The Greatest Scam of All

Scam School with host Brian Brushwood

In teaching, it’s not so much what you teach, but how you teach it.  I know this statement sounds off, but we all know as educators that the ability to get kids to relate to the material and understand the concept is the best part of teaching.  At the same time, we need to be able to take those examples and relate them to the standards we are required to teach.  This is where the creative fun begins as I love the challenge of taking every day tricks, gimmicks, and scams to get kids to understand and relate to the material.  In the end, it is about teaching the material rather than giving away the answers as we want kids to think and apply their knowledge in order to leave a lasting impression.  One of my favorite podcasts on iTunes right now, Scam School (selected by iTunes as a “Top Podcast of 2009!” ), presents in a creative format  the skills needed to network with people.  These magic tricks, gimmicks and scams can be used by any teacher in the classroom to get kids to think, make connections, and understand a concept that needs to be learned and mastered.

Scam School, hosted by Brian Brushwood, an accomplished magician who has won awards for his shows – stage magic, club magic and comedy magic – runs a weekly podcast that takes viewers through the art of the scam.  Something to consider, while Brian’s scams are largely to get free drinks in bars, there are multiple elements of social networking and looking at how people communicate within every show.  The princinples are basic, use a simple scam/trick to get the audiences’ attention, and after you grab their attention, spring the puzzle that will get your point across.  For many of us, we already have the kids attention three months into the school year, we just need the lesson to get our point across.

The most recent trick that I used in my class was a card trick.  The cards took some time as they had to be marked.  As Brian explains, use a deck of red bicycle cards and then mark the back with a red sharpie.  For more specific details click on the card trick high-lighted above and you can watch the video in detail.  I used the trick in class to show my students the importance of reading between the lines.  I teach sophomore English, and many of my students are still thinking at the concrete level.  I wanted to get my kids to think more beneath the surface and avoid the obvious answers they were coming up with when answering questions.  So, I did the trick and of course the kids were impressed and wanted to know how I did “read their mind.”  Eventually, I taught them how the magic trick worked, but not till after the assignment was done, and the kids got the academic concept we were studying that day.  So now, instead of saying “read deeper” I could ask if their answer was a “card trick” so the kids new they had to look for something below the surface.

The second most recent gimmick I used was a memory game.  This is a great one, I put a list of twenty words on the board, all having to do with things a person would find on or near a window.  I would show the kids the list, read the words out loud, then re-cover the list giving the students a minute to write down all of the words they could remember.  At the end of the minute, when pencils were down, I would show the list again to see how many the kids had gotten right.  Invariably, there would be several students who had written down a word that was not on the list, but for some reason he/she had remembered was there – this is called a false memory.  I repeated the test with another set of words, this time having to do with medicine or hospitals, and the students would get the same result with a false word.  As Brian writes on the show’s site, “More than 85% of subjects will get at least one false memory out of the two lists, and it’s not because you did anything wrong… It turns out that study after study has shown that even when you’re sure of a certain memory, the odds are good that you’re remembering incorrectly.”  I used this project to teach my kids about the importance of studying.  They can hear and see stuff in class, even write it down, but the chance that they will actually remember the material accurately is incredibly slim.

In this technology age many of our students are adept at texting and communicating on sites like Facebook or MySpace.  However, many of our students are not adept at being able to socialize in public.  The ability to read a person, strike up a conversation or even carry a discussion is an art form that is quickly disappearing.  The success of Scam School is that it helps to show ways in which to initiate conversations, hold an audiences attention and get some kind of exchange out of the scenario.  For teachers, Scam School is one more resource to take a concept, practice it for a night, and then be able to use it the next day in class.  Take a look at this wonderful podcast (podcast means that it is free to watch) and see what great ideas you can come up with on your own- there are multiple possibilities for you to use this info when teaching your leadership class and other core curriculum.
For more information, you can go to and see all of Brian’s episodes.  You can also subscribe to his podcast in iTunes and it will download automatically to your computer every Thursday.


~ by cadaleaders on December 9, 2009.

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