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The Magic
Hooey Stick


by John Banister-Marx



Realm and Limits

We now have a textbook for students on the nature of science. It's intended to replace, or supplement, the inadequate first chapter of your text. It's designed to coordinate and help sequence several of the nature of science (NOS) lessons on the ENSI site. It is targeted to students in any science class, grades 7-10 (or beyond). It helps to satisfy virtually all the new NOS standards in NGSS and Common Core. If you've used any of ENSI's NOS lessons, you already know how powerful they are. This new book addresses most of the common misconceptions about NOS. It also provides information about the differences between good science, poor science, and pseudoscience. It offers clues for recognizing those differences, and opportunities to practice using those clues. "What's this magic book I've been waiting for all my life?" It's called Science Surprises: Exploring the Nature of Science. "Tell me more - like where can I see this book?" Say no more. It's available as an eBook, published with Smashwords. Click Here to get more information and a link to sample (and purchase) the new eBook Science Surprises.


SEE the NEW "Phantom Tube" Illusion

And See New "3D" Mystery Tubes


 A piece of notched wooden dowling, with a smaller dowling "propellor" at one end, is rubbed with a small stick, which causes the propellor to rotate. On command "Hooey", the propellor stops and reverses direction, "magically". This is an excellent vehicle to address natural illusions and how science can effectively reveal them.


Science deals only with natural patterns and mechanisms.

Understanding science enables one to differentiate it from pseudoscience, superstition, and non science.


 See list of materials and assembly procedures, and discussion questions (optional): The Incredible Magic Hooey Stick.

For Presentation suggestions and additional teacher information, send an email to the webmaster, from your school address, asking for these items.

For a FREE SAMPLE Hooey Stick, mail your request on school letterhead to:
John Banister-Marx
5 Lanes End
Ipswich, MA  01938


 15-20 minutes, or entire period, depending on how long you want to go.


Discussion Questions (optional): see The Incredible Magic Hooey Stick


This could be an attention-getting intro to your first unit on the nature of science, serving as a lead into what science is NOT - and why supernatural explanations (as such) are not fair game for science.

OR, this lesson could be introduced after doing some lessons which focus on the real nature of science. It provides an enjoyable "test" to see if your students truly have learned to become more skeptical and critical, and press hard to challenge your "magic", or still tend to readily accept supernatural explanations for seemingly "magical" phenomena.

To see the author's "Unfolding Drama" presentation, ask for this in an email to the webmaster from your shcool email address.

Before using any of our Nature of Science lessons, be sure to read our General Background Information, with our Rationale and our Approach, and tips for Presenting the lessons for maximum effect and Dispelling some of the popular myths about science.

In any of the discussions expected with the class, select a few key items (important concepts) that lend themselves to interpretation, and introduce class to the Think-Pair-Share (TPS) routine dealing with those items. This is how "Active Learning" is done.

FOR PROCEDURE, go to The Incredible Magic Hooey Stick





 COURSE OPENER: This activity could be used as an attention grabber for your course opener at the beginning of the year, leading into your introduction to the nature of science, before you have discussed the critical, skeptical nature of how science operates, and could serve as an example of how we tend to be drawn to supernatural "magical" explanations for puzzling phenomena (especially if your students do indeed seem to do that!). If they do lean heavily that way, get them to consider OTHER possible explanations for the phenomenon, and how those could be checked out (i.e. "tested").

If your students are generally sekptical that you are really "magical", then congratulate them, and explain that they are showing an essential scientific attiude, and could become not only good scientists, but more critical consumers, and less likely to be conned by charlatans. Continue into lessons which focus on the techniques and other attitudes of science....

The natural world has many illusory phenomena (e.g. the apparent daily movment of the sun across the sky). This lesson is a good springboard to exploring illusions, and the role of science in exposing them. Try the many suggestions for using illusions on this site. Your library also probably has some books on illusions. These are fun to use as "sponge" activities when you have a little extra time... a fun way to remind your students that science is a very efective way to understand the illusions in nature. Try our NEW LESSON in which students INVESTIGATE the CAUSES of ILLUSIONS: "PERCEPTION IS NOT ALWAYS REALITY."

A further fun extension into the realm of illusions is to learn some simple sleight of hand "magic", or use some magic-store gimmicks, to insert as appropriate throughout your course (e.g. make a coin disappear when introducing laws of probability in genetics, or work with cards or dice in the same way). See resources below.

