Using Magic in Computing Education and Outreach

Ronald I. Greenberg, Loyola University Chicago
Dale F. Reed, University of Illinois at Chicago

Author Posting © IEEE, 2018. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of the IEEE for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in 2018 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), October 2018.


This special session explores the use of magic tricks based on computer science ideas; magic tricks help grab students’ attention and can motivate them to invest more deeply in underlying CS concepts. Error detection ideas long used by computer scientists provide a particularly rich basis for working such “magic”, with a CS Unplugged parity check activity being a notable example. Prior work has shown that one can perform much more sophisticated tricks than the relatively well-known CS Unplugged activity, and these tricks can motivate analyses across a wide variety of computer science concepts and are relevant to learning objectives across grade levels from 2nd grade through graduate school. These tricks have piqued the interest of past audiences and have been performed with the aid of online implementations; this conference session will demonstrate enhanced implementations used to illuminate the underlying concepts rather than just to perform the tricks. The audience will participate in puzzling out how to apply relevant concepts as we work through a scaffolded series of tricks centering on error detection and correction. The implementations also provide a useful model for incorporating greater interaction than is typically found in current innovative online interactive textbooks. In addition, they are samples for possible programming assignments that can motivate students using CS Unplugged activities to actively pursue deep programming experiences.