Chris Wardle is an experienced primary years teacher who spends his spare time devising magic effects. He has written widely for both magical and educational publications. He has created tricks which have been performed by top professionals on TV, radio and on the stage. He is an award-winning member of The Inner Magic Circle, with Gold Star.
Can you describe something that has recently amazed you? How did it make you feel?
I was chatting with Angelo Carbone, a highly creative and ingenious magician, and quite casually he took a deck of cards out of a playing card box-sized case, fanned the cards, slipped them back into the case, then immediately split the box open into two halves, down the centre, as if performing a miniature version of sawing a person in half. He then pushed the case back together and tipped out the deck into my hands to show that the cards were restored! It made me feel like a child seeing magic again for the first time. I love the fact that magic can entertain in the most surprising ways and be so unexpected and take you away from the ordinary.
Why are awe and wonder important elements of teaching? Can you give some examples you’ve seen or used?
Awe and wonder are so important in teaching as you want pupils to really engage, to question and to be inspired. You want them to see the wonder of the world and to feel that they can achieve and, through education, help to shape their own future. If you can show them, tell them, or ask them something that creates that questioning, surprising ‘awe and wonder’ moment then that can be a huge motivating force for learning.
The most obvious examples of creating awe and wonder come through using simple mathematical or scientific ‘tricks’, such as creating an indoor rainbow using a bowl of water, a mirror at an angle and a torch or finding an intriguing number pattern or a repeated sequence of digits you did not expect. Wordplay, spelling puzzles, palindromes and anagrams can also create wow moments.
What are the downsides of having a lesson based around awe and wonder?
I don’t think there are any downsides, as to inspire someone in their learning is what teaching is all about. However, you can inspire and engage in different ways and you cannot always deliver lessons where awe and wonder, even in a limited form, are the driving force, as if every single lesson began with a moment of surprise, wonder or awe, it would actually lose its potency as a teaching tool as the unexpected would become expected – if you see what I mean!
What things help instil in a child the love of learning?
You can instil a love of leaning through encouraging creativity, by making the learning meaningful and relevant, by demonstrating your own passion for the subjects you are teaching by showing the impact they have had on you, encourage questioning and discussion, be interactive in your teaching and methods, use varied approaches and always encourage their ideas in a respectful and enquiring environment.
And what crushes a child’s curiosity?
If you stifle creativity and investigation you crush curiosity. You can also do this if you only have a right or wrong culture, where everything has to be perfect. Some of our greatest discoveries and inventions came about partly through errors and serendipity. ‘Fail’ actually just means your ‘First Attempt In Learning’.
If miraculously you were given a bonus day of the week just to teach a class (assuming no national curriculum restrictions, no testing, the time to prepare, and the resources needed), how would you spend that day?
Well, I would love to have a day to teach magic and explore puzzles and problem-solving in more depth. I don’t mean to teach magic in the sense of giving away secrets, but just to learn a few simple principles, those already in the public domain, as there are so many useful skills you can learn or further develop through magic and performance, such as presentation, hand-eye co-ordination, fine motor dexterity, public speaking and interacting with an audience, to name just a few. I also think having time to solve and create puzzles and problem-solve would be very helpful to further encourage lateral thinking and the application of strategies in particular in maths and science.
What are some of the tools and techniques that the magic world has taught you that you have brought into the classroom?
The most important one is patience. In order for me to create a magic effect, I have to spend time experimenting, reading and researching, testing out materials and ideas and as this has to be during school holidays over a wide period of time, one trick can sometimes take a long time to reach completion. Therefore, you have to be very patient. This is also the case with teaching, particularly when working with younger children, you need to be a patient person. The most patient people I have ever met have all been teachers.
I read recently that you’ve worked as a magic consultant, how does it feel to see your ideas appear on TV? What did you learn from the experience?
It is wonderful to see that initial little ideas jotted down in notebook, developed and tinkered with, improved and adapted over time, can emerge as effects used to entertain several million viewers! I learnt all sorts of things, especially working with Geoffrey Durham, who is a mine of information and experience. Even small things like the colour of an envelope used to hold a prediction, can be really important to show up or contrast in a particular way under studio lighting.
Have you got a favourite trick you’ve created? Why?
That is a really hard question, as my favourite trick tends to be the one I am creating at the time. I suppose effects which have generated their own momentum, for example the Magic Square Prediction which Geoffrey Durham used on TV as a close-up piece, which then went into his stage tour as a large-scale effect and was then featured in his acclaimed book ‘Professional Secrets’. It was wonderful to see the evolution of that one idea. My version of the cut and restored tie has to be another favourite, as when you explain in a lecture how it is done, often magicians still don’t believe that it would work, despite being shown exactly what is happening. The method creates awe and wonder for magicians!
You’ve recently co-written a book about the process behind creating magic tricks. Can you give me some of the ways you spark new ideas?
I wrote ‘Creating the Impossible’ with James Ward, with whom I have collaborated for some time, as people have often asked us how we come up with magic tricks. There are several methods that we use. For example, I often look around stationery and craft shops – often because I am looking for a resource for teaching – and whilst browsing I will come across a particular type of card, envelope, pen and so forth and I can see potential in its use in a magic effect. It is also very useful to ask yourself ‘What if?’ type questions. If you could really do magic, what would it be entertaining and surprising to be able to do? Reading is also key for me – reading and researching old magic books and magazines can often lead to inspiration. The germ of half an idea here, half an idea there, let them simmer in your mind and see if you can generate something new.
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Hi Chris, I enjoyed your interview and especially F A I L from Sheila B