PROMOTE SKEPTICISM: Whenever you present something seemingly magical or "supernatural", train your students to shout out "TRICKERY" all together. For example, after you show them the Magic Hooey Stick, with as much flair and aura of mysticism as you can muster, if nobody raises any doubts or challenges its magic, ask them "Is there anyone who suspects that this might not be magic, but rather has some natural or physical explanation? Does anyone suspect 'trickery'?" When you get some agreement, tell them "Well, I should hope so! Good scientists are always skeptics. Whenever you see something (at least in this class) that is presented as mystical or supernatural, I want you all together to shout out 'TRICKERY!' Got it? Good. Let's do it: 1,2,3, TRICKERY! Very good. Don't forget, now. Then, we'll explore the phenomenon further." It's good to reinforce this with one or two additional examples of "magic", or discrepant events, so they can practice shouting "TRICKERY!"

If they ask what a skeptic or skepticism is, explain that skeptics try to hold an open, provisional approach to the explanations for unusual phenomena. They realize that the world holds many natural illusions. They challenge mystical or supernatural explanations with close observation and reasoned logic, because 1) such "explanations" do not really provide any details, and 2) such explanations, upon closer scrutiny, usually turn out to be false, and are replaced with ones that fit known natural laws. Good scientists always assume natural explanations are working, and test them by trying to disprove them. If they survive the challenge, they are stronger for it. Remember the dictum: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
















Mystery Tubes image

 1. Video: NOVA, Secrets of the Psychics (Magician and McArthur Fellowship winner James Randi explores the claims of psychics and puts them to scientific tests) 60 min. (1993).
For other videos, search "James Randi videos."
James Randi's website

2. Try the Great Volume-Exchanger lesson.

3. Try the "Find the Washer" lesson.

4. Do the "Phantom Tube" demo, as described in Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science. Unfortunately, this one doesn't work too well, so get the detailed instructions for making and demonstrating a Phantom Tube that works.. This is a Flinn's Chem Fax, a 4-page version of their puzzle tube. You pull on the strings and the students watch the other strings move up and down in surprising ways. You can walk through the entire process of science using the Phantom Tube - OR... decorate your Phantom Tube with mystical figures and present it with flourish as real "MAGIC" (see example at left) - then "reluctantly" let students get skeptical and critique that idea and seek a NATURAL explanation. MOST IMPORTANT: do NOT allow the students to see the inside of the tube, nor explain how it works, or even give cues. As in the Mystery Boxes, get students to use drawings to show their hypotheses (or models) of what they think the inner workings are most likely to be, and figure out ways to test those hypotheses. If anyone hits on the its essential mechanism, do NOT say "that's it!", Just ask "does it work?" If it does, it's the "Best Hypothesis so far." It's important for them to see that in science we never get to see the "answer." It's always tentative - the explanation that works best - so far. Click Here for Special Instructions.

5. For another type of Mystery Tube to add to your NOS Tool Kit, take a look at the 3-D Molecular Design version. They are about 18 cm (7 in.) long. They come with presentation directions and discussion questions. Specific ways these tubes meet the NGSS are pointed out. Prices and contact information are provided for ordering (use their phone number).

6. Video: Galileo: The Challenge of Reason. (The Shaping of the Western World Series:) Outstanding video productions recreate the human drama and spectacle of history. These productions are of feature film caliber, starring well-known actors and filmed in actual historical locations around the globe. Scholars from the world's greatest universities acted as consultants). 30 min. (1978) $59 from Coronet/MTI, 800-221-1274.

7. Some Classroom Magic Resources.....recommended by Walter Wogee (ENSI '93):

**Magic and Showmanship for Teachers by Alan McCormack published by the Idea Factory. This is the best overall source of ideas for using magic in the classroom. I think that it is available through the NSTA Book Store, or Amazon.com (currently $15.50).
**Mathemagics by Arthur Benjamin and Michael Shermer is a good source of magic effects based on math.
**Fun with Science Magic and Fun with Math Magic is a series of books by Donald W. McCarthy published by University Classics. I am not sure if they are still available.
** Wonder Workers by Joe Nickell is a good source of explanations of logical explanations of magic and paranormal events for students.
** There is a Magic for Dummies book and a Magic for Idiots book out that are good introductory magic books.
** The NOVA video, Secrets of the Psychics with James Randi is a great video to use.
** The Scientific American Frontiers Video with Alan Alda on Paranormal and Pseudoscience is also good.
** CSICOP video, Beyond Belief is good if it is still available.


Some of the ideas in this lesson may have been adapted from earlier, unacknowledged sources without our knowledge. If the reader believes this to be the case, please let us know, and appropriate corrections will be made. Thanks.

