Tickets can be purchased online at, by calling 507-434-0934 or at the Paramount Box Office Tuesday-Friday 12-5 p.m.