Computational Thinking: Magical Book Magic

Explore a magic trick based on an intriguing computational property about words. Turn Macbeth, The Wizard of Oz, The Cat in the Hat (or some other book of your choice) into both reading fun and computational fun.

“I don’t think reading a book is ever again going to be quite the same experience.”

– audience member after seeing the trick

Computational Thinking: Magical Book Magic is a booklet that teaches you a simple magical property of books to use as a magic trick, to explain what computational thinking is all about. The focus is on the importance of thorough testing, double checking and attention to detail, Along the way it also looks at some major software disasters and introduces the idea of hazard analysis. It is written by Paul Curzon and Peter McOwan of Queen Mary University of London based on the cs4fn approach.

  • You take a book that involves Witches or Wizards, Macbeth for example, and demonstrate how magic has seeped into the words of such books over the ages. The volunteer picks a word from the start of the book and then, letting the book itself direct them, they end up with the word that no one could have possibly known, but that you predicted at the outset having hidden the prediction in an envelope that they have held all along.
  • In exploring how the magic works, you learn about computational thinking: especially the importance of evaluation to algorithmic thinking. You explore both testing and hazard analysis.
  • The magic trick shows how computer scientists, engineers (and magicians) have to check their algorithms thoroughly. They must think carefully about how things might go wrong as well as checking they will go right.

Magical Poem Magic

As a poetic variation to the trick, you could write lots of your favourite (longish) famous poems from a book of poetry on the back of large envelopes, with predicted words for each in the envelope. Then give the member of the audience to freely pick one envelope and so poem from the many possible…then do the trick with that poem. The poems just have to be long enough to be sure to work (and you have to have the time to prepare the trick for all the different poems and double check all work. But if you have the time it adds a magical twist

More of our resources, including linked classroom activities can be found in our resources section.

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