1. Original Source: John Banister-Marx (ENSI 1994)

2. Reviewed / Edited by: Martin Nickels, Craig Nelson, Jean Beard

3. Edited / Revised for website by L. Flammer 3/99; Revised 3/01
Revised again March 2011.

4. Resources, construction notes, sample letter and discussion questions pages revised Aug. 2010, L. Flammer; Again, March 2011





Here's an exciting idea to teach the real scientific method, the edifice of science - - critical thinking. Of course we're talking about skepticism, empiricism and logic. And the Magic Hooey Stick is just the activity you've been looking for.

Here are the construction plans (below). If you don't have the time or tools, check for commercial availability of Magic Hooey Sticks in the Magic Hooey Stick lesson on the ENSI site, or contact the ENSI webmaster.

Make 1 Magic Hooey Stick set per team of two students. For 12 Magic Hooey Sticks, purchase the following:


(2) 3-foot x 3/8 inch dowels, (2) 3-foot x 1/4 inch dowels, (12) 3d 1-1/4 inch smooth box nails


- hammer (to set nail in main shaft)
- belt/disk sander (to smooth edges)
- drill press or hand drill (to drill "propeller" hole and tap hole for nail)
- band saw, hand saw, or hack saw (to cut dowels to length)
- bastard half-round or round file (to create the 11 grooves in the main dowel shaft); bench grinder works faster
- vise (for holding the larger dowel piece as you use the file to create the grooves)


ASSEMBLY PROCEDURE: (lengths are approximate due to cutting loss)

1. Cut each 3/8" dowel into six 6-inch lengths.

2. Cut each 1/4" dowel into six 4-1/2 inch lengths, and six 1-3/8 inch lengths. Check to make sure you now have twelve 3/8" dowels of 6" length, twelve 1/4" dowels of 1-3/8" length and twelve 1/4" dowels of 1-3/8" length.

3. Sand the ends and edges of all dowels to prevent splintering.

4. Using a 1/16" drill bit, drill a hole exactly centered at one end of the larger (3/8") dowel to a depth of ~5/8".

5. Make a mark with a pencil exactly 1" from the end of the dowel with the drilled hole. From this mark, place 10 more pencil marks exactly 1/4" from each other for a total of 11 pencil marks running approximately half the length of the dowel.

6. Using a 1/8" drill bit, drill a perpendicular hole all the way through, at the exact middle of the small 1-3/8" long 1/4" dowel.

7. Check for drill hole splinters on this small piece and sand smooth around hole.

8. Sand polish the ends of this small 1-3/8'piece.

9. Place the larger 3/8" dowel piece in a vise and create the 11 grooves using the bastard half round file. This will take approximately 6-8 strokes to create each 1/8. deep groove. Best to have the groove somewhat v-shaped.

10. Tap the nail in place to secure the propeller to the main, now notched. shaft.

Hope you enjoy it!

For a FREE SAMPLE Hooey Stick, mail your request on school letterhead to:
John Banister-Marx
5 Lanes End
Ipswich, MA  01938

A commercial source is included in the Teacher Information (less than $2 per hooey stick). Send email to the webmaster asking for this information, using your school email address.


 Name__________________________________ Period____ Date________

Investigating the Magic Hooey Stick

After investigating and attempting to master the psychic forces of the Magic Hooey Stick, answer the following questions:

1. Were you able to make the Magic Hooey Stick respond to your commands?


2. Explain the difference between a scientific explanation and a supernatural explanation. Is one explanation "better" than the other? Explain your position.



3. Why is a supernatural explanation for the motion of the Magic Hooey Stick not acceptable in a science class?



4. Why would some cultures actually prefer one type of explanation over another?



5. What is your scientific explanation? How sure are you that your explanation is the correct explanation? What else could you do to increase the confidence in your explanation?



6. If someone were unable to collect scientific evidence to explain how the Hooey Stick works, does this absence of evidence provide "proof,' for the claim that the Hooey Stick operates under influence of psychic powers? Explain why or why not?



7. If someone were able to develop and verify a scientific explanation for how the Hooey Stick works, does this necessarily eliminate the possibility of a supernatural cause for your teacher's ability to make the stick move? Explain.



Extension: In a pre-scientific age an appropriate explanation for the Magic Hooey Stick might have focused on its mythical origin and some moral lesson or theistic power. Develop a one paragraph myth that is relevant to some culture (real or fictitious) and does not attempt to be scientific, but is emotionally pleasing, morally instructive, and socially reassuring


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