Scientist, Teacher, and Comedian

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At the age of five Steve Spangler — scientist, teacher, comedian — began to express an interest in science, math, and magic. He had a lot of magical influence from his family. His parents worked as magicians on the weekends. In fact, his dad owned a magic shop, and was an amazing magician. His dad was so good he even taught David Copperfield some tricks. When Spangler became interested, his dad began teaching him magic tricks. And once a trick was perfected, Spangler would perform it at his school during show and tell. Over the years, Spangler’s love for science and its connection to magic grew, until he became the teacher he is today.

Recently Spangler came to the Colorado Council International Reading Association (CCIRA) Conference. He gave a presentation aimed at inspiring the teachers at the conference. And it worked. He accomplished his aim through telling his origin story of teaching, which included both hilarious and touching experiences he had throughout his life. One great example is his elementary school P.E. teacher, Ms. Armstrong. On the first day of school she always would whistle, then say, “Hey kids, sit down, shut up, and make friends.” Another example was when he first started teaching; the principle didn’t give him a classroom, but an A.V. cart. At first, he was confused but then he saw the genius in it. He could go from classroom to classroom and observe how the other, more experienced teachers taught. He ended up enjoying his time with the wonderful A.V. cart.

Throughout the presentation Spangler performed great magic tricks involving science, then related them back to teaching. A sample of this is using an energy stick, a plastic tube with foil on each end, and connecting every person at a table to create a circuit, lighting up the tube. He then explained how the connection between student and teacher could effect the child’s education. Another fun experiment he did was where a pulled out an eight-foot long plastic bag and told someone, “I have a check of a thousand dollars waiting outside for you, if you can blow up this bag.” She tried and of course failed; he later explained how the molecules around the bag join your own blowing molecules to fill the bag in one breath. He then related it to how you just have keep trying to teach your students, and they’ll eventually catch on and understand.

Spangler’s goal was to make the teachers feel like kids again, so that next time they walk into their classroom, they would be able to see everything from their students’ perspective. “When a teacher connects, and when we talk about the art of building a connection, that’s when a best day ever happens.” Spangler said.